Australian surf lifesaving clubs have come in for some harsh criticism from experts who say they are promoting dangerous beach behaviour by not forcing children to wear protective hats and vests.
The Australasian College of Skin Cancer Medicine says surf clubs are endangering the health and lives of ‘nippers’ by failing to protect them from the sun and under fire are the traditional yellow and red caps.
The College says surf clubs are promoting dangerous beach behaviour by not forcing children to wear protective hats and vests and by holding activities in the hottest parts of the day thus exposing nippers to ultraviolet rays that could cause melanomas.
According to Associate Professor Anthony Dixon while most clubs provide children with rash vests, wearing them was not compulsory, many were short-sleeved and there is evidence that many competitors fail to wear protective clothing.
Professor Dixon has called for competitions to be held early in the morning or after 2pm, and for broad-brimmed hats and rash vests to be made compulsory and says the traditional nippers’ caps offer inadequate protection.
Professor Dixon says the nippers program which aims to encourage and prepare children to act safely on beaches in fact fails to promote protection against the most dangerous factor – the sun and he says this is irresponsible as while surf safety is essential, skin cancer kills more on our beaches and should be a fundamental aspect of safe beach and surf behaviour.
Experts say Australians aged 12 to 24 are more likely to contract melanoma than any other cancer and it is estimated that as many as 50,000 children aged between 5 and 13 take part in nipper programs around the country during summer.
Professor Dixon says attempts to change clubs’ behaviour had been unsuccessful at local levels and a change in policy at a national level is needed.
The Surf Live Saving Association has rejected the calls to dispense with the iconic cap and say it is an important part of the uniform for members who are competing or involved in water activities.
Professor Dixon is a clinical researcher into the outcomes and complications of skin cancer surgery and deals exclusively with melanoma and complex head and neck skin cancer patients.