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Surf zone hazards and injuries on beaches in SW France

Abstract

Surf zone injuries (SZIs) are common worldwide, yet limited data are available for many geographical regions, including Europe. This study provides the first preliminary overview of SZIs along approximately 230 km of hazardous surf beaches in SW France during the summer season. A total of 2523 SZIs over 186 sample days during the summers of 2007, 2009 and 2015 were analysed. Documented injury data included date and time; beach location; flag colour; outside/inside of the bathing zone; age, gender, country and home postal code of the victim; activity; cause of injury; injury type and severity. Injuries sustained ranged from mild contusion to fatal drowning, including severe spinal injuries, wounds and luxation. While the most severe injuries (drowning) were related to rip currents, a large number of SZIs occurred as a result of shore-break waves (44.6%; n = 1125) and surfing activity (31.0%; n = 783) primarily inside and outside of lifeguard-patrolled bathing zones, respectively. Victims were primarily French living more than 40 km from the beach (75.9% of the reported addresses; n = 1729), although a substantial number of victims originated from Europe (14.7% of the addresses reported; n = 335), including the Netherlands (44.2%; n = 148), Germany (26.3%; n = 88) and Belgium (12.5%; n = 49). The predominant age group involved in the incidents was between 10 and 25 years (54.5%; n = 1376) followed by between 35 and 50 years (22.6%; n = 570), with the majority of SZIs involving males (69.6%, n = 1617). Despite the large predominance (74.1%; n = 33) of males involved in the most severe drowning incidents, all of which occurred outside the bathing zone, a surprisingly large proportion of females (48.0%; n = 133) experienced milder drowning incidents involving only minor to moderate respiratory impairment, peaking at 58.2% (n = 85) within the age group 10–25. The spine/cervical injury population is very young, with 58.5% (n = 313) within the age group 10–20. Specific injuries tended to occur in clusters (e.g. rip-current drowning or shore-break injury) with particular days prone to rip-current drowning or hazardous shore-break waves, suggesting the potential to predict the level of risk to beachgoers based on basic weather and marine conditions. This study calls for increased social-based beach safety research in France and the development of more effective public awareness campaigns to highlight the surf zone hazards, even within a supervised bathing zone. These campaigns should be targeted towards young males and females, in order to reduce the number of injuries and drownings occurring on beaches in SW France.

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Acknowledgements

We thank the CRS headquarters for providing the forms as well as the lifeguard chiefs for filling the incident forms throughout the years. This work was assisted through funding provided by the IDEX ‘Invited Scholar’ scheme (Univ. Bordeaux) that brought RB in Bordeaux in fall 2014 to initiate this research. The surf zone injury report forms, which are still used at the time of writing this paper, were designed by J.M. Campagne in 1999 in close collaboration with CRS and civil lifeguards, fire brigade and coastal municipalities. BC was funded by project SONO (ANR-17-CE01-0014) from the Agence Nationale de la echerche (ANR). The data file was declared upon the Commission Nationale Informatique et Liberté (CNIL) under the number 21118123v0 according to French law. This retrospective study was authorised by local ethic committee. We thank the two anonymous reviewers for constructive comments and suggestions that improved the paper.

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Correspondence to Bruno Castelle.

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Castelle, B., Brander, R., Tellier, E. et al. Surf zone hazards and injuries on beaches in SW France. Nat Hazards 93, 1317–1335 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11069-018-3354-4

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Keywords

  • Surf zone hazards
  • Drowning
  • Spinal injuries
  • Rip currents
  • Shore break
  • Surfing