Growing up on the shores of the Southern Ocean, the sea’s a second language for Stephen Cornish at Surf Life Saving SA. 

But for many people – particularly recent arrivals and visitors – Australia’s beaches can be dangerously unfamiliar.

In response, Steve is helping migrants and refugee communities learn life-saving skills through a program called the On the Same Wave. Designed for beach-lovers from all backgrounds with the Surf Life Saving community, the program also caters for international students, Indigenous Australians, tourists and people with a disability.

“We wanted to be more inclusive of new arrivals, and make sure theyre aware who the surf life savers are,” Steve said. “We wanted to reduce drownings by running this program, and hopefully were having an impact.”

Developed in response to a perception that clubs were the solely the domain of Anglo-Celtic Australians, Steve said the program aims to make the beach safer and more fun for everyone.

“Some groups have a history of being over-represented in drowning statistics,” explained Steve. “Obviously, there are issues with people coming in from different cultures and different backgrounds who haven’t had surf safety education as they were growing up.”

After training for their roles, On the Same Wave participants are encouraged to take the surf safety messages back to their family, communities or schools that they attend to educate people about the ocean. “First and foremost, its a mutual understanding” explained Steve. “Its about us recognising where people are coming from and their culture, and them understanding who we are and what we do on the beach. The common ground is keeping everyone safe from drowning.”

On the Same Wave is also pushing new boundaries by inviting some of its outstanding graduates to join a special youth leadership program that helps develop young people into surf-safety ambassadors.

“Coca-Colas support allowed us to take some of the graduates from the On the Same Wave program, who have actually become members of our Surf Living Saving Clubs, and take them on a development camp,” said Steve. “This will assist them take Surf Safety back to their communities and spread the message.”

Steve’s incredibly proud of the On the Same Wave graduates. Only three years ago, a young refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo couldn’t swim; but after participating in the program, he’s learned first aid, CPR and how to use a defibrillator, and can swim 400 metres.

Surf Life Saving also has a broad appeal to people of all skill levels. “There are many things that keep you entertained in the club as a junior, including social reasons. There are lots of friends involved,” he said. “You dont have to be an iron man or woman to be involved. You can do various things to help the club out and keep the beaches safe.”