As a former big wave surfer, Dean Bowen is no stranger to taking risks in the ocean and when it came to risking his life to save others, there was no exception.
Last week, Dean was enjoying a well-earned sundown schooner at his friend’s apartment – behind the Manly Surf Life Saving Club – when he noticed two people fighting against a rip on Manly Beach.
With his ten years of experience as a professional surfer and five years as a lifeguard, he has a keen eye for spotting dangerous surf conditions and decided action was needed.
“I was having dinner at my mate’s apartment and was mid-way through a schooner when I saw them in trouble.
“I was actually a little concerned because I just realised the lifeguards had gone home – it was about seven o’clock.”
Dean left his 6-month pregnant wife and rushed down to the ocean from the apartment highrise to rescue the pair.
Fortunately, one of them had already made it to shore by the time he arrived.
A surfer managed to get the other swimmer onto her board. It’s unclear whether she was helped or simply swam herself back to shore.
Dean said he then used her board to paddle the man back to shore and into the arms of his girlfriend. “She was really stressed so to see them cuddle, it’s a nice feeling for everyone.”
Ultimately no one was harmed, but Dean says the situation could’ve been much worse if they had been out there for much longer.
“I spent five years as a lifeguard so I sort of understood that he was on his last go, he had a little vomit and got to the beach and sort of collapsed.
“He probably spent around 20 minutes fighting a rip… and that’s a good warning sign for everyone to realise that it can [Surf conditions] change in a moment.”
Saving people from the surf is a heroic feat for a day’s work – but it wasn’t even Dean’s first rescue of the day.
Earlier that morning Dean also assisted a man who collapsed in the middle of Sydney Road after experiencing a seizure.
“I was just walking my wife to Yoga and someone had a seizure on the road.
“We had to move him, which is not what you’re supposed to do with a seizure, you’re supposed to just move everything around him, but he was on the road, so we got him off.”
Dean and his wife Natalie stayed with the man until the ambulance arrived and he came too.
“He ended up okay, he didn’t really know what was going on.
“You know it’s great to have great first responders here in Sydney… they’re good outcomes.”
Dean has only been living in Manly for a year but has already stapled himself as a local hero.
When asked what lessons in beach safety the former big wave surfer will instil in his child once it’s born, he responded with sound advice for the community.
“It’s a good important lesson for everyone to learn about the beach… the ocean’s a wild, wild thing, being a surfer before, we’ve had three-foot waves, and by the time I’ve come in, it’s been ten-foot. It’s about being aware.
“Our lifeguards do an incredible job, so always swim between the flags and listen to the first responders here.”