Big Wave Risk Assessment Group: saving lives in high surf scenarios | Photo: Shutterstock

The Big Wave Risk Assessment Group (BWRAG) was founded shortly after the death of Sion Milosky, who passed away surfing Mavericks.

BWRAG is a community of surfers, big wave surfers, personal watercraft drivers, health professionals, lifeguards, and ocean rescuers who practice, train and share knowledge on ocean risk management.

The group was started by Danilo Couto, Kohl Christensen and Mark Healey in 2011, and instructs watermen and waterwomen to adopt safety protocols, lifesaving equipment, and first aid skills in high surf environments.

BWRAG runs two programs - Level 1 and Level 2 - with both classroom and water classes.

The BWRAG Training Courses

Level 1 is a one-day course, in which pupils learn the basic of ocean risk management, and receive CPR certification from the American Safety & Health Institute.

Watermen deepen their knowledge in basic trauma intervention, analysis of surf breaks, nonverbal communication (NVC), before learning more about advisable morning routines, Pranayama, and experimenting key breath-hold training practices.

Level 2 is a two-day advanced course for people interested in gaining experience in waves of consequence, and include both classroom and in-water training.

Big wave surfing: assessing the risk is increasing safety | Photo: Shutterstock

The program adds lessons on the Hawaiian ocean culture and its traditions, the big wave surfer mindset, identification of hazards in extreme surf environments, and analysis of previous real-life experiences.

The course also features breath-hold and apnea training, and the study of heavy water protocols, the rescue of unconscious victims with and without a surfboard, and jet ski pickup and rescue of unconscious victim​s.

Every season, the Big Wave Risk Assessment Group runs a Safety Summit featuring masterclasses on dynamic apnea and breathing techniques, surf break analysis, CPR/AED and medical intervention training, fitness routines, and surfboard rescue skills.

The BWRAG Safety Summits

The first BWRAG Safety Summit was held in a barn on Christensen’s property on the North Shore of Oahu.

Since then, BWRAG Safety Summit has evolved into multi-day seminars every December, where male and female big-wave surfers from around the world convene to refine their safety knowledge, learn CPR and basic lifesaving, conduct in-water training and discuss issues affecting safety in the big wave arena.

The Big Wave Risk Assessment Group expanded the training around the planet, partnering with local organizations and safety experts in countries like Ireland, Portugal, Australia, Puerto Rico, Chile, and Peru.

The completion of BWRAG courses also allows participants to purchase the personal surf inflation (PSI) vest by Patagonia.

Some of the most notable deaths in surfing could have been avoided if watermen had had proper instruction, equipment, and technologies in extreme surfing arenas like Pipeline, Mavericks, Waimea Bay, Ghost Tree, Alligator Rock, and Teahupoo.