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Mel Gibson's 'Passion' For Ocean Safety

By John Morgan, Spotlight Health
With medical adviser Stephen A. Shoop, M.D.

Whether you know Mel Gibson as the Sexiest Man Alive, Hollywood's top leading man or as the Academy Award-winning director of Braveheart, there's no doubt about his passion for everything he pursues. That includes his love of the water and his commitment to promoting ocean safety.

"Always swim in guarded waters," states Gibson, who is an avid water-sports enthusiast and a father of seven. "I always tell my kids that if you go to the beach, go in the water near or within sight of a manned lifeguard station. Beyond that I think kids should all learn how to swim. I mean it's really the beginning. You can't become any good at surfing or any other water sport unless you're a strong and confident swimmer."

In order to truly enjoy ocean sports activities such as swimming, surfing, body-boarding and body-surfing, it is important for parents to make sure that the entire family is well-versed in ocean safety.

Gibson and lifeguards around the country hope this weekend's holiday won't literally be the final visit for some. According to the United States Lifesaving Association, in 2003 there were more than 238 million visits to the beach, requiring in excess of 55,000 rescues. Of the 86 reported drowning incidents last year, 71 occurred in unguarded water.

"Our best advice is before going into the water come talk to the nearest lifeguard and find out the water conditions," says Captain Jake Jacobson, a 28-year veteran Los Angeles County lifeguard. "The ocean is a dynamic, ever-changing environment. It's always fun, but it can be dangerous."

What Lifeguards want

Ocean fun is something Gibson discovered when his family moved from the United States to Australia. Young Gibson quickly picked up the Aussie passion for the ocean.

"I started surfing as a kid in Australia," says Gibson, who directed this year's box office hit The Passion of the Christ. "I soon became extremely proficient in wiping out. Surfing is a great sport. My kids are all into it."

Ocean safety is something Gibson also pays attention to and wants parents and beachgoers to heed themselves. For the Mad Max and LethalWeapon star, ocean safety awareness starts with swimming and surfing lessons.

"I didn't take any lessons starting out and that's why I kept wiping out," Gibson says. "Lessons are really important. My kids all started with lessons and that's why they are so into it now. Just like any other sport or skill, you need to start with a good foundation. It also helps when you've been away from it for a while and want to pick it up again. I think with surfing in particular it's good to be shown the ropes by someone who really knows what they're doing."

Tom Corliss, director of the Malibu Makos Surf Club for the past 14 years, is someone who knows what he's doing. Lifeguards like Jacobson say programs like the Makos are an asset to the lifesaving community.

"The Makos organization is located on my beach and I see how they teach ocean safety," says Jacobson, who notes that the surf club was selected specifically for sponsorship by the surf industry leader Quiksilver because of it's commitment to ocean safety. "By providing kids a knowledge of and confidence in the water, these kids can better avoid dangerous situations - especially rip currents."

Water signs

It's probably no surprise Gibson is the water sign Aquarius, but the most important water sign for your children's safety is identifying a rip current.

The vast majority of rescues - nearly 19,000 - was and is caused by rip currents, the equivalent of a small river flowing out to sea.

"Every single morning we meet and instruct all the kids at Malibu Makos on how to identify a rip current and what to do should they get caught in one," explains Corliss, a former professional lifeguard himself. "Number one is do not panic. Signal the lifeguard by waving your arms over your head and then you can either float or hang on to your board and wait for help. If you have a board, do not let go of it."

Corliss and Jacobson strongly urge that people do not attempt to swim back to shore against the current.

"That's the worst thing you can do," Jacobson explains. "It's like swimming upstream in a river and will succeed only in exhausting the swimmer and making matters potentially much worse. If you want to swim out of the rip current, swim sideways at a 45 degree angle to shore."

And Jacobson points out that just because a lifeguard is on duty, parents must remain vigilant about watching their children whenever they are in the water.

"We call it having an extra pair of eyes on the water," Jacobson says. "Lifeguards are trained at seeing just about everything going on out in the water but it never hurts to have some backup from parents."

But lessons and ocean safety programs are not just for avoiding tragedies. They are also for maximizing your fun and your child's fun in the water.

"By getting someone to show you how it's done, you sort of minimize the frustration of starting out and get to the good stuff more quickly --then you can go off and have fun and explore all the rest that surfing has to offer," Gibson says. "I've been involved with the Makos for many years. Their program provides kids a sense of confidence and a deep knowledge of the sport with a heavy emphasis on safety. These kids take that confidence into other areas of their lives too. It's invaluable."

And Gibson says sun protection is equally invaluable and urges everyone to use it liberally this holiday weekend whether people are at the beach, a ballgame or a barbecue.

"I'm a sun block fanatic," Gibson states. "I put that stuff on everywhere. Skin cancer is a real threat - why expose yourself to it when you can so easily prevent it?"

Spotlight Health is the leading creator of celebrity-featured health-issue awareness campaigns, connecting consumers with impassioned celebrities whose personal health battles can open eyes, dispel myths and change lives. Spotlight Health helps sufferers and caregivers meet the challenges of difficult health circumstances with understandable, in-depth medical information, compassionate support and the inspiration needed to make informed healthcare choices.

Created: 9/2/2004  -  John Morgan & Stephen A. Shoop, M.D.
Reviewed: 9/2/2004  -  Donnica Moore, M.D.

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