Sometimes a single event can have a defining influence on the direction one’s life can take. Seth de Boer, 21, experienced two in the space of two years which set him on the path to become a rescue volunteer with the National Sea Rescue Service (NSRI) and with a determination to go above and beyond to help those in need.
“I started volunteering at Sea Rescue due to two events that occurred in my life,” de Boer said. “When I was around 14 years old, I was bodyboarding at Llandudno beach. At the time I had no experience nor confidence in my capabilities. Twenty minutes into the surf I took a horrible wipe-out and thought this might be my final moment.”
“I eventually found myself washed up on the shoreline, bloated in my chest, and with that struggling sensation for a gasp of air. At that time, I knew I needed to change and improve my skills and gain respect for the ocean.”
A year later, de Boer found himself at Muizenberg beach on a sunny day and with the swell rolling in at shoulder height. “Everyone was spread out keeping to themselves. While paddling back, I suddenly noticed on my left side, about 30 meters away, a board floating past which is normally a sign that something is amiss. I paddled towards the board and noticed someone on their back. I rushed towards the man and rolled him over onto a stand-up paddleboard with the help of a paddle boarder that had also noticed the man in difficulty.”
On their way to the shore de Boer lay on the board to keep the “casualty” in place. “I noticed a twitch in the facial muscle around the zygomaticus muscles which basically made it look as if he was smiling.”
The man was brought safely ashore and emergency services summoned.
“My training kicked in where I was taught basic CPR by NSRI when they came to our school for a talk a few years before the incident,” de Boer added.
“Unfortunately, the gentleman passed away. Till this day I am completely unsure of what was the cause of his death and it is something I have to live with my entire life. But I also know that if it wasn’t for the training that kicked in, I would most certainly have panicked, and he would have not had a fighting chance.
“The incident left me psychologically confused, thinking it was my fault as if I did something wrong. But I have come to realise that all I have to do is keep on trying my best and sharpening my skills and to make a difference in my community. That is why I joined the NSRI, to lend a hand to those that can’t help themselves.”
De Boer is based at NSRI Station 16 at Strandfontein where he is on standby for emergencies, regularly checks and cleans the rescue equipment, and inspects the rescue vessel’s body and engine with the base captain present.
In his “spare” time he does public talks on behalf of the NSRI about drowning prevention and also teaches children about ocean conservation as part of the I Am Water Foundation (IAW). He also surfs and coaches surfing at Muizenberg.
And he loves visiting retirement homes for talks about the history of the NSRI and the role volunteers play on both the coastal and inland waters of South African “and seeing them smile and sitting down and listening to all the stories and knowing that they will pass this on to their grandkids”.
De Boer has been with the NSRI for three years and counting and along with the rest of the NSRI volunteer family is on standby 24/7.
So, what is he hoping to be one day? “In a way I do plan a future in rescue and am hoping to join an anti-poaching unit at the Kruger National Park. Unfortunately, the lockdown affected my plans financially, but in time I’ll get there.”
When asked to comment on the youth of South Africa, de Boer believes, “We should all strive to go above and beyond to help those in need where we can and to be the best generation to come.”