Ethan Stewart is a man of many talents. Brought up on the demanding (yet beautiful) beaches of Denmark, Ethan departed these shores for another and moved to Perth to study Nursing.
Along the way he began volunteering his time with the Rescue Helicopter and Emergency Response teams with Surf Life Saving Western Australia (SLSWA), as well as working his “real job” as a registered nurse in ICU at Fiona Stanley Hospital. In 2016, Ethan was awarded the Support Operations Volunteer of the Year for his outstanding work with SLSWA.
We recently caught up with Ethan at the Rescue Helicopter Response Centre in North Fremantle to discuss surf lifesaving, his upbringing, and his recent turn as star of the Woodside Social Awareness Campaign.
Q. So, Ethan, tell us a little about how you first became involved with surf lifesaving?
A. For as long as I can remember, I have always been involved in surf. As a kid growing up in Denmark, I really enjoyed the ocean and couldn’t get enough of it. So, naturally, I gravitated towards the surf at a young age. I joined Denmark SLSC as a nipper, this was in 1999, and along the way just became ingrained in the culture. From there it just grew and grew.
Q. So, why the move to Perth? What initiated the sea change, so to speak?
A. I moved to Perth to study, and it was only natural that once I was up in Perth full time I’d join a surf club. One of the guys at the club mentioned they were looking for volunteers to join the Helicopter Response and Emergency Response teams… And I jumped at the opportunity.
Q. Do you see similarities between lifesaving and nursing?
A. Well, being a kid from the country, it’s only natural to keep your eye out for other people… It’s just what you do. I enjoyed these aspects about surf lifesaving, and it was mentioned to me at a young age that I should follow a career as a paramedic or as a nurse. I guess I like to be busy, and to help others, and I really think both surf and nursing, fulfill a desire to do both. Both can be nerve-wracking at times, but both also offer an immense sense of gratification and reward.
Q. Do you think it takes a certain personality, or skill, to be a volunteer surf lifesaver?
A. It’s not always about saving lives and being the hero, it’s just a skillset, you know. Everyone has their passions and what they enjoy doing, and I enjoy doing my work with surf, and why wouldn’t you? In your spare time go drive jet skis and fly in helicopters as well as performing a community service.
Q. What do you find best about being out on the water?
A. There is a feeling when you’re out on the ski which is truly liberating – the expanse of the ocean everywhere around you, and just being out there for others – it’s a humbling experience.
Q. What are the hardest parts of the job?
A. Sometimes you’re called out in the middle of winter for search and rescue jobs – which can be pretty challenging. Last time something like this happened, it was freezing, and the swell was pretty horrible – progress was non-existent. I remember hail was coming down in sheets, bouncing off your body, and through a combination of the water and the cold my face was numb for hours. But, you know, it’s just part of the job, so I can’t complain.
Q. Do you ever find time to sleep?
A. (Laughs). People often ask me how I do it, or why donate so much of your spare time, and I just simply say because I love doing it and I couldn’t think of doing anything else.
Q. How important is it for companies such as Woodside to donate to SLSWA?
A. Our role is to keep the public safe. The PFDs supplied by Woodside keep us safe. They are not only there as a legal requirement to operate jet skis, but also for our own peace of mind. Their function is to protect us. So it’s a vital partnership.
Q. Finally, any advice for anyone looking at volunteering their time for an organization like SLSWA?
A. I think surf lifesaving, and volunteering in general, provide you with an amazing opportunity to develop new skills and to meet new people. Not every day is the same, and if you’re fortunate to find yourself working for support-ops, like I did, you get to a have a lot of fun along the way as well. And don’t be afraid if you don’t think you have certain abilities, for as long as you set out to achieve certain goals you’ll do well.