Surfer’s death off Lowestoft was a ‘freak’ accident

A surfer who died when he got into difficulties off Lowestoft was killed in a freak accident while he took part in his extreme sport, an inquest has heard.

Steven Sparks, 33, drowned after his surfboard had got entangled with a groyne off the town's south beach on April 30 last year.

Mr Sparks had gone out surfing with a friend, John Hemsley, in what was described at the inquest as an exceptionally powerful surf.

The CCTV system engineer from London had been dragged back to the shore by off-duty lifeguard Paul Weavers after Mr Hemsley had gone on the groyne to try to help his stricken friend, who had then become unconscious when he came off his board.

In a statement read out at the inquest at Lowestoft Magistrates' Court, Mr Weavers, a member of the Lowestoft Volunteer Lifeguard Corps, said: 'We were being pounded by the waves all the time. The water was extremely turbulent.'

Two other volunteer lifeguards, Marcin Jaworski and Matthew Clutten, and a member of the public then helped the unconscious Mr Sparks reach the shore by the Esplanade and they tried to resuscitate him before the emergency services arrived.

But Mr Sparks was pronounced dead at the scene at 12.56pm.

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Yesterday, Suffolk Coroner Dr Peter Dean praised the efforts of the 'public spirited' lifeguards and member of the public who tried to save Mr Sparks's life.

He said: 'I commend their actions very highly.'

The inquest heard that Mr Sparks, who was married, and Mr Hemsley had been surfing for four years, were intermediate level surfers and normally went to the west coast to surf.

They had chosen to go Lowestoft after visiting a website and seeing what the conditions were like.

They had decided to stay close to the lifeguard station on South Beach when they went out.

During the inquest Det Insp Angus Moir, of Lowestoft police station and also captain of the Lowestoft Volunteer Lifeguard Corps, described the conditions on the day of Mr Sparks's death.

He said 'It was an exceptionally powerful surf that day.'

The inquest heard a toxicology report showed Mr Sparks's had no illegal substances or alcohol in his system.

He could have drowned in the space of two or three minutes.

Mr Sparks had not been wearing a helmet when he went out to sea – even though his surf board did have advice on it saying a helmet should be used.

The inquest heard that Waveney District Council had done everything in its power to make the beach and sea safe, including putting up warning signs.

There were plans, however, for the use of helmets while surfing to be promoted and two defibrilators are due to be installed at the lifeguard station.

But the inquest was told that despite every measure, surfing was a hazardous activity.

David Gallagher, who oversees lifeguards for the council, said: 'In this case people put themselves in harm's way; that is a risk people are prepared to take.'

Dr Dean, recording a verdict of accidental death, said: 'This was a freak accident.

'It is a sport, an extreme sport, where there are ever-present risks.'

anthony.carroll@archant.co.uk

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