BWRAG: Building Ocean Safety & Risk Management for All

Global Partner

BWRAG, otherwise known as Big Wave Risk Assessment Group, gives instruction for big wave surfers and groms on the beach on what to do when an emergency unfolds. Patagonia’s recent film “Connected By Water” includes interviews by big wave surfers to discuss the importance of keeping an eye on each other on and around the ocean. Watch the film & sign up for this online course below.

Patagonia BWRAG Photo Credit Ryan Chachi Craig_0201_cc_WEB
Photo: Ryan Chachi Craig

Big Wave Risks:  Building Ocean Safety for All

The death of surfer Sion Milosky at Mavericks in 2011 left the big wave surf community reeling from the loss of another great talent. It was a wake-up call. Big wave surfing was advancing faster than safety protocols, and something had to be done.

Watch Patagonia’s Film:  Connected By Water
On BWRAG’s Water Safety Course HERE

Later that year, a group of surfers led by Kohl Christensen and Danilo Couto gathered in Kohl’s barn on the North Shore of Oʻahu and held a CPR course taught by an emergency room nurse veteran. This was the first unofficial meeting of the Big Wave Risk Assessment Group (BWRAG). The following year, BWRAG held its first public summit at Turtle Bay Resort on the North Shore, expanding its teachings from CPR to first aid, water rescue skills and more.

Patagonia BWRAG Photo Credit Ryan Foley (1)
BWRAG, an Ocean Safety course involves the community in water safety by teaching them everything from breath holds to CPR and advanced First Aid. Photo by:  Ryan Foley

BWRAG:  Ocean Risk Management & Building the Brotherhood (and Sisterhood) in Big Surf

A couple of years later, veteran Hawaiian lifeguard, surfer and ocean risk specialist Brian Keaulana joined BWRAG. Brian brought with him decades of ocean safety experience that substantially expanded BWRAG’s training offerings. Over the next ten years, BWRAG evolved into an international gold standard and became known for holding summits all over the world that covered ocean risk management, CPR and AED training, first-aid medical intervention, spot analysis, mindful breathing and energy management, emergency action planning and water rescue. These summits were taught by some of the world’s best emergency response-trained big wave surfers and ocean technicians.

BWRAG recently expanded its curriculum to apply to surfers of all levels, for conditions “from 2-20 feet.” Drawing on their knowledge not just in ocean safety, but as lifelong surfers, the team recognized that some of the worst surfing accidents happen in the least threatening conditions. The course now aims to empower any ocean goers to become Surf Responders, armed with the knowledge to mitigate risk and be an asset in an emergency.

Patagonia BWRAG Photo Credit Tom Servais
Photo Credit: Tom Servais

BWRAG: Connected by Water – Now Offered Online

 The 2020 class schedule was canceled due to COVID-19. In its place, BWRAG’s Surf Responder Online Course will be available in January 2021. Pre-sale is currently open here. These classes give participants the training, knowledge and confidence that they need to help with water rescue scenarios. For BWRAG, taking the initiative to gain this knowledge is part of an obligation all surfers share to look out for one another in the lineup.


“We’re trying to change the whole mentality of surfing society, by spreading the true values of friendship, family, community, and culture in the water,” says Brian Keaulana. “We’re all one nation, which is the ocean nation. Surfers are not divided by land, we’re connected by water.”

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Evelyn O'Doherty, editor & publisher of the new Standup Journal 2.0 is a former school teacher gone rogue. She left her career as a teacher in order to spend more time near or on the water after learning to surf turned her life around (upsidedown?). She is a year-round surfer and paddler living on the eastern tip of Long Island in NY who is a certified SUP instructor, seasoned SUP racer and avid longboard surfer. Evelyn was hired as Online Editor to Standup Journal in 2016. Her passion for the project quickly led to her success and eventually taking over the mag herself in Oct. 2018. Today, as editor, publisher and chief bottle washer at Standup Journal, Evelyn keeps her toes wet writing, traveling, paddling, surfing, and learning to foil. You can find her most days paddling out on Gardiner's Bay or surfing Ditch Plains in Montauk, NY.