The Essentials of Water Safety with Bondi Rescue’s Bruce Hopkins

It’s Cullen here from EATT Magazine Podcast, and I’m joined today by Bruce Hopkins as we are talking about water safety,  also known as Hoppo. People refer to you most of the time as Hoppo, is that right?

Yeah. These days pretty much growing up. I’ve been known as Hoppo.

Brilliant. Can I ask you, do you remember, I guess clearly when you first started on the beach, and this is the dream, can you remember how that was?  View the images for this podcast from your podcast stream

Yeah, when I first started down there probably around 22 and a bit nervous coming in and trying to work out what I’m going to do when but I could always handle myself in the water, but there’s a lot more to being a lifeguard than been able to swim and paddleboard.

So yeah, I was quite nervous and intimidated and really had to look to the older, more experienced guys to see what you really had to do because back in those days, you worked on your own a lot as well, so I remember getting handed a pair of shorts, and a shirt, a whistle and they say out you go. Whereas these days we go through an induction program with all the guys.

We’ve got trainees and who also that come along and so it’s a lot more professional these days than when I was back in.

Were there jet skis back then?

Back when I started, which was 91′ there was pretty much not even a beach bike, there are no jet skis, all you had was the rescue tube and a rescue board and, you’re running up and down the beach to get to each person.

So I mean this, these days with the equipment, jet skis, and bikes and it’s pretty much minimized the response time for all the guys who get to the rescues.

And I know that time, I suppose in some ways, it’s changed a lot of work because it would’ve been a lot fewer people there. Now, how many people are going to be expected they normally there will be a lot.

Yeah. On a busy day down at Bondi. You’ll get anything from 30 to 40,000 people. I mean it’s, uh, it’s pretty full-on. You won’t see any sand on a busy day.

And a lot of people and you know, we’ll have point from six to we have a minimum of six lifeguards up to probably either on a busier day working through the afternoon so it gets quite intense and it’s very easy to miss someone, so everyone’s got to be on the ball.

For water safety, I wanted to ask you about the flags, the flags today and even on a brilliant sunny day like today.

They look a little bit closer together than I normally think, they are.

‘Hoppo’s water-safety’ podcast
‘Hoppo’s water-safety’ podcast

Well with the flags, it’s something that is on the day to day basis. So if conditions prevail, you know, you might get a wider sandbank where people can sort of stand up a lot more of the rips aren’t running as bad and then also when you get the rips that are quite bad, and there’s a lot of drag, the sandbank and what we a bit smaller.

So the flags that are a bit smaller. So we just accommodate the people to go to those areas where it’s not as dangerous, but it’s something that people need to be aware of.

And I guess, the other thing you said is quite often you had two sets of flags, is that right?

Yeah, at Bondi we will have two sets. We will have a set them roughly in the middle of the beach.

We’ll have a set down the north end of the beach because of the crowds, and we try and cater for everybody, but it becomes quite difficult to for 30 – 40,000 people don’t actually fit physically between the flags. So it makes it tough for us.

And I guess for those of our listeners who are planning to come to a beach and listening. Maybe what’s the one thing that they might not know about the rip. Could you explain what a rip for someone that you didn’t know what the word means?

We’ll get a lot of people coming from overseas, and they don’t understand what rips are, especially here in Australia.

And they are pretty much deep water and waves break on the sandbanks and then all the water that comes in needs to get back out to sea. So it comes in and then forms its own little sort of river type thing to go back out and generally that’s where it’s karma, waves aren’t breaking, and it looks nice to just jump in and have a swim, and that’s why people tend to get into those areas and thinking it’s safe. But pretty much that’s the water rushing backing up and something to be very aware of.

Right. I guess that’s something that you learn very early on, is to see the rip, to see, to be able to pick it. Is that something that I guess you also learn from experience as well?

Yeah, I mean we can see it, and I mean, I have grown up with it, and what we used to do as kids, the best way when you’re surfing to get out to the back of the break is jumping where the rip is because it generally dragged out a lot quicker. You don’t have to do it as much paddling, so in the least amount of waves.

So you learned that quite quickly here in Australia, as a young kid growing up surfing and at something that you utilise that to get out past the bank?

So people tend to panic a lot as soon as they can’t stand up, the panic sets in.

So pretty much they just need to float and relax because 90 percent of the time, rips will pull across back onto the sandbank where you can stand up without even trying to swim. If you just float it, it can pull you back around.

It’s just people panic, and it pulls them towards the waves, and then I don’t want to go where the waves are because they’re not confident and they try to swim back against that and then they just tire out.

Okay. And I guess once you start tiring, yeah, that’s when things get difficult I guess. And that’s when it’s more important to relax yourself.

That they’ve identified that when you’re about to drown you’re, you’ve got no sense of direction. You get the lactic acid build-up in your arms like you’ve got any thoughts on these 100 meter world record time, and obviously, these people coming down on maybe aren’t quite as fit as what he was doing that.

So it’s like putting the equivalent of 50-kilo weights on your arm and it puts you in a deep area in the surf and even myself, you wouldn’t be able to keep yourself afloat. So that’s what happens with the lactic acid buildup. People panicking and see you really need to relax. As hard as that is when you think you’re gonna drown, but pretty much, if you go to a beach where it’s patrolled, lifeguards will be there to see, and they’ll be on their way out even though you don’t know that anyone’s even watching you are coming out.

I suppose, you know, there’s a lot of, a lot of other things that you, you work on and I know that one of the things that has been important to you helping establish education, the Surf Educators International; So it must have been a real buzz for you.

Water safety podcast with Hoppo
Water safety podcast with Hoppo

It’s something we found that lacked in, Australia and I formed that with Grant Kenny and ex Ironman champion and Craig Rings, also an iron man champion. And we came together and formed this association when now I’m probably taking up to 20,000 plus students from schools and educating them in the rips, and we actually put them in the there, and they float around, and they get the experience of being in there.

Whereas in the past, a lot of people would just go into the schools putting up slides and a classroom-type, and we found that that looking at the pictures doesn’t give you the same experience. So, I put them into a rip in a controlled environment with plenty of water safety there to keep an eye on them that then, you know, they get a bit of experience and understand what they need to do when they’re on their own down the beach.

That’s preventative as well, isn’t it? Because that’s probably going to be saving a lot of rescues down the track, starting really early.

That’s right. If you can save, a lot of rescues in the future, hopefully by starting with these kids and giving them the experience, and when they get older, and then they have children they can educate them as well, and hopefully, that’s a snowball effect. So by the time we get 40, 50 years down the track, a lot more people, you know, can understand it and not get themselves in a lot of trouble.

I guess the other thing is I know with Bondi rescue, you recently, you gave that to the top five favorite things, but we know that we’re a couple of things that didn’t make it into the top five and could have been on there. What were one of those two things?

I think one of the highlights down at Bondi was the 2000 Olympics. They put in the, a 10,000 seat Beach Volleyball Stadium, and is even better than when we were there and working. And I’ll never forget it. The finals, the women, you know, Karie Portas and Natalie Cook they won the Olympic gold. I think that was the first time an Australian team has ever won beach volleyball, and you could hear the crowd cheering, and it was just a great atmosphere, and you know, we had probably two weeks of that down to the beach and this massive stadium, and you know, it’s something that I’ll probably never forget. It just felt like I was a part of the Olympic Games.

And look, I know that, one of the other things that you traveled a lot and you speak a lot internationally. Is there, is there a place that you’ve been to that you want to go back to? Just to think, oh, I really need to come back here.

I did a lot. A couple of years ago. I went to India and did it a lot there with the lifeguards. There’s a lifeguard service there,  down in Goa, which is predominantly the tourist area of India, which is very beach orientated.

A lot of people go there to go swimming, and you don’t get a lot of waves, but you do get a lot of water movement where they get themselves into some sort of strife.

So they were having probably over 200 or more drownings a year, and I went in and at 105 kilometers of their coastline and we actually put a few things in place.

And the last report I had, they’ve dropped that down to about 20 drownings a year, which is, which is good that they’re really starting to come along and, and understand how to sort of minimize that risk. Uh, so I’d love to probably go back to India and check all that out again.

Sure. And I know that we were, we were talking earlier, and you’ve got a couple of different projects on the go as well internationally, and so I guess most of our listeners might not know about. Tell us about those.

Oh, a couple of things. There’s one on back racing on the ocean skis. So that’s something that, I haven’t done it for a couple of years.

I was doing it quite full on before that and had a bit of a few years break, so back doing that, and I’ve got a big race coming up in November 12. So that’s something that I’m really looking forward to, and I hope I can perform well there.

We do a lot of charity work for charities around Sydney and around Australia, and they had some bad floods out in Forms recently, and it’s a country town.

We’re going to go out there and do a bit of a promo and hang around the water slides out there and, try and draw some people in there because $10 goes towards, of every ticket will go towards the flood relief. So hopefully, we can generate a fair bit of money for them.

So what’s, what’s the, I know that you’ve got a couple of big races coming up as well.

Do you want to just tell us about where they are?

Yeah, leading into Hong Kong. So I’ve had a couple of races recently went on the north side of Sydney and uh, there’s one coming up at Bondi to Watson’s Bay next week, uh, and then also then I’ll head off to Adelaide and are going to rice down in Adelaide there’s, which is another 16-kilometer race down there, and then it’s over to Hong Kong and uh, hopefully, that’s the, uh, that’s the big one.

And what are conditions like compared to Australia?

Apparently conditions there, I’ve never been to Hong Kong before. So this is gonna be a, a bit of an eye-opener as well or he does get humid and it can be called depending on the year and conditions if it is humid will be tough. Uh, but there’s a lot of wind. You get a lot of wind and bump and which suits us from, from over here where you said the rough conditions and the wind. So the wind with chops would be good to um, chase some really good runners down downwind and that will suit us over here. So I’m just reading one guy that has done it in the past. One year he went over is about 34 degrees and was dead flat like a milk pawn, so I’m hoping it’s not like that.

Then wrapping up with here, it’s a perfect day to look at it. How would you describe conditions today?

I mean conditions today, looking at the cross from, um, from chapter one cafe, which it pretty much can be a little bit dangerous today.

There are a few small rips out there, and the waves are around the two, three-foot mark and generally at Bondi, that’s probably predominantly the worst conditions we get for people getting in trouble when it gets a little bigger, Bondi tends to, to close out a lot and people can’t manage to get out in the back unless they’ve got a bit of experience so that in-between conditions are usually the hardest for us.

And mainly it’s a beautiful sunny day, and I’d say a lot of people you know will get probably the 20 to 30,000 down here today.

I guess down at the end of the beach there are the big rocks as well and I guess since Bondi Rescue, a lot of people avoid those, they didn’t used to it.

Yeah, I’m in the Bondi Rescue has done a lot for, especially international tourists. They watch it over there. It’s in 160 countries now and, you know, people come out, they identify where these rocks are, and I know flat rock there, they often jump off and get a lot of bruising and scratches and that from that when I get hit by the waves and then South Bondi around the Icebergs they get dragged around there. So, a lot of people are aware of those famous locations now and pretty much avoid them.

Well, look, thank you very much for spending some time with us today. If there was any other advice you wanted to give people that are planning to come down to Bondi to coming over from overseas, what would you tell them?

The best way is to you know, keep an eye on where are red and yellow flags are. And if you’re not sure, have a look around the environment and, and, and check it out before you go rushing down and jumping in the water and, and if you see a lifeguard go up and if you’re unsure to check out what the conditions are like on the day.

Thank you very much for spending some time, and you get back out into the water now.

Yeah, I’m heading back down and back on the beach working this afternoon. So yeah, it’s great having a chat.


Bruce Hoppo Hopkins was born and raised in Bronte, New South Wales.

His passionate contribution to lifesaving across Australia and around the world is recognised in many ways.

Having spent nearly much of his childhood in and around the beach, it was second nature to him first becoming a lifeguard for the Waverley Council back in 1991.

Bruce has spent much of his life between Bondi, Tullamarra, and Bronte beaches, becoming one of the  Waverley council’s longest-serving lifeguards.

Hoppo, as he is most commonly called has achieved many awards including the Australian Lifeguard of the year in 2006, and two Gold Medals at the Australian Surf Lifesaving titles.

Through his life as a lifeguard,  Hoppo entered into celebrity status through the real-life hit TV series Bondi Rescue.

Having appeared in twelve seasons, Hoppo has become a household name in the lifeguard scene and now is the Vice President of Surf Education International which focuses on the education of water safety.

Hopkins is a keen philanthropist, a regular competitor at Perth’s Rottnest Island Swim for the charity category for the past eight years and has proudly supported many charity organizations over the years, including The McGrath Foundation, Livin, Randwick Children’s Hospital and R U OK?

Bruce Hoppo Hopkins is an icon in the lifeguard scene and is continually working to provide further education to people and helping people in any possible.

More details on Bruce ‘Hoppo‘ Hopkins can be found here on

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