Surfer Iona Steen

It was a mild day in mid-June 2013 and holidaymaker Iona Steen was surfing happily at St Agnes in Cornwall. After a break, Iona went back into the cold water – only this time without her wetsuit.

‘With hindsight I was very tired,’ Iona recalls. ‘I just kept being pushed under the water and I got very distressed.’

Meanwhile off-duty Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service Firefighter and long-time member of St Agnes Surf Lifesaving Club, Howard Davey, was bodyboarding when he heard Iona shouting for help.

At this point she was about 60m from the shore and struggling in the surf. The cold water drained her of energy.

‘It was a classic case of being in the right place at the right time’

RNLI Lifeguard Dan Stirling carrying surfer Iona Steen out of the waterHoward swam to her and remembered his lifeguard training:

‘She was really flailing about. It was like taking a Beach Lifeguard Award exam! She jumped on top of me and I had to reassure her and encourage her to kick her legs. 

‘I protected her as several waves broke over the top of us and then RNLI Lifeguard Dan Stirling joined us on a rescue board. It was then Iona became very limp and Dan carried her out from the water. 

‘For me it was a classic case of being in the right place at the right time.’

I had the sensation that he was saving my life. He took over when he reached me. I was pretty dazed but he was really great and I felt very safe.
Iona talking about the moment Howard came to her rescue

Iona was very relieved to see Howard and praised the efforts of all involved in her rescue: ‘Everyone was brilliant and I was very impressed with the whole team from Howard to Dan and all the others who helped me, including the paramedics and hospital staff.’

A good example of people looking out for each other

Iona was suffering the effects of cold water shock and was at risk of secondary drowning triggered from inhaling water.

She was assisted by the RNLI Lifeguard Team at St Agnes before being taken to hospital by ambulance for a check-up and was thankfully later released.

Her story shows how vital it is to be suitably protected when surfing, even at the height of Summer. 

RNLI Lifeguard Manager Dickon Berriman says Iona’s story is also a good illustration of people looking out for each other: ‘It’s really important that people keep an eye on each other because you never know when someone is going to start struggling. Teamwork ensured Iona was assisted safely to shore.’


Stay safe at the coast