Northern Ireland

Surfer pays tribute to RNLI for rescuing him as charity marks 200th birthday

Matthew Best from Lisburn was rescued off Benone Beach in Co Derry.

Surfer Matthew Best with RNLI lifeguard supervisor Annie Jagoe
Surfer Matthew Best with RNLI lifeguard supervisor Annie Jagoe Surfer Matthew Best with RNLI lifeguard supervisor Annie Jagoe

A surfer has paid tribute to the RNLI for rescuing him, as the charity marks 200 years on duty at sea and on inland waters.

For two centuries, volunteer lifeboat crews and seasonal lifeguards have saved more than 146,000 lives across the UK and Ireland.

In Northern Ireland the charity has 10 lifeboat stations, from which lifeboats have been launched 9,472 times, with their volunteers saving 1,535 lives and coming to the aid of thousands more.



Since the introduction of lifeguards in a region in 2011, the RNLI’s seasonal teams based along the Causeway Coast and in Co Down have responded to 2,894 incidents, coming to the aid of 3,461 people, 47 of whom had their lives saved.

2. Volunteers from the RNLI’s 10 lifeboat stations in Northern Ireland, with RNLI lifeguards, RNLI Trustee Paddy McLaughlin and surfer Matthew Best who was rescued at Benone Beach.
2. Volunteers from the RNLI’s 10 lifeboat stations in Northern Ireland, with RNLI lifeguards, RNLI Trustee Paddy McLaughlin and surfer Matthew Best who was rescued at Benone Beach. 2. Volunteers from the RNLI’s 10 lifeboat stations in Northern Ireland, with RNLI lifeguards, RNLI Trustee Paddy McLaughlin and surfer Matthew Best who was rescued at Benone Beach.

Among those rescued was Matthew Best, from Lisburn, who got into difficulty while surfing off Benone Beach.

RNLI lifeguard Annie Jagoe was alerted to an “unconscious body in the water”, over her VHF radio, and grabbed her spinal board to assist.

Mr Best said he remembers surfing with friends when something went wrong, and he assumed he came off his board and hit his head on the sand.

“I’m quite tall, about 6ft 4in, and the water was about my height. I hit my head on the bottom, then floated to the top,” he said.

“At that point I was still awake but essentially paralysed from the shoulders down. It turns out the vertebrae in my neck had broken, and I had completely crushed my spinal cord.

“I found myself floating face down in the water. I knew straight away I had broken my neck, but I could still move my shoulders. It was at that point I thought this is it, and I thought about my family and my poor mum when she would get the news.”

While one of his friends was able to flip him over in the water, Ms Jagoe got him to shore with the aid of the spinal board

“Thankfully he was still floating, so I asked his friend to stay holding his head and we worked to get the spinal board beneath him with the help of all our team.

“On the beach there was a former coastguard and a doctor, so we had all the assistance we needed until the arrival of the ambulance service, working to ensure Matthew’s condition didn’t worsen and that he was made as comfortable as possible.”

Mr Best underwent nine hours of spinal surgery and a had month of bed rest before he started an intensive rehabilitation and recovery programme.

A year later he was able to reunite with Ms Jagoe and make a return to surfing.

“On the anniversary of his accident he got in touch and said I think I am ready to try surfing again, so we did a one-to-one, he was very keen, his mobility was great, there were some things he wasn’t quite able to do.

“But his progress was incredible and just to see him stand up on the wave, up on the board progressing, is something I find hard to describe, there was so much excitement and joy for him,” she said.

“It was surreal to know that a year ago from that moment he couldn’t walk at all.

“As a lifeguard, it so nice to go to your job and know that you can help someone that day, it’s great.”

Mr Best said had it not been for the RNLI, his story “could have been very different”.

RNLI trustee Paddy McLaughlin, also a volunteer at Red Bay RNLI in Cushendall, said the charity was “remarkable”.

“It is an honour and a privilege to see and be a part of this lifesaving organisation as it reaches its bicentenary,” he said.

“For a charity to have survived 200 years based on the time and commitment of volunteers, and the sheer generosity of the public donating to fund it, is truly remarkable.

“It is through the courage and dedication of its incredible people that the RNLI has survived the test of time.”