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Our time in the sun on surf sports stage

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Our time in the sun on surf sports stage

Three Sunshine Coast clubs are set to host the largest lifesaving competition event in the world. WORDS: Shirley Sinclair.

Splashes of colour ebb and flow on the sands and in the waves as far as the eye can see. First-timers thrust into the thick of the action are left gobsmacked by the sea of shade tents spanning competition areas, the kaleidoscope of caps, togs and uniforms of the 314 affiliated surf life saving clubs, and countless skis and boards scattered on grassy areas and stacked high in trailers.

In stark contrast is the army of officials sprinkled throughout: all dressed in crisp white and each with a specific job to do – from marshalling under the competition tents and recording results to ordering athletes to “face the water” before firing the starter’s gun.

The annual Australian Surf Life Saving Championships – the ultimate test of skills in and out of the water – is a sporting spectacle like no other.

Surf Life Saving Australia (SLSA) reports that with more than 480 beach and ocean events and in excess of 8000 athletes, ‘The Aussies’ is the largest surf lifesaving event in the world.

The 2024 instalment is the Sunshine Coast’s chance to shine on and off the podium, because for the first time since 2021, Alexandra Headland, Maroochydore and Mooloolaba clubs will host The Aussies from April 13-21. And whether you are a competitor, manager, handler, coach, parent, official or spectator, you can’t help but be impressed by the sheer numbers of people and craft.

It can be a little overwhelming and humbling but oh-so-exciting and exhilarating. Surf sports competitors learn to put all emotions aside, however, to channel adrenaline into performance and focus on the task at hand, race by race.

And someone who understands that better than most is elite ironwoman-turned-coach, Maddy Dunn.

The former Kawana Waters nipper experienced her first Aussies in the Under-15s for Mooloolaba at the 2010 titles at Kurrawa on the Gold Coast. And she distinctly recalls the step up to the national competition ranks.

“It was tough racing every day for five days and was a new experience,” says Maddy, who competed for Northcliffe on the Gold Coast in the Nutri-Grain Ironwoman Series.

“It was so different from state titles, as suddenly we were racing against so many more clubs and from places I had never heard of.

“It was great to meet new people and definitely helped spark my love for competitive racing.”

The Aussies is the pinnacle of surf sports competition in the nation and the final test of the annual lifesaving season in individual and teams events.

The events mark the culmination of all the early-morning and late-afternoon training sessions, the weights work and regimented nutrition plans, the sacrifices in social life.

Expectations run high but the results at previous carnivals, branch and state titles mean little when Mother Nature comes into play.

“Aussies is about team work, testing yourself and knowing that another season is coming to a close,” Maddy says.

“To win a medal at Aussies gives you a sense of pride that all that training has paid off and you know that you have given it all.

“Any Aussie medal is something everyone should treasure. Board rescue was always my favourite and resulted in a number of gold medals over the years.

“I’ve been lucky to be around Aussies for 14 years as a competitor and now coach. But winning team medals with friends and training partners after a long year training together has to be the most rewarding result.

“Every athlete racing has completed around 45 weeks of training. Aussies is the final time for the year you will get to race.

“It’s always a huge excitement and relief when it’s over.

“The best thing is, no matter the result, you will always be able to laugh and joke and celebrate at the trailers on Sunday with everyone.”

Now aged 29 and mother of six-month-old son Koa, Maddy’s transition from competitor to coach has been helped by the support of her extended family, and especially husband and former elite surf ski paddler Nick Gale, who is now director of surf sports
at Mooloolaba.

The Sunshine Coast Grammar teacher aide sees her new surf sports role as a way of giving back to the volunteer movement that has been so much a part of her life.

“This will be my third season as a coach,” she says.

“Aussies is a lot more relaxed these days, but you don’t get to sit under the tent that often.

“I seem to spend a lot of time drinking coffees while pacing up and down the sand.

“It’s still so exciting and a great time to be involved in the sport. Aussies is a great week and being a part of it in any way is extremely rewarding.

“A lot has changed (for me). I have traded my 4.20am swimming alarm for a six-month-old waking up.

“I am still so fortunate that I can jump in with the squad on the board when I can and even helped with teams throughout the year.

“But my competitive days are definitely over.

“I’m very grateful that I can now give back with coaching and pass on the skills and knowledge that I gained from the great coaches like Michael King and Naomi Flood.

“I would love to keep coaching and helping the youth of our sport.

“I feel it’s extremely important to keep the kids involved and keep breeding the next generation of athletes to help grow and support this great sport.

“At the end of the day, our core focus is providing a safe beach for the public to swim at. And surf sports helps us do that.”

Many Sunshine Coast competitors from the 14 affiliated surf life saving clubs, servicing 15 patrolled beaches from Rainbow to Redcliffe Peninsula, have arrived early to train in the competition areas in preparation for The Aussies.

Maddy says Maroochydore is a great beach to race at, but it can be tricky, so being able to spend as much time training there beforehand will be a huge advantage for local athletes.

Right now, she is focused on bringing out the best in her own squad.

“We are pretty lucky at Mooloolaba: we have a young and small squad,” she says.

“We are really looking forward to a home Aussies.

“Dominique Stitt has had a great season with her first Nutri-Grain Series under her belt.

She is growing in confidence and will be one to watch.

“Grace Thomas in Under-17 has been putting in the hard yards and is a great board paddler.

“For the young athletes, if you want it, you need to work hard to get the results and you will need to make sacrifices along the way.

“In Under-15 and my first year in Under-17, I was flat out making a final at Aussies. But I had the best time under the tent, and racing in team events was so much fun.

“Stay hydrated, focused, listen to your coaches and parents and enjoy the week. I would love to be out there racing.”

MADDY DUNN PROFILE

  • Former Kawana Waters nipper and Mooloolaba talent who moved to Northcliffe to compete for eight years
  • now Under-14s to open board and ironman/ironwoman coach at Mooloolaba
  • competed against the top 20 elite ironwomen in the world in the Nutri-Grain Series for nine consecutive years, finishing second overall in 2019 as her best result, and with seven individual race wins over that time
  • took on the gruelling Coolangatta Gold multi-discipline endurance race over several years, with 4th being her best result
  • earned a second place in the Molokai 2 Oahu Paddleboard World Championships in Hawaii
  • competed in the World Surf Lifesaving Championships in Adelaide, Holland and France, and represented Australia in Japan and New Zealand.

By the numbers

  • eligible competitors from 314 affiliated surf life saving clubs nation-wide
  • more than 480 beach and ocean events.
  • in excess of 8000 competitors (up more than 2500 competitors from last year)
  • Competitors are made up of youth – 1485 (+491 from last year), masters – 2071 (+842), open – 3728 (+1003), ocean swim – 769 (+146).
  • Adaptive surf sport events will be introduced to the program this year. Events will feature adaptations and modifications to maximise participation and ensure an accessible and enjoyable opportunity for all competitors. In the inaugural year, the adaptive events will include beach flags, beach sprint, beach run, surf wade, surf swim and board race.

Source: SLSA

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After 40 years of working with words, Shirley Sinclair remains a passionate storyteller, championing community causes and bringing a world of travel to readers’ doorsteps. Reporting, subediting, designing and editing newspapers and magazines led to roles online and as a university journalism tutor. Shirley joined Sunshine Coast News as an online journalist, travel editor and digital producer in April 2021 and is a My Weekly Preview features writer/subeditor.

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