March 12 - 18, 2017: Issue 304

Volker Klemm

Volker Klemm has a lot of passion for sharing what is great about a surf club by dreaming up, and putting into action, plans that make for great events to open up that club to the community. When not in the great blue outdoors he is trying to extend the great green outdoors for people through Landscape Design.

A great love of ocean swimming, given to him through joining Avalon Beach SLSC, has inspired him to give and continue giving back to is community this same experience of the saltwater world and raise funds to support saving lives on Avalon Beach.

The latest event to be added to the Ocean Swims calendar is the Inaugural Around The Bends Newport To Avalon Ocean Swim Challenge, to be run on Sunday March 19th, and is a swim Volker has done many times. This week he shares a small insight into where this love of all things aquatic and community focused began:

Where and when were you born?
I was born in Vienna, Austria, in 1962. I grew up in Vienna together with my two brothers and one sister and came out to Australia when I was 26, in 1988. I was travelling, loved it here, and stayed.
I worked with Australians in Austria and had met Australian Ski Instructors there. They said ‘come and visit.’
I came out here to work as a Ski Instructor. I had worked in the Austrian Alpine Club teaching children to ski. After arriving I went up to the Snowy Mountains on the first Christmas I was here, they explained, ‘it’s not like in Austria here’ – many of the resorts were run by Austrians who said ‘you will have to get up and yodel’ and I thought, ‘no, this isn’t for me’.
I landed in the middle of Sydney and lived, initially, in the inner west, Bronte. I got a job as a Landscaper.

I met my wife Alyson in 1992. We went down to Melbourne for a few years when Alyson did her post graduate course at Swinburn University in Film Directing and then came back, settling on the Northern Beaches.
Alyson directed some short films, and others through the Australian Film Commission, one of which, ‘Here I Sit’, took us to the Venice Film Festival in 1996. 

When we returned to Sydney we wanted a change of lifestyle and rented a little house at Cottage Point. We stayed there for five years. Our first daughter Tilda was born while we lived there. 
One day we came up to Avalon to buy some nappies and ended up buying a house. This was a great move for us, its a great place, especially when you have little children.
Our second daughter, Willa, was born two years later.

So you were working in Landscaping?
I was a Surveyor originally. I had worked in this field in Austria and Saudi Arabia.
Landscaping was something I went into soon after landing here – I started off as a Labourer working for a very good landscape company here in Sydney. I began working for myself in 1992.

What attracted you to Landscaping?
There is an obvious influence in my background in that both my parents were Landscapers. My mum used to design residential gardens, just like I do now, and my dad used to run the Austrian Horticultural Society. So I’ve been surrounded by plants and landscaping all my life. Even though when you’re surrounded by this and have it drilled into you all the time, you can put a bit of a barrier up; ‘I don’t want to learn all these plant names’, you learn to love such things as you mature, and that’s where I am now. 

Is there any difference between what your mum was doing and what you are doing now?
Only in the plants used; I remember seeing drawings for large residential gardens from early on. My dad running the Austrian Horticultural Society helped too- they had a monthly magazine that he was editing, and they also had courses; Flower Arranging Courses, Ikebana Courses, all sorts of Lectures, a big library – it’s a very old society.
Mum and dad are now retired and are cultivating fuchsias. Visit:

(Austria 2002 175th anniversary of Austrian Horticultural Society) image from Frank Spencer collection.

What main components do you take into account when landscaping a garden?
In designing a garden you first bear in mind that you’re creating lovely spaces for people to live in. Most people put a lot of effort into the house – what you’re trying to do is get them out of the house and connect them with the garden because they all live in lovely environments. Creating a lovely outdoor space is such an asset to a house so you really want to connect the garden to the house. And you want them to see the garden from the house, and you want them to go out there.

The other aspect is it doesn’t matter if it’s a large block, like you have up here to wander around in, or if it’s a little courtyard in Darlinghurst where the client has only ten square metres. That is ten square metres of open space where they can see the sky and can open the doors; every square metre becomes very very valuable.

I always look for that connection.  For example, if you’re looking out the bathroom window – its important that you don’t  look straight at the neighbours house, you should be able to look at something lovely – even if it’s only a square metre you can still create something to give a lovely outlook and privacy
So the first premise is that it’s creating lovely spaces for people to enjoy. 

If it’s a small garden you can create a great space for people to enjoy the outdoors immediately outside their house . If it’s a large garden you break it up into different ‘rooms’ and you can wander from one to the other.

I really enjoy designing gardens for people and seeing the enjoyment they then get out of them – seeing them develop, especially when you can go back years later and see the work realised.

Why did you join Avalon Beach SLSC?
Through the girls I got involved with the surf club, through Nippers. 

Tilda started Nippers in the Under 6’s and as part of that you of course were asked to help. I’m Austrian so I wasn’t used to swimming in the ocean. I did my Bronze straight away and haven’t looked back since. Suddenly I wasn’t worried about the ocean anymore; I love it now, can’t do without it. I helped as  an Age Manager to begin with.

You have done a lot more than just help out at Nippers though – you were helping organise the last Lion Island Challenge, the Carols by the Beach, the Swims – why is this?
I just love being involved in a community organisation, and by that, I’m involved with the community. This makes me feel at home here, really makes me feel at home.  
I love having my office in the middle of Avalon, love being involved with the surf club.
Tilda is 18 now, she was vey active in the club as an athlete and competed at carnivals and so I got involved in taking the kids to carnivals and became the Competition Manager and eventually became the Nippers President for two years. 
I do like doing things  well, so this was a big role. I have spent a lot of time on surf club activities but I don’t regret it. Joining the surf club has been one of the best things in my life. 
Tilda is now a swim instructor for little kids and is still competing but is now part of the Newport Surf Life Saving Club – they have a great focus there for the older competitors, By the time she was 14 she was the only one competing in Avalon and knew that by herself she may not keep going, so she moved. She first moved to Mona Vale as they had lots of girls competing there, and then moved to Newport. It’s a lot more fun when you are training together, and they’re doing so well at Newport with all these young athletes.
As you know Avalon has a great Program for Cadets too that focuses on building resilience and life skills. 
My younger daughter Willa also did Nippers at Avalon all the way through to SRC. So she also knows how to safe a life. But her main love and focus is Dance now. That is what she absolutely loves and is very good at.

Let’s talk about the Inaugural ‘Around the Bends Swim – the Newport to Avalon Ocean Swim Challenge' – where did the idea for this come from?
I love organising events and I love ocean swimming. The Avalon Ocean Swim has been going for 25 years this year and was one of the earlier ones. Nowadays Ocean Swimming has become so popular you could probably do an Ocean Swim every weekend throughout the season at some beach somewhere in Sydney. Most of these Ocean Swims are within the beach bay itself though. 
What people like are journey swims where you start on one beach and end up on another. It’s a challenge, its an adventure, and people get excited about it. I had been working on putting on a new swim along these lines for the last three years. We had been talking about it, working out the logistics and the swim course itself.

Have you been on this swim yourself?
Oh yes; we started swimming from Bilgola first and then went from Newport – we’ve done it many many times now. Most of the time we’ve been swimming it just for fun, not as a race, and usually takes an hour, leisurely swimming along. Its just so beautiful. Just as you see the cliffs above the water, it’s the same under the water – there’s huge boulders, there are rock ledges; it’s just like going snorkelling. 

We saw turtles, cuttlefish, huge schools of fish – you get very distracted so you don’t really race along. On one swim I saw a cuttlefish down in about five metres of water on the point at the northern end of Bilgola. I dived down and the cuttlefish stops, turns around and slowly slowly comes towards me – he was big, probably three quarters of a metre long. He gently touched my hand with one of his tentacles; I had to go up for air then went back down again. Again he just stopped and then came slowly back to me.
Just amazing, really friendly.

So it’s from that, from all these similar experiences, the sand swimming past Bilgola, and rock shelf and then those luminous green seagrass fields as you come into Avalon, that I think people will love that swim.

Are there any challenging spots along the way?
No, there’s nothing scary like headlands that may be hard to get around. If the conditions are flat you will clearly see the world underwater all along the way – even in swell you can see the schools of fish and the like. If the swell is bigger we’ll just have the course further out from the headlands. I know from swimming it many times now where the bommies are and we can just set the course slightly out to avoid these.
I like watching the moon and am aware how this influences the tides and the weather and know that the weather is most unpredictable on full moons and new moons. When planning events I stay away from those dates.
The 19th of March, when the Around the Bends Challenge will run, is in between these dates and should produce stable conditions where the tides and currents are not extreme. People who want to swim this swim to enjoy,  will be able to experience all it has to offer.

The Can Too Foundation are charity partners in this swim. We also have Sotto Sopra, a great new restaurant at Newport supporting us, as well as Adrenalin will help us out with prizes

Will there be some sort of commemoration article people who swim this first Around the Bends Challenge can keep?
We’ll have good quality bright pink Around the Bends Swim Challenge swim caps people can keep 

So you like organising Events?
Yes, I have lots of other ideas for sports challenges we could run on the peninsula. It’s not just the events themselves though – these are about opening the surf club up to the community. The Carols by the Beach for instance, we don’t make money out of that but we feel we want to keep it going because everyone loves it, it brings everyone together. The surf club is part of the community and wants to keep extending that.

On the first Sunday of every month there is music upstairs that the public can come and enjoy, and the musicians are all kids from Barrenjoey high school, John Stone is organising that and it gives them a chance to be heard, to do a ‘gig’.

The surf club is utilised during the day for all sorts of courses and classes, it’s a great place for everyone to make use of.
We also have the Mackeral Challenge each year, the Lion Island Challenge, one of the best ski races in Australia, and then there are social events, such as the Comedy Nights as well.

Volker Klemm giving pre-race briefing at Lion Island Challenge 2016

What has being involved in a surf club given to you?
Fitness, great friends. I’ve also learnt so much – I started with getting my Bronze and have done every course available all the way up to the Gold Medallion. 

Has anything you’ve learnt been applied to situations outside of the surf club?
My First Aid knowledge has been invaluable; I was present when Andrew was bitten by a shark at North Avalon and was able to apply that knowledge, and this was solely through Louise Lindop teaching me as our Chief Instructor. 

The surf club continually is putting on Bronze and First Aid courses for members, all of whom come from the community. Just like me many of these become members through Nippers,  as parents joining in.  and so through that investment all that  knowledge spreads into the community and it makes us all safer.

Once you know a little bit you just want to know more; once you have done your Bronze you want to do that next ARTC Course (Advanced Resus) because it has all that extra knowledge you want. To my way of thinking it would be great if the Bronze was a class in Year 11 or Year 12 at school and part of the curriculum. I think this is absolutely essential (the Bronze) and everyone should have this available to them.

The other part of this is of course that you most likely will apply the knowledge you acquire through surf club courses on the street or at home. You also find that most surf club life savers that help with rescues or first aid are not necessarily on their home beach – something has happened while they’re away on holidays, or at home, or in Avalon village As you may know we have installed a defibrillator on the exterior of the surf club now, so if something happens in Avalon I could send someone to get it and bring it back. The defibrillator is one of those essential tools in saving somebody. More places should have these – bigger shops, the Recreation Centres, places where people frequent and are aware there is one should it be needed. 

What are your favourite places in Pittwater and why?
I love the little bays and beaches on the other side of Pittwater. It's great to paddle across to West Head, it’s like being on holidays for a couple of hours

What is your ‘motto for life’ or a favourite phrase that you try to live by?
I haven’t really got a motto or planned my life ahead. I take it as it comes, but always try to make the most of it.