February 21 - 27, 2016: Issue 252

 Michael Stanley-Jones

An Age Manager in Surf Life Saving makes a commitment of time and effort to contribute to the development of young people in water safety programs on our beaches. Junior members (aged 5 –13 years) comprise greater than one third of the membership of Surf Life Saving Australia. 

To enrich the lives of the next generation of Australians with skills that equip them with surf life saving knowledge, to meet their peers in a fun environment, and do this in a safe way, may attract people who are already raising a family but they are also those who complete an Age Managers Course and are those who will go the distance throughout the season, every single week. Many Age Managers begin with a group of youngsters aged 5 and stay with them until they leave Nippers. 

Avalon Beach SLSC has one member who has gone beyond such a commitment in Junior's Captain, Mike Stanley-Jones. Described by many fellow members as an inspiration to those around him, in 2015 a new Avalon Beach SLSC award, the Steve Parkes Award for Innovation in Training, was presented to Mike Stanley Jones for his amazing job in engaging with younger members training for their Bronze Medallion, who, by their increasing numbers clearly appreciate his methods and enthusiasm.

That would be your proverbial drop in an ocean though. In 2014 Mike was selected by Surf Life Saving Australia to be among 30 members of the National Leaders Masterclass, he was nominated for a Pittwater Australia Day Award in 2015 for his work in “strengthening the club’s youth component, mentoring other age managers and has been the force behind new events such as the popular Mackerel Challenge.”

In May 2015 he was one of the organisers on the team when Avalon Beach SLSC hosted the Surf Life Saving Sydney Northern Beaches surfboard riding championships and was there on the beach as part of the water safety team in the set-up stage for this year’s Ocean swim on his home beach. … and this would be just a small part of a much longer list. Some readers may recall a report from 2014 where Mike decided to stick by his Nippers and introduce something more to bridge the gap between Nippers – Young Adults and Adult Patrol Members an idea, again followed through, that won Avalon the Most Outstanding Club for Support to Youth and Member Development Award of Excellence by Surf Life Saving Sydney Northern Beaches.

He’s very quiet about all this, leads by example and is a doer more than a talker. It didn’t surprise that he turned up for his interview on a bicycle. Mr. Stanley-Jones clearly loves the great outdoors and being able to enjoy them through being fit. 

His face lights up as he describes doing those old Fun Runs from Palm Beach to Manly years ago as a family, smiles again as he describes how fantastic the kids at Avalon Beach SLSC are, how those he has trained are now training others, including his own eldest son training his own young daughter. 

In fact, even if you glance only quickly at someone who loves marathons where family is involved and included, someone determined on enriching young adults with the ability to think for themselves, to be self sufficient, the eyes cannot avoid the fact that here is someone who has offered and succeeded in giving surf life saving skills, has imparted something of what resilience is and learning something, whether you get it wrong or right, of going the distance for life on your own two feet, of relishing and even revelling in achieving having a bit of spine…and grit.

After years of incessant hassling we are stoked to be able to finally share a little about someone who has enriched our community by doing so much to enrich our kids:

When and where were you born?

I was born in England in 1966. I only lived there for one year before my mum and dad came to Australia in search of surf. Dad surfed back in the days when people used to stand on the shore and clap.  Whether they stood up or fell off people would be entertained. They would knock on the board when it was strapped to their roof and ask, ‘is it hollow?’ and ‘what do you do with it?’ – he came from a nice era of surfing, they all shared waves, would come from all around the country to share those waves.

We made the papers as my dad was one of the first surfers in Newquay Cornwall. They were applying for a Visa for either Australia or New Zealand and Australia accepted them as part of the Ten Pound Pom Program – I’m very glad they did.

Didn’t your dad know Bob Head when he was in England?

Yes, he did. My dad would set up deckchairs on the beaches of Cornwall as a Summer job and that’s where he met Bob Head. So when mum and dad came to Australia they knew that Avalon had some nice people. We lived in Kirribilli for six months and then the rest of my life we’ve been in Avalon.

Mike with brothers and parents - Mike is on left.

Growing up in Avalon – have you seen many changes?

I don’t think there have been that many changes; it’s still the same in feel. In landscape; I’ve seen the sand dunes get planted out – we used to be able to run all over those and make cubbies. Avalon and Palm Beach were both adventure playgrounds. At Palm Beach, between the car park and the lighthouse was another. Then they flattened and levelled it and planted that out too. 

We used to have some fantastic sandbanks in Avalon. Avalon is rated one of the worst beaches in Sydney, ‘most dangerous beach in Sydney’ – it’s up there with Tamarama, a Grade 7 beach, and that is because of its frequently changing rips and troughs.

When we were kids the sandbanks used to go out as far as you wanted to play on – we would skim board a lot and have a lot of fun towing with ropes. It was like Manly or Palm Beach, those long flat beaches, so that’s changed, the sandbanks aren’t there. 

I’ve seen physical changes like that but the houses, they’ve just crept up on us slowly, the shops still feel the same, who rents them comes and goes, but that beautiful village atmosphere is intact and always will be because the main road bypasses it. It’s always been a lovely place and I don’t feel like there have been too many changes. 

When did you join Avalon Beach SLSC?

Dad joined Avalon Beach SLSC before me.  I joined surf life saving in 1981 to do my Bronze because Barrenjoey was the first school to do surfing for sport but you needed your Surf Bronze, if you got this you could do surfing for sport. I joined Whale Beach and got my Bronze in 1981 and then had a 25 year break as I didn’t really know what a surf club did.  I joined NASA for a while when it was North Av. Boardriders. I was doing other things.

What board were you surfing when you first started to surf?

It was off the Council clean up, a McCoy thruster. My dad and I glassed single fins into it – so it was way too stiff, way too heavy and he wouldn’t let me have a leg rope until I could swim properly. 

What are your favourite breaks?

They’re all equal – I always try out South Av., Little Avalon. I like getting a wave to the group of friends I usually go surfing with as opposed to joining a pack of 50 or 60 off the more popular breaks and waiting…

I like short, sharp and sweet too, so like an Expression Session, which was what my dad would call it; you go out, push hard for 30 minutes or so, then come back.

What did your dad ride?

A gun. I’ve got that gun now and I wished he wasn’t on that – it is a slug, it’s so slow. I remember paddling out, and would blitz him on the paddle out, thinking I was younger and stronger and fitter, but it wasn’t – it was the board. It should be hung on a wall and that’s it for that one, there’s plenty of other boards we should have seen him on.

How did you return to surf life saving then?

I heard that there was a Gold Medallion on offer and joined up as I wanted a piece of that. Firstly I had to be put through Proficiency, and as things had changed in the Bronze I had to learn a few more things to get Proficient. I also had to get a couple of silvers along the way. I then got my gold, which is the highest award Surf Life Saving gives and I’ve had that now for 8 or 9 years. 

The Gold Medallion is the same as what the Life Guards who Patrol are required to be qualified in, those that get paid for doing what they do. It’s a good way of keeping fit as each year you know you’re up for Proficiency assessments, so you have to do your run-swim-run and have to swim 800 metres in less than 14 minutes and must be good at every other qualification required as well.

The Youth Program at Avalon Beach SLSC, when did that start?

We decided that Nippers shouldn’t finish at 14 because that’s when they are trained; they know their First Aid and have become quite self sufficient. If we dump them, what do they go on with next?

A decision was made to carry it through, to extend this to Under 15’s and Under 16’s and I now have a group who are Under 17’s. We were 42 strong last year, and all 42 in that squad did their Bronze. 

That’s outstanding!

It was huge – we won an Award for this as we were the only club between Manly and Palm Beach that had kept on that many kids of that age.

What kind of things are they doing?

We aren’t centered around competition, they’ve had enough of competition by then, have done their Nippers or done other things which were competition based. They’re into doing things for social reasons, really want to be able to hang around with others, still do what they’re asked to do, but basically get to spend time with their mates, those they’ve already spent years with through Nippers, and are comfortable around.

I’ve focused activities around self-sufficiency, I want them to grow and trust them with stuff that’s probably a year or two above them, to let them grow into that role.

A classic example of this is where we asked them to give me all their camping equipment, sleep bags and tents, but they had to take provision for a certain amount of time. We were dumping them in the bush, pointed out a track, told them to follow that until they found their boards, I’d had 20 boards delivered to a beach that none of them knew, White Horse Beach

When they got to their boards they had to find which way was north; if they found north they had a 7 ½ kilometre paddle ahead of them to where they would be sleeping the night, if they went south they had a 20 kilometre trip, including hitchhiking to get home. Finding north was hilarious as the sun hadn’t quite come up over the ridge yet; so sticks in the sand and casting a shadow was the obvious thing to do but they had to figure it out, work out where they were at 8 a.m. in the morning without sunlight. They had their backpacks on or strapped to their board and took off to paddle around West Head, having numerous stops along the way, where they had munchies and a look around.

They didn’t know where they were sleeping the night but it was The Basin, which they worked out as they arrived. 

I’d had their provisions brought over and the cheeky things had stuffed extras in their tent bag or sleeping bags because they knew we were carrying that across for them in a boat. I lined this all up and made them stand by their luggage while we did an Inspection. 

The luxury items all the girls had stuffed in! Hilarious.

We did a walk up the back of The Basin and found a dam we could swim in, enjoyed where we were, they had a beautiful day and we paddled home the next day.

This was about getting them to think through what they would need for breakfast, lunch and tea, how they were going to carry it on their back, and what else they may need to support this.

I don’t mind letting them fail, they then learn from that fail; I’d taken them away earlier to Norah Head, and hour and a half up the coast. For this I’d told them they had to think about all their meals, how they were going to cook them, all that they’d need, but efficiently as they were going to transport it too. This was great for some of the boys among our group as once again, it introduced self sufficiency, took mum out of the picture for 24 hours and helped them think about what to eat and how to prepare it. 

Once again we had a hilarious few moments as I myself had forgotten that the Camp Kitchen doesn’t exist, there’s nothing in it – so we were eating out of the tins we’d brought, were making cutlery out of Weet-bix boxes. It was funny but great to see these guys just make-do and because we hadn’t thought it through, because we’d made that mistake earlier, they’ll never make it again. We still laugh about it three years later. 

It’s all about letting them grow into these roles. 

We also approached YODA and asked if they would teach them how to pour a coffee. YODA are closed between 8 and 11 on a Sunday morning, which is their Nippers time normally, and they said ‘sure, all you need to bring is the milk’. So, for three lots of 3litre milk, they taught our squad for three hours how to make a good coffee and over half of them have either had a job at YODA or elsewhere as Baristas since. Comparing this to places that offer Barista tuition, where the charge is around $180.00 per kid for a three hour lesson, you can understand what a gift this was to the squad and the Youth Development Program itself.

They then approached me and said ‘we want to do more for that age group; what can we do?’… ‘how about they run our Restaurant’ – and that’s how that came about.

We’ve done other things. We went down the coast and looked after another surf club. You have to remember these guys and girls are all qualified, they all have their Bronze, they can all save a life, so they should use it, exercise those skills. Garie Surf Club have only 35 patrolling members so they asked if we could give them a break, come down and Patrol Saturday and a Sunday and sleep in their clubhouse. Only 8 came as they all have lives of their own now, are getting jobs, some are getting some money behind them and getting cars.

The Garie Surf Club members cooked us lunch on both days, but the rest of the time it was us; we slept in the clubhouse, cooked our dinner, played soccer, had a ball. There was no wifi, so it was back to basics – they played cards, Frisbee, all these good old fashioned games came out of them, they loved it.

We also did Advance Driver Training in Penrith through Driving Solutions, a great learning experience for all young adults, and Water Safety at Wet n’ Wild where they could have some time afterwards enjoying the facilities. 

Are they staying on as Patrolling Members at Avalon Beach?

The hardest part is getting them to come to the beach to Patrol because, as a 17 year old boy, you don’t yet feel like there is a need for you to put back into the community, that’s something that usually comes when you’re older.

Life is just opening up to them, and that’s what they want to do, get into that.

If you ask them to come down and spend four hours on the beach, they know they'll basically be doing nothing as Avalon is really great at prevention, we don’t have many rescues, there are a lot of locals here who know the conditions; it’s not like Manly or Palm Beach where there’s a lot of tourists. 

So I admit my biggest disappointment is their patrolling hours. We try to make amends by them doing little things within the surf club in other areas. What we really want is for this to stay their club throughout their maturation, a place that is theirs to go spend time with mates, use it as their base meeting point, keep it as something that is part of their lives throughout them.

The Mackeral Challenge – when and why did that start?

It started as a training paddling event and was introduced as something that mother and daughter, father and son could team up on and get the youngsters off their computers. They paddle across the water, run up to West Head and have their photo taken with the lighthouse in the background, a gorgeous photo. Everyone gets to have that photo, gets to see themselves hot and sweaty in their cozzies at West Head – this is a unique picture, they’ve risen to or done the challenge!

Other clubs heard about it and asked to get involved and this year, 2016, will be our 4th Mackerel Challenge.

The younger members seem to like it,  videos from past Mackerel Challenges show laughter and determination in their faces…

Yes, they do. It’s an adventure for them, a real one. Mackerel Beach and West Head are just across the water here and you feel like you’re in paradise. When you get up to West Head you get to look down and see what you have just paddled across and you feel as though you have really accomplished something. 

You have to be fit for it as it’s 1.8 k paddling and then about 3.2k running there and back. The run doesn’t really seem to tire you out, it’s the paddle. Sometimes the land doesn’t seem to be getting any closer.

It’s still a very low key event, is once again something to get people involved in enjoying what we have and doing something together.

What’s the best part of being in a Surf Club from your experience or perspective?

I like the participation, the getting involved. I love to see races happen, I love to see big groups stay big groups, and so I’m always thinking of ways that will help that happen. That’s where events like the Mackeral Challenge came in or events for that age group that encourage participation instead of the opposite.

Where did you get your people skills from – what do you do for work?

A carpenter, which you don’t usually get people skills from. I think this comes from my dad; I don’t ever remember an idle moment and my brothers are similar to me. As a family we know this is part of us but couldn’t state definitely ‘it’s from this’ – mum and dad were hippies, they’re very laid back.

Well, part of the hippie ethos is caring about others.

Yes, but the people side of things – maybe we should have done other professions. 

Didn't you make furniture as a Carpenter, reach for challenges there too?

I made furniture for 7 years through my own furniture making business and I loved it. I’ve made so much furniture which is all over the place now, and I’ve never had a piece come back. 

When my kids came along it was time to either fire it up and get bigger or earn a living, I chose the earn a living. The other part of this was the social side of things; I projected ten years forward and thought I didn’t want to be an old man sitting in a workshop not talking to anyone else as you don’t doing that, you talk to your timber and your tools, but that’s it.

I got back out into carpentry and I’m with a team of blokes all the time and enjoy that more.

How did you begin in furniture?

I lost my job during a Recession of the 1980’s, the one we had to have apparently. I was then offered a job in furniture and thought I better take it as there weren’t a lot of jobs around. This work entailed restoring Antiques and making Reproductions. I was fortunate to work under some old fellows who really taught me the trade well and made some beautiful pieces that will last a hundred years, very unlike the furniture generally available nowadays.

But, you had to look at and would have to look at how much people will pay for that restoration of antiques nowadays – you simply can’t spend as long as is needed to make a quality piece because people can’t afford it anymore.

When I first started time wasn’t money; I was told I had as long as it took to restore this piece back to its former beauty. This was fantastic as you could do everything it needed and do it properly, you took no shortcuts. 

So I was lucky to start like that. I then took it into my own business and asked myself what do people want these days - beds, bedside tables, chest of drawers - and would make all these, with the dovetail joints, all the traditional elements but had to do this in a way that would make things faster. I made templates of the items that meant I could make five at a time and managed to get the time for making a piece down – the effort and the work into each piece still went in but it was made more viable this way.

I had 7 years where I never chased any work, it chased me. I opened a little shop in Avalon which was closed six days a week, apart from four hours on a Saturday morning. I’d go down there or my mum would sit there for me and answer questions. During the rest of the week the pieces were on display with big descriptions and price tags – if you liked it you came back down on Saturday morning or gave me a ring. 

A few examples of Mike's furniture pieces

What a great example of qualifying in one field and extending it into other fields to adapt to suit circumstances –That’s what you have done for the kids at the Surf Club, shown them how they can rise to and fulfill any challenge as individuals.

In some ways. I’m lucky, I have four – I have a 6 year old who, with my 16 year old, has a great time. My 16 year old is almost like their soccer coach – I’ve trained him and now he trains them, and they love it.

He too is at the age where he does some work on a Saturday and then wants to get into life the rest of time; Sundays he wants to be out with his mates – they’re just busting to get out and into life, every moment, and you do want to encourage that as much as you can. They’re just keen to do everything and anything.

What are your favourite places in Pittwater and why?

I don’t think I have a favourite. North of Avalon is my playground, I don’t have to leave here for work and recall six years in a row where I didn’t work south of Avalon; shops were opening and then closing in Avalon and I didn’t know they existed. 

All of the beaches and the bush and the Pittwater are all equal playing field for me. 

What is your ‘motto for life’ or a favourite phrase you try to live by?

‘Don’t take things for granted.’

I got given that as a 16 year old apprentice by an old Englishman who was my foreman. Ever since he said that I’ve thought of that as my motto and it applies to everything really well.

If you think about the things you do take for granted, when you shouldn’t, this will come up a lot. Treat anyone as you do when you first meet them – when you meet someone for the first time you make a big effort, a huge effort. Isn’t it a shame when that wanes just because you’re in each other’s pocket? 

If people didn’t take anything for granted, if they kept referring back to that, then we’d all be better off, it can be a good leveller.

The Mackerel Challenge 2016

Sat 27 Feb 2016

North Palm Beach

Governor Phillip Park, Beach Rd, Palm Beach

This fun team event run by Avalon Beach SLSC is held on Saturday 27 February and free to enter.

Entrants must be current members of Sydney Northern Beaches Branch Entry is FREE but you must be registered using this entry form


Guys - Under 12, Under 13, Under 14, Under 15 and Over 16

Girls - Under 12, Under 13, Under 14, Under 15 and Over 16

Enter online for free at www.adrenalinwetsuits.com

Scrutinising water conditions at Avalon Beach Ocean Swim 2016 

Copyright Michael Stanley-Jones, 2016.