March 17-23, 2024: Issue 618


All Abilities Shine At Inclusive Surf Championships

Around 80 athletes from more than a dozen surf clubs have taken part in the 7th annual NSW Surf Life Saving Inclusive Championships at Queenscliff beach, with growing numbers and beaming smiles a sure sign the event was once again a big hit.

Less than a decade after the first ever Inclusive Championships was held at Swansea Belmont, the beachfront at North Steyne SLSC was packed with eager competitors, happy handlers and parents excited to see the event unfold on Sunday morning, 10 March.

“It all sort of came about seven years ago because we noted that some of our nippers and youth members didn’t have an avenue to progress in Surf Life Saving, they’d turn up to the club and there was nothing really for them,” said referee Michael Wasley.

“It’s an event we’re all very passionate about, we love it, and you can see just from the numbers on the beach there is a lot of support.”

The event program plays out much the same as the Age, Open and Masters Championships, with competitors contesting events on the beach track and in the surf. 

Once the race is run, athletes were awarded their medals to raucous applause on the podium.

“We have a number of people who are fiercely competitive, but I’d say the majority are here for pure enjoyment,” Michael said with a smile.

“I think this year, with it being the first year there will be adaptive events at Aussies as well, it will be interesting to see the uptake and hopefully we can all build on that.”

Indeed, Amy Grace Smith from Ocean Beach SLSC loved every second of the competition, and even picked up a medal to take home with her.

“I do all the events, I’ve been doing it for a while and I feel supported by this community and the people around me,” she said.

“The next step for us is to get it out to more of the clubs,” Michael added.

“A lot of clubs still don’t know this exists, so the hope is the kids and adults here today go back to their clubs, with their medals, they talk about it and other people get involved from there.”

Michael is a Mona Vale SLSC Member. He first started out as a nipper when he was younger and later re-joined Mona Vale back in 1986. He has held numerous positions throughout the club such as Club Captain, Powercraft Captain, Junior Board Captain, Training Officer, Age Manager and Junior Carnival Manager.

Michael has also held countless roles within SNB such as a Duty Officer (since 2007), Patrol Inspector, RWC Operator, ESO, After-Hours DO and was also the Director of Education for four years (from 2008 – 2012). To date he is also an Official, Assessor and Trainer. He devotes much of his time now to coaching Mona Vale nippers and also making sure the special needs kids are well catered for.

Michael has since been bestowed Life Membership of both Mona Vale SLSC and also SLS Sydney Northern Beaches (2017). Not only has Michael received these great honours but has also been awarded some significant awards, including Branch Lifesaver of the Year (2006 and 2019), SNB Presidents Award (2022), 25 Year Long Service Award and NSW Initiative of the Year (2017). 

Michael won the NSW Initiative of the Year along with Rob Fry, David Moreton and then MVSLSC President Bryce Munro for the first ever Special Needs Branch Championships through the Sydney Northern Beaches Branch.

The first local Inclusive initiative came out of Newport SLSC in 2002. In 2012 Doug and Sandy Menzies were awarded Pittwater Council’s Volunteers Award for their contribution to the Newport Special Nippers Program over the previous 10 years, a program about inclusion for all children and integrating children with a disability alongside other children to help eliminate isolation and stigma.

Now there are many NSW clubs running Inclusive programs and the number is growing each year; Avoca Beach SLSC, Bellambi SLSC, Blackhead SLSC, Bulli SLSC, Coledale SLSC, Collaroy SLSC, Coogee SLSC, Cooks Hill SLSC, Elouera SLSC, Fingal Beach SLSC, Maroubra SLSC, Mona Vale SLSC, Moruya SLSC, Newport SLSC, Ocean Beach SLSC, Nobbys Beach SLSC, North Steyne SLSC, Ocean Beach SLSC, Pambula SLSC, Redhead SLSC, South Curl Curl SLSC, Stockton Beach SLSC, Swansea Belmont SLSC, Toowoon Bay SLSC, Towradgi SLSC, Wanda SLSC, Windang SLSC and Woonona SLSC.

Report and photos by Surf Life Saving New South Wales - more photos below!
- (edit by PON).