Surf Lifesaving Australia’s Awards of Excellence 2023: SLSA Meritorious Award for Avalon Beach Rescue
SLSA MERITORIOUS AWARDS were given to four Avalon Beach Surf Lifesavers and two local big wave surfers on Saturday night, November 4 2023, in recognition of their combined rescue of a fellow ABSLSC Surf Lifesaver who was brought back to life by them after drowning.
Avalon Beach SLSC members Michael Stanley-Jones, Andrew Clark, Stuart Cooper, and Lucas Molloy, along with Blaze Roberts and local surfers and friends Stuart Cooper and Karl Attkins carried out the rescue of Surf Club Trainer Mark Head who suffered a freak accident in the surf at South Avalon on Friday September 16 2022.
September 16, 2022, started as a routine Friday at Avalon Beach, but it quickly transformed into an extraordinary day. Four highly experienced surf lifesavers, Mark Head, Mike Stanley-Jones (MSJ) Andrew Clark (Clarkie) and Gem Lehman, gathered at the surf club for their usual training session. Gem opted for a quick swim, while the others grabbed rescue boards and headed out to the waves.
Amidst the waves, an unexpected event unfolded. Commotion on the south headland and frantic car horns attracted their attention. At first they thought the noise was to warn them of a shark so they started to return to shore. As they did Mike saw a rescue board had washed up on the beach. Local surfer and former Avalon Lifeguard Stuart Cooper ( "Stretch"), ran down from the headland grabbed the board and started paddling out, and yelled there's a body out there.
Mike Stanley-Jones went back out. To his horror he discovered their mate Mark’s body floating under the water.
Mike initially tried to paddle Mark back to shore, but they were both thrown off the board by a sudden wave, which knocked them both off, losing the board. Stretch got Mark onto his board but the conditions required the combined effort of Stretch, Karl Attkins and Mike paddling together against the South Avalon rip to get Mark to the beach. Clarkie had made his way to the clubhouse to get oxygen and a defibrillator, promptly returning to the beach for the administration of CPR and oxygen.
Retrieval of Mark was made difficult and dangerous by large sets of waves, however, Mike, Stuart and Karl successfully rescued Mark from the water and brought him to shore where Andrew and an off-duty fireman were waiting to administer first aid with the rescue equipment.
During this critical moment, Blaze Roberts, surf club member and local surfer, assisted the team with first aid and CPR, and the defibrillator was applied to Mark with additional support from an off-duty fire and rescue officer.
The group administered CPR, oxygen and a defibrillator whilst attempting to resuscitate Mark for over 30 minutes, waiting for an ambulance and Paramedics to arrive.
Friday September 16, 2022. Photo: A J Guesdon
After 30 minutes of sustained CPR use on Mark, by them acting in teamwork, rotating positions, paramedics arrived, administered adrenaline, and attached an automatic compressions machine to him before transporting him to the hospital, where they later informed the team that Mark had regained a heartbeat.
Mark had not been breathing for over 40 minutes, and everyone had feared the worst. It was subsequently found that his lungs were 100% full of water.
Mark's journey to recovery has been remarkable. He spent four days in an induced coma, with his strength and resilience leading to a gradual recovery. He has no recollection of what caused the accident but collision of his head with the board or rocks has left him with significant injuries. Despite this his brain is functioning perfectly and he suffered no brain damage from being face down on the water for approximately 8 minutes and a further 40 minutes of CPR, with no sign of life.
From the citation:
The incident's successful resolution was a testament to well-trained rescuers, swift access to equipment, efficient paramedic response, and unwavering determination. It highlighted the significance of preparation, teamwork, and community support within the realm of surf lifesaving.
In Mark's words:
"Last night, my 6 rescuers finally got the recognition they so richly deserve."
The combined efforts of trained surf lifesavers, and experienced local surfers all acting as a team is something for the Avalon Beach SLSC and the whole Avalon Beach community to be proud of.
Importantly, Mark does not want his accident to put anyone off enjoying the pleasures and health and wellbeing benefits of surfing, and joining a surf club.
Far from it, the incident shows the importance of learning what to do to help someone in trouble in the surf, not to stop or give up on CPR despite the length of time, and to not give up on getting better afterward.
In the face of the most challenging of circumstances, these exceptional individuals demonstrated skill, resilience, and unwavering determination. Their teamwork and dedication displayed during this rescue saved Mark’s life and turned an ordinary day into an extraordinary one.
We extend our heartfelt congratulations for their well-deserved award. Their actions embody the very essence of our movement and we are grateful and immensely proud of their remarkable contribution to the preservation of life within our community.
Mark’s own fight for survival has been nothing short of remarkable and he is applying the same resolute determination towards his recovery, supported by his Dad, Bobby Head, Louise and Charles Lindop and his many friends who continue to support him every day with his recovery.
After four days in an induced coma, 13 days in ICU, 3.5 months at Royal North Shore, 6 months at Ryde Rehabilitation, 5 months at Ferguson Lodge and soon Mt Wilga Rehabilitation Hospital, we are over the moon that Mark will soon be returning to his beloved Avalon Beach. More on that closer to the time.
The SLSA Meritorious award is the highest honour awarded by Surf Life Saving Australia for bravery. These awards, to both individuals and groups, recognise acts of bravery by members who went above and beyond, putting their lives on the line to rescue people who found themselves in trouble.
Report by Roger Sayers OAM, Life Member of Avalon Beach SLSC
Talking With The Rescuers On Their Work That Afternoon, Friday September 16, 2022 - From Their Individual Perspectives
Stuart Cooper (Stretch); I was on the headland watching, around 3 o’clock in the afternoon – my son was coming down to have an after-school surf. I was watching surf club members have a surf and recognised Mike (Stanley-Jones) as I know his surf style. I then saw Mark Head catch a wave and then saw him fall off and the board went forward. I didn’t see what happened but did see the rescue board wash in to shore. I watched for a little longer and couldn’t work out where the surfer was who had been on the board. At first I thought he may have swum over to where the other guys were or come in via shark alley.
I looked away, towards North Avalon to se what was happening there and then looked back and saw the board just about in the shore-break with no one swimming towards it. I thought ‘that’s really odd’ and kept watching and saw a dark mass float towards the surface, which I thought at first was seaweed. Another 30 seconds passed and the mass rose to the top and I could see it was a body, face down. I looked around and there was no one around me then saw these guys still out the back – and they hadn’t seen it – so I ran down the from the headland to try and ;let these guys know that 50 metres away or so there was someone in the water. I knew it was a clubbie because the rescue board had come in.
As I ran down to the beach I heard whistling and calling and waving from the headland and saw these guys coming in on the wave. When they came in they thought it was a shark out there – I said ‘it’s not a shark, there’s a body out there’ and I think I added in a few expletives.
Mike said ‘where?’, I replied, ‘out there to the right’ and we took off – I grabbed the rescue board that had come in to get out there.
I got smashed by a set and Mike beat me out there to Mark. The worst thing for me was I knew it was a clubbie, Mike didn’t know it was a clubbie, let along his best mate, so when he got to him, he was about aboard length in front of me, I grabbed his leg and pulled him back so I’d get there first. Mark’s head rolled back and Mike said ‘It’s Mark - NO!’
Mike pulled him back and rolled him up onto his board and then this very large set came through, smashed Mike and Mark and we lost him. When he water settled back down I could see Mike was around 20 metres away.
Something then went beneath me and hit my feet – I knew what it was because it was big and didn’t’ feel good. I reached down and pulled Mark to the surface and tried to get him on my board. A wave came and we got smashed and knocked him off. I got him back on again, he got washed off – this happened around half a dozen times while I was by myself
Karl Attkins then paddled over and said ‘what do you want me to do?’ – I said ‘help me get him on the board’, I couldn’t get him on the board and keep him on. Karl was then able to help me get hm on the board - we then had two surfers on either side of him. I asked Karl to hold on to his wetsuit neck and hold on to the surfboard and said ‘Karl, whatever you do, don’t let go of him, no matter how smashed we get because if we lost him, he’s going to sink like a stone.’
Then lots and lots of sets hit us – I heard Mike yelling towards the beach, probably organising Clarkie and those guys – Karl and I just got pounded. The rip kept taking us out and even though we kept paddling towards the shore that south Avalon rip just kept taking us out. Because Mark wasn’t conscious, wasn’t able to hold on and help us, and because I wanted to keep his mouth out of the water, we had him face up for a reason, in case we could to mouth-to-mouth or cardiac, which wasn’t possible – I tried some cardiac compression from the water level, which I’d been taught as a Lifeguard, but it didn’t work. I hit him six or eight times and saw some foam coming out of his mouth but given his mouth was open the whole time, and every wave just kept going over us, he would have taken in more saltwater.
When we saw we were getting further away from Clarkie and the others on the beach, we were physically still going backwards, we focused on just getting to the beach because we could see so much help waiting there.
More big sets hit us and we got washed, finally, towards the rocks. Those sets kept washing in to the shallower and shallower water. Finally a wave broke over our heads and I said ‘hang on, we’re up on the rocks’. As soon as we were up on the rocks everyone was there – Mike was there, Clarkie was there, I saw lots of people I knew and thought ‘thank God for that, thank God the troops are here’.
It was definitely one of the hardest rescues I’ve done in 20-30 years.
How long have you been Lifeguarding?
Stretch: oh, 50 years. I as a lifesaver to start with and then did about 30 years Lifeguard work, 8 years of those here at Avalon beach.
Clarkie – you took off to the surf club to get equipment; can you talk us through it from your perspective?
Clarkie: yes, the de-fib and oxygen. There were 7 surfers in the water, myself and Mark training on the surf rescue boards. Because there were big waves that day you can’t really see from out the back what’s happening to them. So we just heard car horns and saw people running around frantically on the headland after Mar’s incident. Everyone thought there was a shark and of the 7 people 4 of them were nearer to shore and went in and 2 of us stayed, and Mark obviously had had an accident. I paddled across thinking that maybe a surfer had been attacked by a shark, and so paddled over to south Av. to where the impact zone for the waves was. That wasn’t successful because I couldn’t see anything, and it was dangerous over there. I caught a wave in and Mike, who’d already come in further up on a wave, was also coming down the beach and that was the point when Stretch came running down and said ‘there’s a body floating out there’.
Mike jumped in the water and stared paddling out, I did the same, but after 20 meters I realised we didn’t need multiple people out there, we needed support when they brought the person back in. I immediately thought we’re going to need an AED and oxygen, so I turned around and paddled back, ditched my board, let myself into the clubhouse and grabbed the AED and oxygen and raced back so I was ready and waiting to assist when he was returned to shore.
How long have you been a lifesaver?
Clarkie: 5 years now, 4 years at that point.
How did you get into lifesaving?
Because my kids were in Nippers and when they reach a certain age it’s helpful to have extra Bronze Medallions in the water to help with Water Safety, so I got into it then. The irony of this is that Mark Head, was my Trainer and put my through my Bronze and got me to the level I’m at now, which is a Gold Medallion in Surf Lifesaving, same as Mike. I wouldn’t have been able to be there and do all this without the training of Mark and Mike.
Mike (Stanley-Jones) can you share what happened from your perspective?
Mike: We were thankful for the headland coming alive. Mark and I had ridden a few waves, we were having a bal. I paddled back out the back and the headland was alive with car horns and people waving. I turned to these guys and said ‘must be a shark, let’s go’. We all came in on one wave and when we arrived on the shore Strech was here saying ‘there’s a body out there’.
I turned around and paddled back out and rolled my board on its side, as you are supposed to do, pulled Mark’s arm across the board, rolled my board so he came up on to my board, and then I saw his face – and it was Mark. So, here’s the guy that I’d ridden down for a surf with. His eye was at 45 degrees up into his head so I knew something was wrong – I yelled at him but didn’t get a response.
I had him on my board when a wave washed us off the nose of my board. When you look back at the footage now you realise why we were getting washed off the board because there were some chunky waves coming through.
As I got washed off the board with Mark I turned around and saw Stretch there and just thought ‘yes!’; of all the guys I could be out in the surf trying to grab my mate with it would be Stretch – Stretch was our idol when we were young, he used to be the Lifeguard on the beaches, so to see him out on board was tremendous. We had a bit of board control to do, there was too many rescue boards out there at one stage, so I was doing some board handling to get them out of the way. Karl and Stretch were handling Mark back in when a swimmer swam out to try and help, and he shouldn’t have as he came out without equipment, so I made up a job for him and asked him to swim back to shore and make sure they had the AED ready to go. If he hadn’t he may have become our next casualty.
It took about 4 minutes getting him back to the beach, which was slow. I was screaming at Clarkie on the way back in that it’s Mark, to add a bit of emphasis to the whole thing, but then it just went like clockwork.
When we arrived on the beach, the boys did the best job carrying him way up the beach out of harms’ way, so we knew we’d placed him in the right spot. The AED was there, the oxygen was there; an open airway was administered – you just couldn’t have asked for better help. When you looked around there was Clarkie with his Gold, Strech with his Gold, I’ve got my Gold. We’ve all done the surf lifesaving training hat brings bodies like this back.
We went for 30 minutes and he gave us nothing. The de-fib said ‘no shock advised’, which means he’s been in the water too long, and so we just commenced compressions and kept going at that for 30 minutes. We did this via rotation and if anyone had slacked off, or looked at all tired, we pushed them out the way and someone else steed in. It was such a nice, smooth operation – the whole incident.
But he didn’t give us anything – which was disheartening.
The ambulance arrived after 30 minutes and said ‘jus keep doing what you’re doing, we’ll swap out your de-fib for our de-fib’ – and theirs got nothing either. They gave him adrenalin shots and they then put a machine around his chest that did the compressions for you. They lifted him up into the ambulance and that machine was still doing cardiac compressions on Mark.
We got told, as they drove off, ‘we don’t hold much hope for your mate’ by someone. Clarkie and I went in the next ambulance as his next-of-kin as they couldn’t contact anyone, and our ambulance drivers gave this fantastic news on the way in that he’d come back, he had a heartbeat. Because of that they gave his ambulance a green light escort – which means he got every traffic light lit green all the way to Royal North Shore Hospital.
They decided on Royal North Shore as that has a specialist focus for the brain. As soon as they realised he’d come back, but he’d had 8 minutes or so without oxygen, they thought he would be a brain injury and so that’s where Royal North Shore are the experts.
We left him that night on 100% life support and from there he got better.
Blaze (Roberts) what happened from your perspective?
Blaze: I as in the surf with my boyfriend catching waves with MSJ, Clarkie and Mark. We heard people on the headland beeping and whistling at us. Initially I thought ‘it’s some dad trying to get his kid in form the surf’ but they kept beeping, whistling and pointing and then we were thinking ‘what’s going on?’ and the ‘shark!’ so we started paddling in as fats as we can. They kept beeping and pointing at us so we thought ‘it must be right behind us about to chomp us’.
Once we reached the sand we realised what was happening. My boyfriend and I ran up to the surf club, got a de-fib and first aid kit and then just waited on the sand, which felt like the longest 2 to 3 minutes of our lives, waiting for these guys to bring him in.
We brought him up on the sand and started CPR with all of us rotating. I made sure the guys knew I could do it, that I could help - we did that for what felt like a vey very long time, and even when the ambulance turned up they said ‘keep going, you’re doing great’.
When they took him away in the ambulance it was the end of that. I had a very hard night sitting at home waiting for news, and then when that came that he was alive that was great. I started visiting him regularly and getting to know him and we formed a really good bond as he began his way back to us.
You began as a Nipper at Avalon surf club, are you still a member?
Blaze: Not at the moment, no, but I was in the surf club for around 10 years.
Why is it important to learn how to save a life?
Blaze: I would have been no help whatsoever if I hadn’t had that grounding and training in surf lifesaving. I actually said to these guys when we doing the CPR and everyone was really serious and in the zone and no one was speaking other then to count compressions, ‘I feel like I’m back at SRC training’, which got a giggle.
But in fact, everything I learned at the surf club was exactly what we did.
You just went into action mode and did what needs to be done automatically?
Mike: the lovely thing about this was our determination - we were doing it for so long I was about to tell a story about a guy in the Blue Mountains who had come to after prolonged CPR when Blaze chirps in ‘hey Mike, all my SRC Training is coming back’. It just made us feel better, that quip and getting on with it, persevering.
We’ve since spoken to some doctors on proficiency and they stated they would give up on a patient at the 20-25 minutes mark; if there are no signs of life after that, they stop. We were going for 40 minutes and there was no chance we were stopping.
My biggest fear that the paramedics and people with a higher authority than us were going to come down and tell us to stop.
Stretch: It was the longest resus that I’ve ever seen in my whole life as a Lifeguard and Lifesaver. Normally a doctor or a paramedic will come in and call time, they tell you; you have done all you could, read out a time, and that’s that. I was worried that would happen and his mates were right there; and was thinking ‘don’t call it’ – and even though there were so many qualified people there, they let you guys keep going.
Lucas Molloy: the biggest thing for me was that Mark was lucky that the people who were around then were there; Stretch and Mike and Clarkie and Karl and Blaze, to do what they did.
Another big note for me was I’ve seen Blaze go through the Nipper program and then to see her jump in and do CPR on Mark was unbelievably fulfilling for me as part of the surf lifesaving movement. To see one of the kids do that so competently was great. If Surf Lifesaving could see what it did do that day it is a credit to the movement and the individuals. For Stretch to have the abilities he has to get out there and get Mark and bring him to shore, and then to have the people here to do what they did is very impressive.
Karl, what happened from your perspective?
Karl: I’d just been out surfing L.A. and was on top of the headland and heard the beeping and saw someone pointing and thought maybe it was a shark, and then saw a body floating in the water. Everyone on the beach wasn’t aware of that yet so I sprinted down, took off my clothes and ran out, in my undies, grabbed a board and paddled out. Stretch and Mike were already there so I helped Stretch grab Mark and they we tried coming in, getting pretty hammered with a bunch of waves. We got washed to the beach eventually. Everyone than carried him up the beach and we commenced doing CPR, and that went on for a while.
So you have trained in CPR?
Karl: yes, I’ve trained in a few courses, have surfed a lo and used to surf a lot of big waves and always had that training in the back of my mind. I’d bene ready to just head home when it all happened, but then that training, and the surfing experience helped and I just went into action mode.
When did you first start surfing?
Karl: When I was about 5 – I grew up here in Avalon.
Lucas: the degree of what was done on the sand is what saved him.
Clarkie: I’d just like to say, in closing; We know he’s ok as he’s still telling us the same bad stories he was telling us years ago.
Roger Sayers: pic of Mark Head rescuing someone few years ago near where he was rescued. Mark is on the left
Roger Sayers explained that Avalon Beach has not had clubbie/ boardrider issues since the 1980s when the surf club introduced a policy of placement of the flags to accommodate the needs of all surf users, encouraging good relations between ABSLSC and NASA and other boardriders, and encouraging boardriders to join the club, which many have, including pro surfers or at least get their SRC, learn CPR etc. ‘’We support each other on the beach.’’ Roger said.
Talking With The Rescuers On Their Work That Afternoon, Friday September 16, 2022 - From Their Individual Perspectives: by A J Guesdon, 2023.
Surf Lifesavers Honoured At 2023 National Awards Of Excellence
The Surf Life Saving Australia community came together in Sydney on Saturday night, November 4, at the National Awards of Excellence, to celebrate the many dedicated volunteers who safeguard Australia’s coastline and provide valuable contributions to their local communities.
For the first time since 2018, Sydney hosted SLSA’s night of nights, an opportunity for members to be recognised for their dedication and commitment.
Surf Life Saving Australia President John Baker ESM said: “Tonight was a great opportunity for our Surf Life Saving community to come together to celebrate the achievements of our peers over the last 12 months.
“This year, our members contributed more than 1.4 million hours to keeping their communities and our beaches safe. The National Awards of Excellence are an opportunity for us to recognise, celebrate and honour our rich and diverse surf lifesaving community.
“It is a chance to look back and reflect on the last 12 months, which saw us return to Western Australia for the Australian Surf Life Saving Championships, celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Westpac Lifesaver Rescue Helicopter Service, and saw our members perform an incredible 9,297 rescues.
“The next year will bring more milestones for our organisation, as Australia prepares to host the World Conference on Drowning Prevention, as well as the 2024 World Lifesaving Championships on the Gold Coast, in what’s set to be another big year for Surf Life Saving Australia, it’s member states and our 193,000 members,” he said.
The prestigious DHL Surf Lifesaver of the Year award was presented to Cheryl McCarthy (Bermagui SLSC, NSW), while Luke O’Garey (Burnie SLSC, TAS) was named DHL Volunteer of the Year. North Haven Surf Life Saving Club in South Australia was awarded DHL Club of the Year and DHL Lifeguard of the Year honours went to Mariah Jones (NSW).
Craig Smith-Gander (North Cottesloe, WA) and Andrew Buhk (Alexandra Headland, QLD) were officially awarded Life Membership of Surf Life Saving Australia, after being announced in August 2023. Life Membership is awarded to members who have gone above and beyond in their duties and responsibilities to Surf Life Saving, showing distinguished voluntary service to the movement over at least 20 years.
There were also nine Meritorious awards presented on the night, the highest honour awarded by Surf Life Saving Australia for bravery. These awards, to both individuals and groups, recognise acts of bravery by members who went above and beyond, putting their lives on the line to rescue people who found themselves in trouble.
Youth Surf Life Saver of the Year – Sophie Carne, Lorne SLSC, LSV
Sophie remarkable journey at Lorne SLSC reflects her unwavering commitment and contributions. Beginning as a ten-year-old Nipper, Sophie has ascended to influential leadership roles within the club. Her achievements span multiple facets.
As Co-First Aid Officer, Sophie streamlined the restocking process for first aid supplies, implementing a QR code system for efficient replenishment. During the Lorne Pier to Pub event, she ensured an ample supply of vital medical resources.
Serving as a Patrol Vice-Captain, Sophie excelled in fostering a strong sense of community among patrollers, working collaboratively with her mentor and Patrol Captain.
Sophie’s leadership extends to the creation of the Pink Patrol, promoting gender inclusivity in lifesaving, and launching the innovative Leadership Patrol, focusing on personal development for current and future leaders. She introduced vital new roles, such as the Mental Health and Wellbeing Officer and Sustainability Officer, underscoring her commitment to member well-being and sustainability.
Sophie’s environmental commitment is embodied in the Green Patrol, reducing plastic waste by replacing single-use bottles with eco-friendly alternatives. Beyond her club roles, Sophie’s pursuit of a medical degree enhances her lifesaving expertise, while her diverse community engagements showcase her broader impact.
Sophie ascent within Lorne is marked by efficient innovation, strong leadership, inclusivity, and environmental stewardship, and reflects her profound commitment to safety, well-being, and community enrichment.
DHL Lifeguard of the Year – Mariah Jones, NSW
Mariah Jones is an exceptional figure in the field of lifeguarding and lifesaving. With over nine years of experience, she serves as a senior lifeguard and supervisor for the Australian Lifeguard Service (ALS) on the Tweed. Mariah’s journey began as a nipper, and her enduring commitment to the Tweed Heads Coolangatta SLSC recently earned her a national 10-year patrol service medal.
Her achievements extend beyond local recognition; Mariah has been a key player in the National Lifesaving Team and Commonwealth Lifesaving National Team, consistently contributing to their success and earning numerous medals for her club at the Australian titles. Her heroic acts as a lifeguard, earning her multiple Rescue of the Month nominations, reflect her exceptional skills and dedication, including a challenging kayak rescue in three-meter swells.
Mariah’s impact extends beyond her lifeguard duties. She has broken barriers as the first indigenous and female Tweed Lifeguard Supervisor, fostering diversity and inclusivity in ALS NSW. Her advocacy for female lifeguards led to the creation of a supportive community through training days and social gatherings.
Internationally, Mariah’s influence reaches new lifeguards in Vietnam, where she trained over 120 individuals as part of the ALS International Training Tour. Mariah’s unwavering dedication to her craft, her community, and her commitment to mentoring the next generation of lifeguards make her an inspirational and respected figure in both local and international lifesaving circles. Her legacy is one of excellence, inclusivity, and safety.
DHL Volunteer of the Year – Luke O’Garey, Burnie SLSC, TAS
During his 40-year involvement with SLS in Tasmania, Luke has held numerous leadership positions, including Club Captain, Club Coach, Nipper Coach, Patrol Captain, and State Surf Coach. In the 2022/23 season, his roles included Club Captain, Club Coaching Coordinator, Junior and Senior Team Manager, and mentor to the Junior Activities Committee at Burnie. Luke’s central goal for the season was to mentor young coaches, enabling them to excel and fostering a deep understanding of the coaching role to benefit future lifesavers.
Luke’s contributions were diverse and impactful. He facilitated development camps, coordinated events, and mentored new coaches. His commitment extended beyond Burnie, as he became an accredited Performance Coach and Assessor, helping mentor coaches across Tasmania. He also addressed a critical need by upskilling members to become IRB drivers, enhancing the club’s rescue capabilities.
Luke’s volunteer hours were remarkable, accumulating over 80 hours on patrols and water safety, alongside approximately 160 hours mentoring coaches and supporting club activities. His leadership and mentorship were instrumental in strengthening the club’s culture, fostering camaraderie, and encouraging members to take on leadership roles.
His dedication resonated far beyond the club, touching the broader surf lifesaving community in Tasmania. Luke’s impact extended to competitors, state performance teams, and the development of new coaches. His deep knowledge of SLS history and commitment to its values contributed to the club’s resilience and long-term success.
Luke’s exceptional leadership, mentorship, and commitment to surf lifesaving have had a profound and far-reaching impact, benefiting Burnie, its members, and the wider community.
DHL Surf Life Saver OTY – Cheryl McCarthy SLSC, Bermagui SLSC, NSW
Cheryl has made exceptional contributions to surf lifesaving, excelling in various roles and demonstrating strong leadership skills. She has dedicated 105 patrol hours this season and is a senior member of the Bermagui call out team, showcasing her wide skill set. Cheryl volunteers for Nippers water safety, fosters community relationships, and has received national recognition for her service during the Black Summer Bushfire Emergency.
In addition to her hands-on involvement in lifesaving, Cheryl serves at multiple levels within the organisation. She takes on leadership roles at the Club, Branch, State, and National levels, including Director of Lifesaving for Far South Coast Branch and participation in committees designing new training courses for lifesavers.
Cheryl’s impact is widespread. Visitors to the beach benefit from her professionalism and expertise in both water and onshore situations. She encourages fellow patrollers to expand their skills and actively seeks opportunities for improvement. Nippers enjoy her engaging approach to water safety, while community members appreciate her dedication during emergencies. Cheryl’s leadership positively influences the club, and her advocacy benefits lifesavers across the region. She also contributes to development activities, providing upskilling opportunities to fellow surf lifesavers statewide.
Cheryl’s remarkable dedication and contributions make her a valuable ambassador for the organisation, embodying the spirit of surf lifesaving.
DHL Club of the Year – North Haven SLSC, SA
Established in 1967, the North Haven SLSC is a thriving community organisation located along the South Australian coastline. With over 330 members, including 75 active patrolling members, the club’s primary mission is to ensure the safety of beachgoers in the North Haven Beach, Taperoo, and Semaphore Jetty areas.
The club provides a wide range of volunteer services, including emergency search and rescue, medical assistance, preventative programs, surf safety education, youth development initiatives, senior engagement programs, and healthy lifestyle activities. It works closely with other emergency services, local schools, and community groups to foster strong partnerships.
In recent years, the club has experienced significant growth and recognition. Their dedication to inclusivity and community engagement led to a 300% surge in membership in just 12 months. In 2022, they received the prestigious “Most Inclusive Club” award from Clubs SA.
One of their standout initiatives is the Youth Employment Program, which guarantees hospitality positions to young members and equips them with job skills and first aid training. Financially, the club has seen substantial growth, with a 400% increase in cafe/bar turnover compared to previous years.
Looking ahead, the club is focused on three key pillars: eco-sustainability, inclusive engagement, and community empowerment. They plan to create a more environmentally responsible clubhouse, expand inclusivity initiatives, and collaborate with retirement villages to offer free first aid training to seniors.
Their message to fellow surf lifesaving clubs is clear: ‘Inclusivity is vital’. By breaking down traditional stereotypes and embracing diversity, they’ve not only enriched their club but also amplified their impact on the community, serving as an inspiring example of a transformed and inclusive community organisation.
Life membership is awarded to members who have displayed distinguished voluntary service to the organisation sustained over a period of at least 20 years. The following two surf lifesaving members have been awarded SLSA Life Membership in 2023.
Andrew Buhk – Alexandra Headland SLSC, QLD. 310
Andrew joined Alexandra Headland SLSC (AHSLSC) as an U7 Nipper, a third-generation family member of the club and patrolling member since 1980, Andrew gained his AHSLSC Life Membership in 2002.
Andrew’s sporting prowess as a youth competitor stretched across the many sporting disciplines of SLS. Later Andrew went on to coach within his club, Sunshine Coast and State areas, frequently touring representing Australia in Japan, Great Britain, and Canada.
Andrew commenced officiating in 1990. Since that time, he has officiated at every Australian Championships since 1991. He was the Kellogg’s Nutri Grain Referee for 16 years, spent eight years as Aussies Sectional Referee, seven years as Deputy Referee and six years as Aussies Referee from 2012-2017.
Andrew sat on the National Education and Development Committee for four years, was the National Event Advisor for two years, and is the current SLSA Chair of Sport, a position he has held since 2017.
Andrew is known for his dedication, sustained and distinguished commitment to surf sports. His focus on the strategic direction, grassroots development and sustainable financial strategies have seen national surf sports continue to prosper. Andrew’s knowledge of events, stake-holder engagement and innovation have seen SLSA separate the Australian Youth titles into a stand-alone event. During the tragedies of 2010 and 2012, Andrew’s conspicuous leadership was responsible for the cultural shift at surf sports events and was instrumental in SLSA’s approach to safety.
Andrew instilled in our Officials the principle of presumption of ‘good intent’ a philosophy under-pinned by all voices being heard, ensuring that any concern raised on the beach from a parent, competitor or spectator be addressed and managed within SLS due process. Andrew is an innovative and transformative leader within surf sports.
Craig Smith-Gander AM – North Cottesloe SLSC, WA. 311
Craig has had a significant impact on Surf Life Saving across Australia, from the grassroots level through to the development of national strategy and policy. For 50 years he has been a patrolling member, a surf boat competitor at the highest level and an office bearer at Club, State and National levels. As a SLSA Director for a decade, Craig has been one of 11 senior leaders leading the Federated movement. He has been an exemplary director in that time, working extremely hard to improve the experience for our volunteers.
Craig’s background made him the perfect SLSA Board Director to sit on the Helicopter Oversight Group and provide sound advice to the SLSA Board on the operations of SLSA’s owned helicopter company. His value and input were instrumental in decisions regarding future operations.
As the Chair of The ICT Governance Group committee, Craig drove technological advancements through the ICT Upgrade Project where the technology used to save lives in surf lifesaving was upgraded and enhanced to make the lives of members easier.
As a Director, Craig understands intimately the needs of the volunteers and he is passionate about reducing complexity and improving the experience for our members. Craig is a lifesaver first and foremost, but he has always had a love of all surf sports. He was on the SLSA Surf Sports Committee for 3 years and then, as the SLSA appointed Director, he led the 2016 National Surf Sports Review, which resulted in several significant innovations across the movement.
One of Craig’s innovations provided flexibility in patrol hours and proficiency that had previously been barriers to competition. Another assisted returning members and non-qualified members to use surf equipment for lifesaving and surf sports provided they met the prerequisites of the proficiency standard.
This allowed returning members to assist in water safety such as nippers and “try before you buy” on sports equipment such as surf boat rowing. Both innovations lead to successful national implementation.
SLSA National Awards of Excellence 2023 – Surf Sport Award Winners
Surf sports form a core part of the Surf Life Saving movement and there are five awards. Surf sports provide surf lifesavers with opportunities to develop and compete in the skills that keep them rescue ready for patrol.
The 2023 Awards of Excellence also introduces the National Surf Sports Team of Year Award.
Surf Sport Official of the Year – John Brennan OAM, Currumbin SLSC, QLD
John is an esteemed figure in the realm of officiating, recognised as a Senior Official He has an impressive tenure spanning 34 years and over this time has amassed a wealth of experience and expertise in his field, reaching the notable milestone of SLSA 30 Years Official Service in 2019. His exceptional service to International Lifesaving was duly recognised in 2016, when he was awarded the Gold Service Officials Medal accolade. In addition to his role as a Senior Official, John takes on the crucial responsibilities of a Senior Officials Assessor, where he evaluates and provides valuable feedback to aspiring officials, and a Senior Officials Mentor, guiding and nurturing the next generation of talented officials. In these roles John offers his astute expertise and guidance and is an invaluable asset to the officiating community.
As an experienced and highly knowledgeable official, he continues to dedicate his time and expertise to mentoring aspiring officials, offering guidance and sharing his wealth of knowledge and understanding of all things relevant to the official’s world. By serving as an Officials Mentor at various carnivals such as the Point Danger Branch (PDB) Youth Championships, PDB U8-U10 Junior Carnival and various other carnivals, John has actively contributed to the growth and skill enhancement of officials at these levels.
In addition to his mentoring efforts, John has gone above and beyond by providing training and education opportunities for officials. He has facilitated two Level 1 Officials Courses enabling new officials to gain a solid foundation in core officiating skills and knowledge. These courses introduce aspiring officials to the rules, responsibilities and principles associated with the role of an official. John’s commitment to supporting officials extends to the provision of more advanced training. He recently assisted with the delivery of Senior Officials Course held in Cairns over two days. Through this course, John was not only able to expand the knowledge and expertise of our current officials but has also equipped them with the necessary skills to handle complex situations and challenges that may arise during officiating duties at a higher level. His firsthand examples and scenarios add practicality and real-world context, enabling the members to grasp concepts effectively and apply them in their officiating roles moving forward to enhance their learning experience, John prepared supporting documentation and course material for the course and these resources serve as a valuable reference for members, providing them with important information and guidelines to further understand the intricacies of SLS officiating. By actively engaging in mentoring and providing training opportunities for officials, John has made significant contributions to the development and growth of officials in SLS.
Surf Sport Coach of the Year – Peter Tidswell, Glenelg SLSC, SA
With over 17 podium finishes over this last season, Peter has more than proved he is a well-established Surf Boat Coach, sweeping for multiple crews at Glenelg SLSC. Peter has not only represented South Australia in interstate events but also Australia at Trans-Tasman International with his U23 Women’s Crew. Peter has also had a huge impact in his club’s growth, recruiting and striving to achieve professionalism within the surf club and the sport.
He promotes and encourages team building activities with an enthusiastic and positive attitude, with an additional focus further to this to develop other aspiring coaches and grow the Surf Boat community, doing so as a member of SA’s Sweeps Advisory Panel, mentoring and assessing local sweep accreditations. While also mentoring, assisting and advising sweeps not only at Glenelg but other clubs, including in the Northern Territory over the past five years in Sweeping and Rowing clinics.
As further recognition to Peters coaching and sweeping, this last season he has been awarded ASRL SA Sweep of the Year, Best Young Guns Crew Best Performing Crew at Aussies Premier Surf Boat Club and the SA Awards of Excellence Coach and Team of the Year.
Surf Sport Youth Athlete of the Year – Conner Maggs, Newport SLSC, NSW
Selected on both State and Australian representative teams during the 2022/23 season, Connor has played key roles as a standout athlete, as well as role model and mentor for his teammates. Throughout the Interstate Championships, Connor achieved five gold and two silver medals across events in the ocean, playing a pivotal role in the ultimate win by NSW. Further proving his strong presence as an athlete, Conner was selected to wear the green and gold and represent Australia in the Pathways team who travelled to Queensland this year to battle it out with New Zealand in the Inaugural Battle of the Tasman event.
Named the Male Athlete of the Carnival at the 2023 Australian Championships, after making 12 finals. Connor walked away with no less than eight gold medals, marking himself as the first youth athlete to win all U17 male water events. Further highlighting his promise and determination, Conner took out the 2022 Coolangatta Gold Open Short Course event, despite being only 17 years of age. Continuing to prove age is no deterrent by competing as the youngest ever male competitor in the 2022-2023 Nutri Grain Ironman Series.
During school holidays, Conner holds coaching and skills sessions for Northern Beaches Nippers who are keen to improve their body surfing and craft skills.
This season has also been a steep learning curve of personal development for Conner, balancing school, lifesaving, training and travelling to many significant competition events and NSW and Australian representative teams. He has also had to continuously evolve his physical and psychological training and preparation to allow him to compete against bigger, more experienced athletes, seeking out every opportunity to take on advice and mentorship from his coaches, senior members of his club and past champions.
Surf Sport Athlete of the Year – Jake Smith, Trigg Island SLSC, WA
As a member of the Australian Life Saving Team, Jake proved to be an unstoppable force, leading the campaign at the Lifesaving World Championships in Italy 2022 to be the most successful Pool Rescue campaign. Jake was the highest point scoring open male athlete on the team producing some of the fastest times ever swum by an Australian in a World Championship event in the Pool, and showed his versatility, successfully competing on the beach in multiple events taking home a total of 12 medals.
He also took on a mentor role to the ALT youth team, helping with technical aspects of different events whilst in Italy. Jake was also the captain of the Western Suns State Pool Rescue Team in 2022, where he also set 6 Australian Records at the National Championships. As an athlete and sports committee member he has an appreciation of the need to ensure guidelines and protocols are adhered to and maintained to guarantee fair competition and opportunities for all participants.
As the Competition Captain for Trigg, Jake managed and coordinated activities at competitions throughout the year as well as encouraged member participation in club events. As Club Captain, he ensured members of the club acted in accordance with the club rules and actively encouraged team and individual performances, especially amongst the youth competitors.
Jake is also the Trigg’s Ocean Swim Coach, responsible for coordinating and running ocean swim training for club athletes. Adding to his schedule, Jake has similarly taken on the role of Pool Rescue Captain for the club for the current season.
Jake was instrumental in establishing the West Life Saving (WA) Inc. Club which has a focus specifically on the sport of Pool Life Saving. As President, Jake has led the club executive in developing good management practices in order to support the ongoing growth and development of the club. The club now has over 60 members from various WA Surf Life Saving Clubs ranging from 12 years to Masters and vary from those new to the sport to members of the Australian Life Saving Team. With the Simulated Emergency Response Competition (SERC) being an ILS team event at the World Championships, Jake has worked towards increasing his knowledge and understanding of the event. He recently shadowed officials at the 2023 Australian Pool Lifesaving Championships to give himself a better understanding of how the event is scored hoping to be able to transfer this knowledge to team performance in this event.
Always looking for ways to improve performance, Jake regularly engages in discussions with a range of different people within the lifesaving community including competitors, coaches and officials about the rules of the sport of pool lifesaving to discover and trial different ways to evolve the sport.
Jake is a qualified sports teacher, swimming and lifesaving coach having developed the skills of teaching, training and coaching from his personal, educational and work experience. He coaches and mentor’s lifesaving athletes from junior to high performance level.
Surf Sport Team of the Year – Currumbin Hunters, Currumbin SLSC, QLD
The Currumbin Hunters Boat Crew had an outstanding 2022/2023 competition season. At the 2023 Australian Championships, they secured gold in the Open Female Surf Boat category and silver in the Open Mixed Lifesaver Relay. Their success continued at the 2023 Queensland Championships, where they claimed gold and silver in the same events. Additionally, they ranked fourth in the ASRL Open Female division. The group, all mothers, proved that they could excel not only in rowing, but also in balancing motherhood and being positive role models for women. They volunteered over 79 hours of patrolling and collectively amassed 1,000 career patrolling hours, receiving 101 awards.
Their dedication extended beyond competitions, as they undertook immense logistical challenges, traveling over 24,800km to various carnivals. This included multiple trips to Sydney, a tour of New Zealand, a journey to Perth for the Aussies, and two trips to the Sunshine Coast. Despite the logistical complexity, the team ensured smooth operations and a successful season, showcasing their commitment and ability to overcome challenges.
Surf Lifesavers Honoured At 2023 National Awards Of Excellence by Surf Life Saving Australia.