August 31 - September 6, 2014: Issue 178

Andrew (Andy) Cross 

Andy Cross is all about community. A Narrabeen boy since The Antler still rocked, Mr. Cross’s passion for saltwater and surfing coalesced as he grew taller to honing his skills in and out of the waves which then became a passion to share this knowledge.

The 2012 and 2013 NSW Surf Lifesaver of the Year, the 2014 SLS SNB Branch Volunteer of the Year 2014 and 2014’s SLSNSW Awards of Excellence Volunteer of the Year, you’d be hard pressed to find a man more dedicated to instilling how to read the ocean in our youngsters than Andy.

The Chief Instructor at South Narrabeen SLSC, who is always amongst it when the children from Brewarrina visit as part of the Bush to Beach Program, Andy has found a way to extend inspiring others to reach higher beyond his home break.

In March 2014, Andy clocked up surfing 82 of the 129 NSW beaches patrolled by volunteer life savers. His aim is to talk to people about the Advanced Surf Life Saving Gold Medallion and share the Easy Pathway program that has been developed at South Narrabeen SLSC.

To open our Spring focus on Surf Life Saving Legends we are privileged to share a small insight into a gentleman who bridges both worlds, that of surfing and surf life saving and whose story, as always, is told best in his own words:

I am a single Dad of three great kids who are all in Surf Life Saving. I work for myself so am able to take off a day here and there when I can, with some planning, to get the129 Beaches challenge completed. 

The goal of the 129 Beaches challenge is to meet and talk to as many people as possible about the Advanced Surf Life Saving Gold Medallion, to bring awareness and attention to this, and have it passed onto the Chief Training Officers. Part of this is to share the Easy Pathway program that we developed at South Narrabeen SLSC. Hopefully in time, if more people set goals to do this, the skill levels of the whole organisation will lift.  Those people who achieve the Gold Medallion could become mentors at their clubs and make us even more effective on the beaches.  

The Easy Pathway program will make the job of the Chief Training Officer easier with any questions or enquires they may get from their members. It really worked at our club and at our Branch.  We had some of South Narrabeen SLSC nippers , SRC, and new Bronze holders asking questions, and this is was great as it increased their understanding. 

Additionally I aim to build a bridge between the Surf Life Savers and Surfers by telling people about the 24/7 rescue program that Surfing NSW is running, teaching recreational surfers about board rescues. Surf Life Saving is teaching and passing on our skills for the CPR part of this course. The NSW Government is supporting this initiative.

In my volunteering I have work alongside many Surf life Savers, Pro Life Guards and many of the most skilled have been surfers. We are two different cultures but we have so many skills, benefits and experience we should be sharing.   

The challenge involves visiting and surfing a minimum of three waves at each of the 129 Beaches which has a Surf Life Saving Club in NSW, rain hail or shine. We sure have been cracking that sunshine and talking with anyone who will listen (ha-ha). 

The 129 Beaches challenge is going great guns. So far I have surfed at 82 Surf Life Saving Clubs and have been to all the clubs in the Far South Coast, South Coast, Illawarra, Sydney, Central Coast, Hunter and Lower North Coast Branches. My girlfriend Ang has been a photo and writing monster with the occasional wet wetsuit hug, also organizing the food and accommodation along the ways. It’s great having someone you can share the journey with.

I have surfed with and been in the water with so many of mother Nature’s salt water animals,  seals, sharks, dolphins, a black swan, penguins, turtles, sting rays, manta rays, massive jelly fish,  schools of fish, and moving shadows I don’t dare to think about… Most of the time I am on my own in the surf so it really adds to the experience in the water.

What an absolutely sensational Organisation Surf Life Saving is. I have had nothing short of mateship, generosity and friendship all the way. The pride people carry of their Surf Life Saving Clubs is second to none. I honestly have been welcomed and shown hospitality like a long lost brother at every Surf Life Saving Club bar none. It really is incredible and makes me so proud to belong to such an awesome organisation.

There is a 90 year heritage of Surf Life Saving involvement in your family; your grandfather getting his Bronze Medallion at Coogee in 1925. Did you spend much time with him?

Yes. We used to go over to visit every second weekend. Dad and his sister grew up there and would spend time around Grant Reserve and Wedding Cake Island.

Granddad was what we used to call and older style Bronzed Aussie – he was a big man, he knew a lot about the ocean, he would let us go out alone but I could always sense him there watching me.

When did you join surf life saving?

I was into surfing originally and then joined in 1992, joining North Narrabeen, and joined simply because I wanted to challenge myself to get my Bronze, which I then got in 1992.

The Gold Medallion – what is the difference between this and the Bronze?

The Gold Medallion is an Advanced Life Saving accreditation. It is the same standard that is required for Professional Lifesavers around the whole of the country bar Bondi. At Bondi they round out all the distances – so instead of the 800 metre swim they do a kilometre, instead of 400 they do 500. What is also entailed is a lot of education – it certainly requires you to get the Bronze Medallion/Cert II – you need to do a Spinal Management course, an advanced Apply First Aid Course, an Advanced Resuscitation Techniques and the fifth is the Silver Medallion Patrol Captain/Basic Beach Management, which is about managing all the beach.

So once you have done all those, and got a bit of experience, you then move on to the physical side of things which is an 800 m swim in 14 minutes or less – and 400 m swim, 800m run, 400m board, 800m run in under 25 minutes.

Have you got your Gold Medallion?

I have, yes.   I got mine in 2008.

The 129 Beaches Project – what are you doing there and why?

What I’m hoping to do is visit each surf club and get some information across to the Chief Instructors about the Gold Medallion. In visiting the surf clubs the first thing I do is give them a copy of the Easy Pathway program. The nature of the Program we have developed at South Narrabeen has made it a lot easier for people to come and ask me about the Gold. So it’s about promoting the Easy Pathway to the Gold Medallion program that we developed in our surf club at South Narrabeen as well as the Surfing NSW Rescue 24/7 program. 
This has doubled the amount of Gold’s we have at our club, and doubled the amount of Gold qualified lifesavers on the beaches simply because you have easy, simple information available.

I joined South Narrabeen in 2007 because my brother’s kids were all members there, so I thought it would be good for my kids to go there and keep it all in the family.

Yes, that’s four generations – your grandfather, your father, you and then your children – fantastic!

It’s a wonderful organisation for all kids. They can join surf life saving and they will have a house anywhere around Australia.

The Bush to Beach Program is a South Narrabeen initiative and you have been doing a lot of work there too- what is it like from your point of view as Chief Instructor at South Narrabeen?

That’s a wonderful Program. We were recently invited to an Anniversary celebration at Brewarrina which had meetings with the Elders along with traditional corroborees and my children got to experience where they live. This was a great insight for them.
When they come to visit us we’ll be having our 10th year and ten year anniversary this season. It is a wonderful thing to see how much these children enjoy the beach. One of the things is that some of them come regularly and some have never been to the beach before. When they first arrive we form a circle at the water’s edge and get them to feel how the surf rolls them around and feel the sand under their feet. It’s also a good opportunity for us, and in particular the kids, to pass on the skills they have learned and even build on the skills they may have previously learned.

Most mornings we give them a briefing, making them aware of the surf conditions and what to look for, and look out for; this incorporates surf basics like what to do, how they must swim between the flags, what to do if a wave is breaking over their heads. 

This little bit of education was turned to great advantage two seasons ago when a youngster called Kaylan, who is one of the aboriginal kids whom we’d given some training, used one of basics we’d taught. He came running out about 5.30 to the back of the surf club, where I was, and said ‘I think there’s someone in trouble – he’s waving to me from the surf’.

Just that statement sparked this whole rescue – we got this guy and got him back onto the beach, the ambulance and police came. This was all due to that boy named Kaylan. Had we not told him or educated him on what surf etiquette is he may have looked at the guy and waved back at him.

This illustrates that just the simplest pieces of education do save lives. He now stands guard at the local pool and the Elders tell me that when he’s on watch, ready with his rescue float, that he’s the only one who will stand and watch the pool all the time; he’s alert, doesn’t get distracted.

You’re a single dad - what to you is the most important thing to remember when raising children as a single parent?

To me the most important thing is to be happy – it doesn’t matter how much money you have, where you live or what kind of car you drive – if your kids are happy and you are happy, that is the best thing you can do for them as a single dad. Certainly the surf club and Surf Life Saving supports myself and my kids and keeps us all happy.

Your outstanding contribution to our community and Surf Life Saving was recognised this year during the Branch Awards with you being named Volunteer of the Year – and you have since also been awarded Volunteer of the Year at the Surf Life Saving New South Wales Awards of Excellence – how does it feel when you get that kind of recognition?

Well the first thing to bear in mind is that you don’t do any of it for the accolades, and this would be applicable to everyone in Surf Life Saving. For me; I do it simply because I love to do it – I love to share what I know, particularly with the kids and my own kids. So the Easy Pathway program we’ve got – it’s all about passing on your experience to them. That can also push the envelope, push their skill levels when kids are a little bit scared; that’s a good thing when you do this as it enables you to handle a little bit more, to learn a little bit more and raise their skill levels.

So it’s not about the accolades and people patting you on the back. It’s about the journey through Surf Life Saving and all you are able to give; all the information, all the experiences you have in being part of this and all the happiness you’ve got as a result. 

What is your favourite place on the Northern Beaches and why?

I have to say South Narrabeen Surf Club – it has such a fantastic and recognisable wave that is known worldwide. It’s a wonderful beach and to me it is a second home. Everyone down there has a smile on his or her face.

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

There are a few things I live by: 
Never lose that little kid inside of you.
Be interested and you will be interesting. 
Always ask questions and be a good listener.
Be yourself and don’t be scared to shed a tear or laugh out loud.

Keep up to date with the 129 Beaches Challenge on the Facebook Page 

Copyright Andrew (Andy) Cross,  2014. Photographs by Angie Thorpe.