September 28 - October 4, 2014: Issue 182

BL’s Blast Off 2014 - 9th Annual Surfing Contest and School Holiday Fun
BL’s Blast Off 2014

BL’s Blast Off 2014, the 9th annual Grommet Festival of Surfing, was four fun filled days brimming with activities on the sand and great surfing in the water. Every year this originator of surfing contests for our younger people is different – whether it’s the beaches it takes place on, the weather and swell conditions, or seeing last year’s contestants in the water again only with new and better skills or even meeting brand new participants. What stays consistent each Blast Off is finding grains of sand tucked behind your ears hours after you get home, getting to spend whole days immersed in thick salt air surrounded by people beaming from the same respite, and finding the 'mellow' resurfaces, reminding you of Summers past and to come while children do cartwheels and handstands all around you. It's a great place to be.

This year there were 370 very keen surfers ranging from 3 years of age up until their last year in the Under 14’s age bracket – from little men to people who are just becoming young men, from little women to girls who are now young ladies. On Sunday afternoon, 21st of September, visitors and residents alike joined in a skateboard clinic at Careel Bay, just to get ‘in the mood’.

On Day One the masses gathered at North Palm Beach. A Dolphin Patrol cruised back and forth just beyond the breakers, while on the grassed areas massages to loosen muscles up prior top surfing, colouring in by designing a surfboard deck – and the surfing; wow! It’s hard to fathom that these kids aren’t part of the International Surfing circuit already.

Day Two the whole shebang moved to Whale Beach as everyone in Pittwater knows ‘there’s always waves at Whaley’ – and this tucked away bay of the ocean produced good little to medium sized scrolls of ocean upon which many a ‘frothing’ Grom wrote their own tales of flowing with and on and even above waves through the final three days of competition – including some epic moves on beautiful glass during the finals on day four.

Day Two was also about being in Pink and supporting Cancer research by raising funds for women’s cancer support. Cancer Council NSW were Blast Off’s main charity partner for 2014 and were at the beach every day helping to run activities and entertain the kids.
Prizes and awards for the most creative and outrageous outfits caused a few giggles.

Day Two is also the day the Blast Off Idol occurs at Palm Beach RSL (Club Palm Beach) and always a great evening of songs, laughter, music and some of the best dancing around. This year was no exception with a young harpist, pianist, and some voices that wouldn’t be out of place on all those singing contests now so popular on television. 

A five year old with attitude and great moves took out the Blast off Idol this year, wowing judges rugby legend Mark Gasnier, Colin (King Kong) Friend and Hurley Team Rider Cooper Chapman.
1st place Harper Smales

Blast Off Idol Results 2014
1st place Harper Smales – Hip Hop
2nd place Kaden Smales – Singing
3rd place Dhara & Balin Cullen – Harp & Piano
Special Mentions to Luque Light and Aiden Lewand-Parsons

Mark Gasnier, Colin (King Kong) Friend, Barton Lynch (BL), TV and Hurley Team Rider Cooper Chapman.

Day Three saw a visit from Brendan Donohue of the Surfrider Foundation Australia, of which Barton Lynch is also a Director, and a ‘let’s keep it clean theme’ – with over 20 kilograms of rubbish collected by this group of young and future inheritors of the aquatic environment and all lands adjoined to. That’s one thing you always notice after a Blast Off Comp. – the beach isn’t littered with rubbish every foot or less like it is after so many Summer Sundays in Pittwater – in fact it’s cleaner then before all those little feet hit the sand. Wednesday also saw the Disabled Surfers Association on Whale Beach for the day. Barton Lynch made a $1000 donation on behalf of Blast Off and Active Tree Services, an annual investment in spreading the fun.

Day Four was finals day and the waves held and even improved to glassy conditions after that storm that passed quickly through Pittwater early in the afternoon. 
Storm front over Whale Beach on Thursday.

We caught up with BL (Barton Lynch), Australian Surfing Hall of Fame inductee, former World Champion and the gentleman who began this contest on finals day to see how this greatest of Coaching/Grommet Surfing Comps is travelling and his assessment of its 9th year:

BL, there’s a few kids we’ve seen surfing in the last few years who will be surfing their Last Blast Off this year. How does it feel fostering this talent and seeing these youngsters improve through this contest and then go on to do well on the professional circuit?

It feels amazing to see these youngsters graduate from this event and go to that next level. Sandon Whittaker and Kyuss King are two of the obvious standouts and two who have just been amazing surfers for a long time and they’re still only 14. one surfer, Jasper Davis, has done every single Blast Off since the very start – he’s 14 and started when he was 5 and so has done nine years competing not only in the surfing but also in Blast Off Idol.
Kyuss King in action

Among the girls we’ve seen numerous wonderful surfers come up through the heats during Blast Off and this year we’ll see fantastic surfers like Piper Harrison, Bodhi Leigh-Jones and Macy Callaghan participating for the last time. These are outstanding athletes who are already attracting attention for their surfing abilities elsewhere.

In a way it’s sad when they move on but you feel a sense of fulfilment in the fact that you have created this great opportunity for them to develop and grow their ability and that when they leave us they go on to bigger and better things. It’s like being a parent; there’s this day with your kids when you can’t pick them up any more, they’re too big – it’s a bit like that for me.

Blast Off itself, now in it’s 9th year and with the big 10th year next year, is going from strength to strength in the standard of surfing seen, the pointers the judges are giving to help the surfers, it gets better every single year – what would you attribute that to?

I’d attribute that to me being a little bit OCD; and wanting us to do everything we do to the best of our ability, and understanding that you can always be better, you can always learn, you can always grow.

Every year we distribute a Feedback document and every bit of advice or comment or recommendation that we get is listened to. we tinker with things, we change things as we’re always trying to make it bigger and better and improve it. In the same way the kids are committed to developing and improving their surfing I’m committed to improving and developing and dedicated to making this event bigger and better. There have been a lot of events that copy what we do since we began Blast Off. They say that ‘imitation is the greatest form of flattery’ but at the same time it is us, the personality of our team and the people involved and all they bring that can’t be copied.

You have kept it pure too – there’s no sponsors here who are pushing alcoholic drinks or food that is a definition of low nutrition and high sugar – it’s about a healthy lifestyle and good choices too. This has created a situation where demand is outdistancing supply though – how do you plan to try and meet that?

That’s a good point; we had a hundred kids on the wait list this year wanting to be a part of Blast Off 2014 and that makes us examine what can be done. This event is actually two events in one; it’s a Coaching event and Program and a Surfing Contest rolled into one event. In my experience the Coaching program component is where a majority of the numbers come from – there’s a lot of kids who don’t do any other contest other than this one, or kids for whom this is the first contest that they ever do as it has that user-friendly, family inclusive feel and reputation. So I think there’s room for us to evolve the Coaching component of it and create a fully fledged coaching program and take the judges advice and have post-heat debriefings with a coach.

We’ve got ideas for the 10th year of evolving the concept, staying ahead of the pack and turning it into something unique. Blast Off is already unique but I see the opportunity to have the contest with invited surfers and kids graduate from the coaching program to the contest. So we do have ideas to address and meet that demand that we’re working on at present which we’ll finalise closer to the next Blast Off.

What strikes you most about Blast Off is every year it’s like one huge family, one tribe gathering – from the skateboard session on the Sunday afternoon to the Blast Off Idol to all those helping each other out on the sand – it’s a pretty nice place to be for four days every year…a great family to be around..

Yes it is. I think the family component of it starts with our staff – no one who works on this event really works on other events, they come together just for this one. They’re all my friends and family members, and they come together to put on this show and so that family vibe starts with us.

Year 10 for BL’s Blast Off – what are you looking forward to?

First off I’m looking forward to securing the same people, the same team. This year we did have a NSW body who wanted to be involved and then bailed on us two months prior to day one and left us in the lurch; I immediately got our family back together again and all of a sudden it felt right, instead of wrong – so that would be first and foremost – a good contest stems from good people and a good team. So I’m looking forward to securing the same staff and have the same community feel that we have had in past years – I love working with these people, they all share the passion and positivity for what we do each year.

Our sponsors are in this same category – most of these have been with us from the start and have the same commitment and passion for developing surfing and sharing this with the next generation of surfers. They are like a part of this extended family, so securing their sponsorship to support and develop future grommets is a priority.
Then of course we need Huey and Mother Nature to come to the table, as they generally do, and put on some great waves as they have this year. There’s a part of me that feels like it’s my dad looking out for us at Whale Beach today, we’ve had some great swell here and it’s like he’s looking down over us, keeping it safe for all.

What do you want the kids that have attended Blast Off 2014, year 9, to take away with them from the event this year?

I just want them to be stoked. That word is synonymous with surfing, ‘stoked’, and that for us is what it’s all about; getting stoked. Happiness is a good thing but stoked is a level above that of passion and enjoyment and enthusiasm for life. As surfers we’re always stoked, so if they go home stoked on the event, stoked on our area, and better surfers then they arrived, then we’ve done our job.

Just on that note, I’d like to take this opportunity to thank all our staff, thank Pittwater Council and all those in the area and community for letting us have their waves for a few days, thank all our sponsors for their wonderful support again this year and thanks to all participants and their families for coming.

Blast Off 2014 - Winners


Pittwater Online News Photo Albums are available – complete with fuzzy in-between shots as the camera fades but we don’ and are aware you like to see the sequences so you may learn from them to improve your surfing, at:  Pittwateronlinenews-photo-albums/posts
Report and pictures by A J Guesdon, 2014.