The Illawarra and South Coast branch of Surf Life Saving NSW stole the show at this year’s Surf Life Saving NSW Awards of Excellence, with members taking out a third of the event’s categories.
Bellambi SLSC led the charge at the event hosted at Sofitel Sydney Wentworth, claiming four awards including back-to-back wins to open proceedings with the Youth Surf Lifesaver of the Year going to Brody Robertson and Youth Volunteer of the Year to Halle Bone.
“Something must be going on, I don’t know what it is, but it’s awesome to see our club showing off the talent and skills we have,” Brody laughed.
“We have a lot of up-and-coming talent, a lot of commitment, we just have a lot of fun,” Halle added.
Bellambi’s call-out team went on to pick up Services Team of the Year and Jackie Percy was named Trainer of the Year, rounding the night out nicely for the club.
Jackie, who has been with the club for over two decades, said the tremendous accolades held great significance for the Bellambi branch.
“I’ve been there long enough to witness the ups and downs and changes in the community around volunteering. I was club captain when we had just nine members. We’re currently sitting on 25 bronze members patrolling. That has been the result of years of dedication to building up community engagement,” she said.
“I think we’re also recognising more that lifesaving is branching out from its traditional ‘on the sand and in the ocean’ directive – our call-out team has responded to emergencies such as floods, capsized boats and missing persons, and we’ve put a lot of time into upskilling people for that.
“For them to receive this recognition, along with our youths, we were excited and so proud.”
The region’s clubs went on to claim eight of 24 awards for the evening.
Rachelle Balez of Scarborough Wombarra was named Patrol Captain of the Year while Wollongong City’s Glenn Beveridge and Kiama Downs’ Nathan Foster each claimed half of the Surf Sports category. Glenn was named the Coach of the Year and Nathan the Masters Athlete of the Year.
A legend of Inflatable Rescue Boat (IRB) racing, Nathan was humble in his victory in a category stacked with talented athletes.
“Whilst it’s an athlete award, you do a lot of your racing with teammates so it’s not just me in a sense but it’s certainly a real honour,” he said.
“I’m a competitor at heart. Over time I’ve fallen into the coaching and I try to lead by example and pass on knowledge where I can, but I take a lot from inspiring the team…”
Brigid Collaery of Coalcliff SLSC took home the Volunteer of the Year award, which she said reinforced its belief that it was delivering what the community wanted and needed.
Brigid was the brains behind the Coalcliff Ocean Swim Club, a wildly successful group that the long-time volunteer says is ostensibly “Nippers, but for adults”.
The group embarks on fortnightly sessions that include ocean swims for different proficiency levels and experiences with Surf Life Saving gear such as watercraft, radios and flags – all with the guidance of Surf Life Saving volunteers.
“I felt there was an opportunity at Coalcliff for a swim club that had a supportive setup, not for competition but to help people get more comfortable with ocean swimming,” Brigid says.
“We expected about 20 people to sign up, but we got over 70, and 50 of them were new members of the club. So this was really something the community wanted.
“Interestingly, more than 50 per cent of the Swim Club members have been women, which isn’t usually the case, so this idea of a supported swim club without the competition seems to really help women connect with Surf Life Saving.
“It has also been incredible for building capacity for the club, and it would not have been possible if the club had not been supportive of trying something new.”
The Surf Life Saving NSW Awards of Excellence recognise the commitment, passion and hard work of the incredible people in the organisation and celebrate the impact they have on their clubs, fellow members and local communities.
Congratulations to all the winners, who will progress to the national Surf Life Saving Australia Awards of Excellence later this year:
- 2023 SLSNSW President’s Medal: Jeanette and Jerrad Allen, Pacific Palms SLSC
- Youth Lifesaver of the Year: Brody Robertson, Bellambi SLSC
- Youth Volunteer of the Year: Halle Bone, Bellambi SLSC
- Youth Athlete of the Year: Conner Maggs, Newport SLSC
- Innovation Award: “Taking it to the Beach”, Blackspot, Ocean Beach SLSC
- Services Team of the Year: Bellambi SLSC Call Out Team, Bellambi SLSC
- Administrator of the Year: Sandra Slattery, Tacking Point SLSC
- Assessor of the Year: Steve Westcott, Fingal Beach SLSC
- Trainer of the Year: Jackie Percy, Bellambi SLSC
- Facilitator of the Year, Phillip Carter, Maroubra SLSC
- Community Education Program of the Year: Dippers, Tacking Point SLSC
- Coach of the Year: Glenn Beveridge, Wollongong City SLSC
- Official of the Year: Rachel Soars, Merewether SLSC
- Masters Athlete of the Year: Nathan Foster, Kiama Downs SLSC
- Surf Sports Team of the Year: U14 Female Board Rescue, Cooks Hill SLSC
- Patrol Captain of the Year: Rachelle Balez, Scarborough Wombarra SLSC
- Support Operations Member of the Year: Ben Bate, Narooma SLSC
- Rescue of the Year: Elouera SLSC/North Cronulla SLSC, February 2023
- Lifeguard of the Year: Mariah Jones, Tweed
- Branch of the Year: Surf Life Saving Central Coast
- Club of the Year: Broulee Surfers SLSC
- Athlete of the Year: Daniel Collins, Redhead SLSC
- Volunteer of the Year: Brigid Collaery, Coalcliff SLSC
- Surf Lifesaver of the Year: Cheryl McCarthy, Bermagui SLSC