Spotted strolling on the shores of Thirroul Beach each Thursday morning, the Silver Salties are helping put a stop to isolation for older community members by creating an active and social space for people with all levels of mobility and ability.
The local group is part of a national movement by Surf Life Saving Australia to get people over the age of 65 out and about, and former club president Ian Sakoff saw a real need in the community.
“I was with Meals on Wheels for years, and I was just seeing so many older lonely people in their houses not doing anything,” Ian said. “They were stuck in their house and that’s why we wanted to start this.”
Former member Allan Hutton was also searching for a way to rejoin the surf life saving community, after work and family life pulled him away from it more than a decade ago.
“Surf club was my tribe,” Allan said. “I’d been retired for a while and I had other things I was doing but it was just something I missed.”
So when the program started popping up in other places, the pair decided to start a local group, even if it ended up being just them.
“We thought we’d just start a program and see how it goes and if no one goes we’ll just have a coffee but now there’s 30-odd people on our books and they just come every week,” Ian said.
Each week they split into groups based on mobility, with the more active people heading to Austinmer Beach and the less active walking around the local suburb.
But it’s more about the conversation and connection than how far you can walk.
“There’s no expectations on anyone,” Ian said. “You don’t even have to walk, you don’t have to make anything, it’s just to have a chat.
“We try to make everyone who comes along feel as welcome as we can and it’s just really heartening to see people and listen to them talk,” Allan said.
The group has given Allan the chance to reconnect with his old club and other longtime members.
And even those who have no prior relationship to surf life saving are forming a connection with the club.
“One couple, they ended up down here handing out medals at the nippers one week, they came along and got involved with that,” Allan said.
The Silver Salties have more than a dozen people show up each week regardless of the weather, with members aged from their late 60s to late 80s and they are always welcoming anyone new who wants to join.
“The younger and more mobile is good, but we’re really after the less mobile because it’s more important for them,” Ian said. “Once you lose your licence and once you can’t walk too far, your world gets quite small.”
The pair are in no rush to grow their members but want to ensure the group is accessible to anyone.
“We want to give everyone the opportunity,” Ian said. “If we had 50 people come, that means we’re filling that void.”
And even if the numbers start to dwindle, Allan said the pair were committed to turning up as long as there was a need.
“We’ve just said we’ll just keep coming as long as there’s other people coming.”
To register or find out more visit the Thirroul SLSC website.