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Now the dust has settled on the 2017 Aussies I am trying to find the words to make sense of it all. As some (most) of my FB friends will know, I'm a clubbie unabashedly. My real love is surfing but clubbies is what I've stuck to. Over recent years I've fallen foul of the powers that be at SLSA and SLSNSW because of things I've said.
However.... I am sure I will have support when I say surf lifesaving as a whole has lost its way and in so many areas is out of touch not only with its own members but with its own core values.
When I compare being a professional lifeguard or being a surfer to being a clubbie there are fundamental differences in the way in which SLSA, SLSNSW or other states, branches, clubs and certain individuals view things.
In lifeguards and surfing, being a "waterman" and having an intricate knowledge of the ocean is encouraged and celebrated. To put yourself into situations which push you to your limits, reinforce your training and make you better at being able to save not only your own life but that of someone else only elevates your standing. As any lifeguard will tell you, physical fitness levels are constantly being tested to make sure that when the time comes you are capable of carrying out what you're employed to do - rescue people!
In surf lifesaving however, having theoretical knowledge only is sufficient. At no stage is training yourself up to being able to actually rescue someone in the most extreme conditions encouraged or revered. To the contrary, if you train yourself to be able to save a member of the public when the surf is wild then many will view you as reckless and irresponsible.
I find it somewhat ironical that actually being able to swim out through any sort of surf and hold your composure in the most critical of situations is irrelevant unless you have some award which the governing bodies just so happen to profit financially from.
I find it even more ironical and somewhat comical that historically, the people who make decisions on safety at events like Aussies or who develop safety policies at
SLSA are actually the least capable of doing anything themselves in the water. Basically, the people who can barely swim themselves will decide whether it's safe for others to swim. Is it me or is that just stupid?
I look at true water men (and women), people who I've raced with or against and who have spent their whole life in the ocean. SLS as a whole actively pushes them away rather than embracing them. There are people out there in FB land that I would trust with my children's life without hesitation in the water, yet unless they fall within some policy or tick a box developed by SLS bureaucrats then they're not welcome.
There are so many good people within the hierarchy of SLSA. People who are extremely intelligent, extremely switched on and who have the best of intentions...but arguably there are more who have no clue what they're doing or of what is needed to restore surf lifesaving as a source of pride and as a national icon. They are so focused on the "business" of life saving that they've lost sight of what makes it what it is.
I can only hope that out of the debacle that was the 2017 Aussies that the dead wood is finally cut loose. SLSA need to have people in place that actually understand the ocean from being in it every day, who respect the membership and who are not simply there only because they've been there for the last 20yrs.
This sounds overly simplistic and probably idealistic but surf lifesaving I believe is an organisation worth saving. Aussies 2017 wasn't the fatal blow but it wasn't far off.