The Start – International League of Rowers (ILOR)
In the early 1990’s, a group of committed surfboat sweeps was very concerned that surfboats were being left out of the SLSA competition promotional picture. During the 80’s, SLSA with the help of Kelloggs, had heavily promoted the Ironmen into a televised series of events. In the early 90’s, the Uncle Tobys company decided to challenge the dominance of the Kellogg’s Ironman Series with the introduction of a competing Uncle Toby’s Series, which was also going to be televised. Uncle Tobys made approaches and wanted to include Surfboats, but this was being blocked by SLSA.
In 1993, some of the surfboat crews were approached directly by Uncle Tobys to compete in the Uncle Tobys’ series alongside a group of Ironmen who had agreed to switch across to the new Uncle Tobys’ series of events. The Ironmen along with Beachies had been sanctioned by SLSA to compete in the Uncle Tobys’ series, but the surfboats were not sanctioned by SLSA to also race.
Frustrated by the denial of opportunity and a general feeling of surfboats being ignored by SLSA, it was decided by the surfboat crews to form a body then called the International League of Rowers (ILOR) that was Chaired by Keven (Bluey) Meyers of the Freshwater surf club.
Unfortunately, after much discussion and meetings between the ILOR and SLSA, SLSA continued to refuse to sanction the ILOR to allow surfboats to be a part of the new Uncle Tobys’ series.
This denial only heightened the frustration at continually being blocked from the right to race and promote Surfboat racing by SLSA, crews involved in the ILOR made the decision to accept the invitation to race as part of the Uncle Tobys’ series without SLSA sanction. The first Uncle Tobys’ event that included surfboats was held in 1993 at Surfers Paradise and twenty-four crews, mainly from Queensland, along with some interstaters from Sydney and Victoria, competed.
The members of those crews that competed at Surfers Paradise were cited to appear before a SLSA disciplinary committee meeting in Brisbane, charged with ‘conduct unbecoming’. At this point both parties were at a stalemate and at the subsequent disciplinary hearing SLSA arrived with Barristers while the ILOR was had the services of helpful lawyer. After much discussion, common sense prevailed and the charges were later withdrawn.
The Uncle Tobys’ crews continued to race that year ignoring a sustained assault of intimidation and threats by SLSA and SLSNSW. State SLS officials were detailed to attend Uncle Tobys’ events to video and make note of the names of the crews and rowers competing for possible future disciplinary action.
SLSNSW instigated disciplinary action against some of the Uncle Tobys’ series crews, attempting to prevent them from competition in other NSW events. This resulted in court action in the Federal Court in New South Wales. That case was decided in favour of the ILOR and costs awarded against SLSNSW.
Under the weight of competitor pressure as more and more crews became aware of what was happening and fell in behind the push for a “fair go” from SLSA, eventually both SLSA and SLSNSW withdrew their objections and threatened sanctions against the surfboat crews.
The Uncle Tobys’ series, including surfboats, continued to race for four seasons and so the ASRL was formed to represent all rowers in providing a more level playing field for surfboats.
Birth of the ASRL
Very early in the process, as more boat crews swung their support behind the start-up ILOR group, it was decided to formalise their activity as well as make a name change and the inaugural ASRL President was Ron Payne in 1994-1995, followed by;
- Ron Kelly 1996-1997
- Peter ‘Grub’ Grant 1997-2001
- Rick Miller 2001-2005
- Bob Stone 2005 - 2006
- Bert Hunt 2006-2018
- Michael Brooks 2018 to
In 1997 the ASRL introduced an event simply called the “Open” which has been conducted each year since, growing to equal and then outgrow crew entry numbers at SLSA Australian Championship events.
Years & Locations of ASRL Open Events
1998 Dee Why
1999 Ocean Beach
2000 Ocean Grove
2001 Fingal Bay
2004 South Port
The first ASRL Interstate Challenge was held at South Port in 2004 and continued to be run at the ASRL Open until the mid-2000s when the ASRL organised for the Challenge event to become the full blown SLSA Australian Interstate for surfboats, which included every division of racing.
ASRL - what is the role we play
- The ASRL is not a union, but rather a body of focused, passionate competitors and lifesavers.
- We are unencumbered by the full body of lifesaving issues that both SLSA and the States have to deal with so we can solely focus on our part of the sport being surfboats.
- We are a stand-alone body with no constitutional ties to any of the State based rowing groups, so don’t carry the restrictions of a federated system.
- Our Mission Statement has unashamedly been about the sport and member development, improvement and increased participation of surfboats
The ASRL has driven new initiatives and change in conjunction with SLSA and Others
- Introduced Gate Cans as a safety improvement in the late 90/2000.
- Introduced Round Robin racing in the 90/2000.
- Introduced U23 male and then U23 female racing.
- Worked with SLSA and the States to include all 6 and now 8 crew divisions into the Interstate event.
- Pushed a SLSA Policy change to allow members the flexibility to patrol at other beaches.
- Removed the automatic DQ on rollover rule.
- Developed and formalised with SLSA the Surf Boat Committee, bringing the ASRL into the SLSA tent, thus giving rowers a seat at the decision table.
- Introduced the Boat Panel concept.
- Introduced the Course Manager concept.
- Introduced and developed the Trans-Tasman Test series and negotiated with SLSA and SLSNZ to take ownership.
- Developed and supplied, at a heavily subsidised cost, Floatation Vests to 550 boat crews nationally for a trial that was to be the forerunner of PPE.
- Instigated the discussion with the Board of SLSA in 2011 & 12 that eventually gained other support for the National Review of Sport, which was finally completed and introduced in 2017.
- Introduced modern computer driven Draw Systems developed in house by the ASRL.
- The original driver for SLSA to become involved in the Gary McCoy developed Surf Hazard Rating system.
- Developed and introduced Phone App to display Draws and Results for competitors.
- Developed and introduced the Phone App for the Surf Hazard Rating.
- Successfully brought balance to the SLSA Board on the introduction of Helmet Policy, against a strong user caution that threatened to derail the sport.
- Instrumental in developing the new user-friendly Sweep Accreditation policy.
- Researched and developed the introduction of Video Camera Finish Line Technology.
- Introduced the use of Live Stream for major surfboat events.
- Drove the debate to see full gender equality introduced into surfboats now with 4 divisions of Female & Male crews.
- Trialled, then was instrumental in introducing Short Course racing as an SLSA Australian Medal event.
- Strong contributor into SLSA Policy decisions.
The ASRL influential in Surfboat Development
- In conjunction with the State based rowing bodies continuing to develop a range of event opportunities.
- Development of youth rowers.
- Development of Coach/Sweep.
- Retention of current members.
Financial Input into Surfboat Rowing
The ASRL through its sponsors has delivered literally millions of dollars directly back into the surfboat arena across a wide range of agendas.
Key to ongoing Success
- Connecting to SLSA and being treated with respect for the role the ASRL plays.
- Being good corporate citizens and actively contributing to the debate for the continuing growth of the sport.
- Constantly being in touch with the membership so any advice the ASRL brings to the SLS table is directly reflecting the wishes of the majority of members.