Damian Bennie – North Coast Surf Boat Series

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Teams of surf boat crews will contest Round 8 of the North Coast Surf Boat Series (NCSBS) at Bonny Hills on January 5. Damian Bennie, Surf Boat Captain for Tacking Point Surf Life Saving Club, shares some history about the Series, which promises a day of action on our local waves …

How long have you been involved with Tacking Point Surf Life Saving Club, and what is your role there?

I have been a member of this surf club since 1995. My current role is the Surf Boat Captain, which means that I need to make sure that all our surf boats with associated equipment are kept in good repair and are ready for the use of members. I also liaise with the committee by attending monthly meetings.

Where is your club based, and do you have many members?

Tacking Point SLSC is located on Lighthouse Beach, Port Macquarie, which is a south facing beach that leads to some very large and dangerous surf for swimmers from time to time.

I’d have check with the registrar for the exact numbers, but you only have to call in on a Sunday morning to see how many Nippers are running around on the beach! We also have a large group of U19 competitors training with Dave Rickwood in a higher performance squad who compete at carnivals up and down the coast.

What is the North Coast Surf Boat Series?

The North Coast Surf Boat Premiership was first proposed circa ’93 – ’94.

It was the brainchild of Greg ‘Whale’ Coleman from South West Rocks. Whale contacted Michael ‘Cactus’ Moran from Macksville Scotts Head about how they’d go about starting the series, and it snowballed from there.

They contacted representatives from Clubs as far south as Pacific Palms and all the way up to Cudgen.

The series has had Clubs from Pacific Palms, Forster, Cape Hawke, Black Head, Taree Old Bar, Crowdy Head, Crescent Head, Hat Head, South West Rocks, Macksville Scotts Head, Nambucca Heads, Sawtell, North Beach, Urunga, Coffs Harbour, Woolgoolga, Red Rock Corindi, Yamba, Cudgen, competing on a regular basis over the years.

There have been a number of crews from the NCSS that have won medals at Country, State and Australian Championships in both Open and Masters Divisions − Forster Masters being one of the successful clubs. Since 2008, they have achieved bronze, silver and gold at State Championships and bronze and silver at Australian Championships.They are still after the Holy Grail of surf life saving, being a gold medal at the Australian Championships.

The series was also a leader in having a women’s division, Blackhead being the inaugural winners in the 1994 – 95 season.

Round 8 of the series will take place at Bonny Hills on January 5. Where exactly will the event take place and what time will it kick off?

The ‘Carnival’, as we call it in the Surf Club world, will take place at the main beach at Bonny Hills, half way between Port Macquarie and Laurieton in NSW. All crews rowing will meet at the Bonny Hills Surf Club starting from about 8am, with racing commencing at 10am.

How many competitors are you expecting will compete on the day, and what clubs will entrants be representing?

Approximately 45 – 50 crews (5 in a crew) will race over the weekend. These will be from Minnie Waters, Woolgoolga, Coffs Harbour, Crescent Head, Red Rock Corindi, Macksville Scotts Head, South West Rocks, Tacking Point, Wauchope Bonny Hills, Forster, Cape Hawke, and Port Macquarie.

What exactly is involved with each race … how many individuals will there be in each team, and over what distance will they have to row?

Each boat has a crew of 5, male or female, made up of 4 rowers and a Sweep at the stern, who steers the boat.

Crews row out to colour coded buoys, set at approximately 400 metres out to sea. When they reach them, each crew turns around their designated buoy. On their way back to the beach, each crew goes past a second set of buoys called gate cans, which are used to spread out the crews. If they do not navigate the correct sequence of buoys, they are disqualified. Testing ocean conditions can make this a difficult job, leading to rollovers and other problems, especially when catching waves.

The main action both for spectators and participants is when crews are negotiating the surf.

Surf boats have long been involved in Australia’s surf life saving movement, having been used extensively in many ocean rescue missions. How much of a part do these craft play in our local waters – are they used extensively for rescue these days, or more for competition?

Surf boat rowing is an iconic part of surf life saving. The original surf boat design came from the whaling boat and also has a historic connection with the landing craft used in WW1. They had a surf reel built into the bow of the boat that was used by the crew as a rescue device; however, with the invention of the inflatable rescue boat (or IRB), surf boats are no longer used for rescue and are only used in competition.

What do you see as being the main aim of the North Coast Surf Boat Series?

NCSBS’ aim is to promote the surf life saving movement as well as the sporting component of surf boat competition. At the Australian Championships, there are over 4,000 competitors alone in the surf boat events. The image of the Aussie surf life saver is undeniably iconic, and the surf boat competitions add to the visible interaction with the public; also, the education and development of new and existing members is continuous.

Who can readers contact if they’re interested in learning more about the event at Bonny Hills, or the club? 

For any information regarding the Series, please contact Damian Bennie, Tacking Point Surf Life Saving Club Surf Boat Captain on 0427 821 581 or email the club at: tpslsc@ecopost.com.au

Thanks Damian.

Interview by Jo Atkins.

This article can be found in issue 86 of Greater Port Macquarie Focus

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