Larry Brook has clocked up 53 years of service to the Surf Life Saving movement in Australia and has been a coach for more than 40 years. Larry is still a surf and swimming coach today, and despite having won many medals of his own, says his best memories are of the kids he’s seen achieve success in the water…
Hi Larry. Tell us a bit of your back story … when did you move to Port Macquarie?
I had my first 21 years in Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs completing my Degree and Teacher Training at UNSW before being sent to Port Macquarie High School in 1972. I married Julie the same year – we’re happily still together and still in Port.
When and where did you first join a Surf Life Saving club? What prompted you to join initially?
I joined Bondi Surf Bathers Life Saving Club in December 1962 after my first year at Randwick Boys High. Several school friends joined Bondi, and I followed.
I had made national finals in the pool and always wanted to use my swimming to be a volunteer surf life saver and perhaps work as a Beach Inspector. Over the years I managed three seasons at Bondi as a “Beach Inspector” and worked through the name change to “Lifeguard” during 20 seasons with Hastings Council and in total, 53 years at Bondi and Flynns for the Surf Life Saving movement.
You’ve achieved some notable success in the surf. How many medals have you won in total – and what prize are you most proud of (and why)?
At state and national Level, I’ve won 28 SLSA medals (eight gold) and one World Championship Medal. I just clocked up my 21st gold medal for the Port Club at NSW Country Championships in Surf, Tube and Board races in every age group from Open to O’24, O’30, O’40, O’50 through to the O’60s. I’ve also won 24 National Life Guard Championship medals representing Hastings Council Life Guard Service.
I am very proud of my Australian Sports Medal and Olympic Torch run (Sydney 2000), earned for my services to Swimming and Surf Life Saving in the Hastings. I was awarded Life Membership of both Port Surf and Swimming Clubs. But my fondest memories are still all of the successes of the kids I have coached.
What led you to get into both surf and swim coaching?
Being a bit too adventurous as a youngster, and nearly drowning twice before I was five, my parents took me to learn to swim with Eve Whillier (nee de Lacey). Eve was a 1936 Berlin Olympian and 1938 Empire Games (now Commonwealth Games) Champion.
My second and last Coach was Terry Gathercole, 1960 Olympian and World Record Holder.
Two legends of the surf gave me my start at Bondi. Harry Nightingale, National Champion in the surf and Australian Olympic Swim Team Coach 1936, and Roth Bassingthwaite, multiple Surf Champion for Bondi.
I was directed and inspired by these people and was determined to give back to swimming and Surf Life Saving what I could.
Describe some of the coaching roles you’ve held over the years … some of which you still hold today …
I started as a NSW Learn to Swim Instructor at age 14.
I began surf coaching in Port in 1972. I have been Mid North Coast Branch Senior Team Coach for 16 years and Mid North Coast Branch Junior Team Coach for five years. I currently hold National Level 2 Swim and Board Coach Accreditation.
I began swim coaching at Port Pool in 1985. I held district and state coaching positions and was appointed Assistant Coach to the Fiji Olympic Team for Barcelona Olympics in 1992.
During my teaching career at Port Macquarie High, the school won eight NSWCHS Champion Boy School, two Champion School Titles and one Co-Ed Champion School Titles.
I was appointed Coach of NSWCHS Team to tour South Africa in 1997, Coach of All Schools Team to World School Games in Shanghai in 1998 and coached for the North Coast Academy of Sport for three years.
You’ve not only earned you Surf Life Saving Academy 40 year coaching certificate, but you’ve also clocked up over 50 years of service to Surf Life Saving in Australia. That’s a phenomenal achievement! What keeps you motivated after all these years – why do you still coach?
I’m still trying to repay Surf and Swim Associations for the start I was given in the two sports. I still enjoy watching a new crop of kids go through. Sadly, many kids have to leave town for education and employment opportunities but, I always get a special buzz when asked to attend a 21st, engagements, weddings, christenings, etc. by former squad members. It’s a very rewarding feeling.
Many people have benefited from your coaching. What are some of the most notable achievements from people you’ve coached?
Port Macquarie Surf Club Members who made State Teams: Alan Witchard, Glen Robson, me, Jason Samuelson x 2, Steven Pullen and Morgan Allen.
Port Macquarie Surf Club Members who made NSW Country Touring Teams to New Zealand: Alan Witchard, me (team captain twice), Steven Pullen, Sarah Jane Morris, Todd Scott and Mat Smith (Tacking Point Surf Club).
I’ve lost count of the number of state and Australian medals won, but other medalwinners include Murray Brook, Stuart Brook, Wayne Hudson, Adam McCabe, Malcolm Bell, Ian Bell, Simon Navin, Jay Smith and Cian Morgan.
Port Macquarie Swimming Club Members: Morgan Allen and James Turnham made State Teams, while Morgan Allen, Mat Smith, Murray Brook, Tony Ireland, Brendon Quinn and Troy Easton won national medals in the pool. Shane Langfield placed at the World School Games.
When/where do you coach at present, and what do you teach?
Today I coach swim and board as part of the Port Macquarie Surf Club Junior Programme three mornings a week at Flynns Beach, and I’m busy four afternoons a week with junior, senior and master squads at Wauchope Pool.
Whom would you like to thank for assisting you along your Surf Life Saving/coaching journey?
I owe much to my early coaches, my Surf Club mates and parents who have assisted over the years, and most importantly my wife. Julie has encouraged and supported me all the way in my surf and swim involvement. (We met through swimming and first dated in 1966.) Julie gained her Bronze Medallion shortly after women were admitted to Surf Life Saving and is now a Long Service Member of Port Surf Club. She still assists with training programmes when needed. She deserves a medal for putting up with me!
Interview by Jo Atkins.