There’ll be thrills, spills, and plenty of action in between when thousands of athletes go head-to-head at this year’s Queensland Championships.
However, what can often be lost amongst the excitement of racing is that each and every competitor lining up is a highly-trained surf lifesaver in their own right, with the skills and knowledge to protect beachgoers up and down the coast.
Initially developed to help members to stay fit and ‘rescue ready’ out of season, surf sports has since developed into a crucial avenue for practising and refining the core skills of surf lifesaving.
From beach sprints to surf swims and everything in between, all of the skills performed in the competitive arena are also on display when lifesavers and lifeguards patrol their local beach.
“Skills such as reading the surf, navigating rips, and getting out past the break as quickly as possible might help someone win gold at events like this but, more importantly, the exact same skillset could help save a life under different circumstances,” explains SLSQ sport manager Stuart Hogben.
And therein lies the key difference between surf lifesaving and other competitions across the country. Regardless of the event, athlete, or discipline, the underlying purpose of surf sport is to improve and refine lifesaving skills and ultimately, support Surf Life Saving’s vision of reducing drownings across Queensland.
IRONMAN AND IRONWOMAN
If there’s one event that captures the drama and romance of competitive surf lifesaving, it’s the ironman and woman. It’s the arena where reputations are made and where legends are born.
As one of the sport’s most iconic and popular events, iron racing remains the ultimate test of a lifesaver’s skill, fitness, and courage. Competitors battle it out over a gruelling course made up of swimming, board paddling, and surf skiing, with a bit of running thrown in for good measure.
Did you know? While all iron races include a combination of swimming, board, and ski paddling, the exact order of events is unknown in advance and determined by a random draw at the start of each carnival.
BEACH SPRINTS / FLAGS
Queensland’s fastest lifesavers will go for gold in the beach sprint, racing off in a flat-out dash to the finish line. Think a 100m sprint, but on sand!
Meanwhile, beach flag is often compared to a game of musical chairs; lifesavers lay facedown on the sand, before jumping up and racing to grab one of a number of batons roughly 20m away. There are always fewer batons than athletes, and those who fail to secure one are eliminated.
The March Past has been part of the surf lifesaving movement since the beginning of competition. Dressed in traditional club uniform, lifesavers march in time to music around a set course carrying a surf reel, line, and belt. Teams are judged on a number of factors including timing and presentation.
There are few sports in the world that can match surf boat racing for its unique combination of raw power, precision, and tactical nous. Its excitement and unpredictability make it a favourite amongst spectators and competitors alike. Each race features teams of four rowers, plus a ‘sweep’ who guides the boat, battling the waves and each other over an out-and-back course.
Still confused? Think rowing, but in the surf, and with much bigger waves!
The Taplin Relay is the most prestigious team event on the championship calendar, with each club nominating their top athletes in swimming, ski, and board paddling to race off over a fast-and-furious relay circuit. Competitors head into the surf, around a buoy, and back to shore, before tagging their teammate who completes the next leg.
Did you know? Instead of the Taplin Relay, youth competitors compete in the Cameron Relay, a combination of swimming, running, and board paddling.
Board & Board Rescue
Every year lifesavers pull hundreds of swimmers from the water using rescue boards. These skills are put to the test in board racing, where competitors paddle through the surf and around a marked course before racing back to shore.
Meanwhile, competitors pair up to compete in the surf board rescue, with one person acting as a patient. The pair completes a simulated ‘rescue’ in the water, before racing back to a finishing line on the beach
Surf Race and Surf Teams
Surf Race & Surf Teams: from a standing start on the beach, competitors run, wade and swim roughly 400 meters out to sea, before rounding a set of buoys and returning to the beach. The event concludes with a run to the finishing line.
In a Surf Teams event, clubs enter multiple competitors in the one race, and the final winning team is determined by the cumulative points of team members' final placings.
The Surf Belt race involves the use of a lifesaving surf reel, line, and belt, and is generally considered one of the more traditional races within surf sports competition.
The event begins on the beach with the swimmer placing the belt around their waist and towing a surf line out to their allocated buoy and signalling their finish. The Belt swimmer is assisted by three linesman and a reel handler.
The Rescue Tube Race is generally contested in a similar fashion to the belt race. Competitors run up the beach to collect their rescue tube, turn and race to the water, before swimming to their allocated buoy and signalling their finish of the race.
Meanwhile teams of four compete in the Rescue Tube Rescue – a patient, a rescue tube swimmer, and two assisters. The ‘patient’ swims to their allocated buoy, before signalling back to the beach. The rescue tube swimmer then swims to ‘rescue’ the patient and assist them back to the beach. As the rescue tube swimmer and patient approach the shore the two rescuers enter the water to assist in getting the patient across the finish line.