Australia opened the world’s first surf lifesaving club, on Bondi Beach in 1906. Since then, Australia’s bronzed lifesavers in their bold red-and-yellow uniforms have come to symbolise our coastal lifestyle. They’ve also rescued almost half a million people from the ocean. These daily heroics are thanks to a surf club culture that starts with ‘Nippers’ under the age of seven and ends with the fierce endurance athletes known as ‘Ironmen’ and ‘Ironwomen’. Surf carnivals are held on beaches all around Australia between November and April. Following is a guide to some of the biggest events.
Kellogg’s Nutri-Grain Ironman & Ironwoman Series, Queensland & NSW
There are five events in this iconic Ironman series held across January and February. The first four happen over two separate weekends along the Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast, while the final is traditionally staged on Sydney’s Cronulla Beach. Don’t miss the chance to see 36 of Australia’s toughest surf life saving athletes prove their skills in surf ski, board paddle, ocean swims and beach sprints. Things get even more interesting at the Cronulla final, when two male and female wildcard entrants enter the elite competition. Follow the series south along the Pacific Coast Touring Route, stopping at Byron Bay, Coffs Harbour and Port Stephens along the way.
Australian Surf Life Saving Championships, Queensland
Lifesavers from more than 300 surf clubs gather on the Gold Coast for the four-day Australian Championships in March. This is the biggest sporting event of its type in the world, and you’ll see teenagers, seniors, aspiring champions and Olympians amongst the 7,000-plus competitors. Every aspect of lifesaving is on show at this uniquely Australian festival. See surf ski and board paddling, surf boat races, rescue and resuscitation relays as well as Ironman and Ironwoman competitions. These are just some of the almost 300 events on offer. Relax on the sand and enjoy the super-charged festival energy, complemented by beachside music and entertainment.
Ironman and Ironwoman Australia, New South Wales
You’ll be awed by the stamina on show at Ironman and Ironwoman Australia, held in Port Macquarie in May. The race consists of a 2.4 mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride and a 26.2 mile run, and competitors need both speed and technical skill to excel. See these sporting super-heroes display their diversity as they compete for one of 40 places at the Ironman World Championship in Hawaii. The event also embraces the Ironman 70.3 race, a qualifier for the Ironman 70.3 Asia-Pacific Championship in Thailand. Save some energy for exploring pretty Port Macquarie, halfway along the Pacific Coast Touring Route between Sydney and Brisbane.
Australian Inflatable Rescue Boat Championships 2011, South Australia
You can catch lots of Baywatch-style action at the Inflatable Rescue Boat Championships, to be held at Adelaide’s Glenelg Beach in July 2011. The red inflatable rescue boats made famous in the American TV series will be everywhere. More than 500 Australian lifesavers are expected to take part in the event, which will include ocean, beach and pool contests. Watch them navigate the distinctive red dinghies over the waves or work under pressure in a simulated rescue. Afterwards, visit the neighbouring beach suburbs of Henley or historic Port Adelaide, or take the tram into Adelaide to discover its restaurants, huge parks and cultural attractions.
Coolangatta Gold, Queensland
You need more than an iron will to complete the Coolangatta Gold triathlon in November. It’s been described as “one of the most gruelling physical events on the planet”. Yet each year at least 500 athletes from around the world sign up for the challenge. The men ski paddle, surf swim, board paddle and do torturous beach runs on a 50km loop from Surfers Paradise. The team race follows the same course, while women tackle a shorter course from Greenmount. Join the thousands of spectators lining the beach and help cheer these determined athletes on past exhaustion.
World Life Saving Championships - Rescue 2012, South Australia
Lifesavers from across the world will head back to Adelaide’s pretty Glenelg Beach for the world championships in November 2012. Rescue 2012 is expected to draw thousands of competitors and spectators, from both overseas and Australia. Catch the twilight events along Glenelg Beach and Christies Beach or watch star lifesavers test their talents in Marion’s aquatic centre. Celebrate with visiting athletes and locals at the opening and closing ceremonies before exploring a little more of South Australia. The Barossa Valley, Kangaroo Island, Fleurieu Peninsula and even the rugged Flinders Ranges are all a day trip from Adelaide.
Ironman Western Australia, Western Australia
The sleepy beach town of Busselton, close to the Margaret River region, is the backdrop for this tough triathlon in December. The race starts at dawn and includes a 3.8km swim, 180km bike ride and 42.2km run. Anyone can enter but the 1,400 places fill up quickly. Competitors can hang out in the bustling Ironman Village, warm-up with practice swims off Busselton Jetty and celebrate at the post-race party and awards ceremony. Afterwards the scenic Margaret River region awaits. Snorkel turquoise bays, surf from spotless beaches, trek through towering forests and indulge in divine food and wine.