Lifestyle & Belief

Australia to move surf lifesaving titles after 3 deaths


Search for missing Maroochydore SLSC competitor Matthew Barclay resumes at Kurrawa Beach on March 29, 2012 on the Gold Coast, Australia.


Matt Roberts

Australia's surf lifesaving peak body has has bowed to pressure to move the sport's premier event — the Australian Surf Life Saving Championships — to a new beach in the state of Queensland, following the deaths of three competitors.

Matt Barclay, 14, was the most recent victim of dangerous surf conditions at Kurrawa Beach on the Gold Coast — where the event is usually held — in late March, becoming the third fatality at the beach during the event since 1996.

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation cited Surf Life Saving Australia chief executive Brett Williamson as saying the decision to move the event was made out of respect for Barclay's family, as well as those of 15-year-old Robert Gatenby, who died in 1996, and 19-year-old ironman Saxon Bird, killed at Kurrawa in 2010.

"We will be looking to relocate away from Kurrawa to an alternate venue or venues on the Gold Coast for next year's championships," Williamson said. "That decision was primarily made out of respect for the three young lifesavers who have lost their lives at Kurrawa."

He said the move was also out of concern for the emotional wellbeing of other athletes, as well as officials, volunteers and event staff affected by the deaths.

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Asked about the likely new location, Williamson said: "All members will be given the opportunity to contribute via online surveys and regional and state forums."

According to the Gold Coast Bulletin, Phillip Bird, the father of Saxon, said the decision would help repair the tattered image of the surf lifesaving peak body.

He also cautioned officials not to become complacent at surf events, and joined calls for safety devices such as flotation vests to be used.

"They need more measurable standards as to what is dangerous and what can be dangerous. They have made poor decisions at Kurrawa, they can make poor decisions on other beaches as well," he said.

"What they need is a set of standards looking at the size of the swell, the wind direction, things like that. And for craft events at least, all competitors should be wearing flotation vests."

SLSA will also fast-track a review of the championships that began last year, he said.

According to Nine News, Surf Life Saving Australia is reviewing the size, duration and make-up of the national titles, at which the country's best young surf lifesavers compete in such events as ironman, board paddling and surf boat racing.

North Kirra is the likely new location for the titles, the Bulletin reported, adding that one high-profile surf club has even booked 60 rooms at the beach for next year's titles.

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