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Meet CBR Sport Award winners: The Canberra/Broulee Nippers

Lizzie Dodd

Every summer, hoards of Canberran’s flock to the South Coast of New South Wales for a dose of sun, sand and the surf.

The beach is often a place to kick back, relax with friends and family but often, for those who have not grown up around the coast, the beach can be quite a daunting place to go. With so many of the surf rescues in the NSW South Coast involving ACT residents (last summer, around 84 percent of the people rescued by lifeguards at South Coast beaches were from the ACT), founder and Manager Bethany Williams knew that something needed to change.

“Although I grew up at the beach, I was still one of those parents who was really worried about my children at the beach, especially in the ocean. Although they had participated in swimming lessons throughout their lives and were pretty proficient swimmers – they thought they were indestructible in any body of water”, says Bethany.

The result was Nippers – an iconic Australian surf lifesaving program which recently earned The Canberra/Broulee Nippers the Minister’s Awards for Innovation in the 2017 CBR Sport Awards.

So what is Nippers? It is a Surf Lifesaving program which teaches participants (aged 6 through to 14) about safety at the beach –  from dangers such as rocks and dealing with the painful stings from various nasty ocean-dwelling creatures, through to surf conditions such as rip currents, sandbars, and waves. It is the logical next step for kids after how to swim, as it gives kids the skills that they can transfer to every trip to the beach – sustainable training that teaches tangible water safety and survival skills.

The Canberra/Broulee Nippers Club runs across the spring/summer season from October through to early April each year, on Sunday mornings. It is based out of the Canberra Olympic Pool, where Nippers have access to water to practice rescue and paddling skills, as well as to sand for beach sprints and flag races. Once a month, the Canberra/Broulee Nippers go to the Broulee Surfers Surf Lifesaving Club (BSSLSC) and join in with the Nippers activities there for a session of fun, skills and friendly competition.

Emma Corcoran, one of the Canberra/Broulee Nippers, has been involved in the club since its beginning. In 2017, she represented the Far South Coast at the Surf Life Saving NSW Interbranch carnival in Newcastle. Emma also completed her Surf Rescue Certificate last year and is now a fully qualified surf lifesaver, able to do patrols at Broulee beach.

Emma at the Surf life Saving NSW Interbranch Carnival in Newcastle, 2017

“I never thought that as a kid from Canberra that I would be competing as a surf lifesaver against the best in NSW across a two-day carnival, which included beach sprints, flats, open ocean swims, board work, iron person, board rescues and relays,” says Emma.

She believes that more children from Canberra should get involved in the program, as it has provided her with a solid understanding of surf lifesaving skills and techniques, which are especially important for those who don’t grow up near the beach. As well as the skills that come with becoming a Nipper, you also become a part of a huge community who all share the same passion. This means there are also invaluable skills learned from participating in Nippers, such as individual development and community service.

“Since joining Nippers and being qualified to do patrols, I have been given a sense of responsibility and independence – a great environment to grow up in. I also believe that doing community service is an important thing to do and it feels great to be giving back to the community”, says Emma.

Emma on patrol at South Broulee, NSW

The Canberra/Broulee Nippers has been a great success since being founded in 2016. The club is run entirely by a fantastic, dedicated group of volunteers made up entirely of the parents with children involved, and also those with have a passion for teaching surf safety to the next generation. These volunteers provide invaluable support from the day-to-day running of the program, through to Water Safety Personnel and Age Managers, as well as fundraising managers and general helpers from week to week. The passion for this club is contagious. Just listening to Bethany, you can understand why it is so valuable to teach our children these skills.

In its first year, the Canberra/Broulee Nippers had 80 children enroll in the program. This year, enrollments have increased to 130. Future enrollments will be capped at 20 kids per age group, limiting numbers, but ensuring that those who are enrolled get a great experience. The Canberra/Broulee Nippers was also a finalist for two awards at the Surf Lifesaving NSW Awards of Excellence in October 2017 – the Innovation award and Community Education program of the year.

“Although we didn’t win these awards, it was an incredible honour to be finalists in such amazing categories after our first season, and it also gave us lots of visibility at the state level”, says Bethany.

The club would really like to expand its offering to be able to accommodate the growing number of requests they’re consistently receiving for enrolments – which would create an opportunity for other surf clubs from the Far South Coast branch to set up a similar arrangement to what this program has already done with the Broulee Surf Club. But as the development and running of this program are done entirely by volunteers with no financial or administrative support, having the time and ability to expand the program further would require government and corporate support.

Bethany and the volunteers are incredibly passionate about making these invaluable surf lifesaving and water survival skills available to as many Canberran kids as possible. This could be further achieved by ACT schools adopting adopt a surf lifesaving mentality by introducing programs that are currently run by Surf Lifesaving NSW – such as their ‘Beach to Bush’ program, where Surf Lifesaving volunteers go into schools and teach them about water safety. This free program, which has been around in NSW for 20 years, would give kids a valuable insight into water safety and survival skills, and a taste for junior lifesaving.

“The more people who are involved in this vital water safety program and understand beach safety, the more lives that could potentially be saved”.

Enrolments to the Canberra/Broulee Nippers are only open once a year (in August), and numbers are limited to 20 children per age group. Parents are also expected to volunteer to help while their kids are enrolled, with the Broulee Surf Club providing any required training.

Visit Canberra/Broulee Nippers Facebook page or email [email protected] for more information.

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Lizzie Dodd

Since arriving to Canberra at 4 months of age, Lizzie has never left. A true Canberran in every sense growing up amongst the distinct seasons and travelling constantly to the South Coast on holidays. Like most Gen Y’s, Lizzie loves everything technology-based and has just finished a post-grad in Social Media and Public Engagement. In her down time, Lizzie is surfing at the coast, training at the gym, playing piano, having a glass (or two) with friends or sitting on the couch binge watching Chicago PD/Fire/Med. More about the Author