In 2019 we offered inclusive events for the first time at the state age championships.
More than 2500 of Surf Life Saving New South Wales’s (SLSNSW’s) youngest members, from under 9s to under 13s, descended upon Swansea Belmont Surf Lifesaving Club in Friday 2019 for three big days of competition.
We designed the program with consultation and learnings from clubs and branches in New South Wales, ensuring that this approach was suited to the members, the conditions and the capacity of the event.
We engaged members who had run carnivals in their area, members who had coached and championed inclusion at previous state championships, as well as parents and officials to support the events on the day.
As surf lifesaving is a high-risk sporting activity, having experts in both inclusive surf lifesaving engagement and in competition was a key component of the event's success.
Supporting material included fact sheets, club mail, social media promotional posts, participant gift bags as well as medallions and much-sought-after high-visibility rash vests for competition.
We kick-started this initiative in 2018 when a young member with Down syndrome from North Cronulla Surf Life Saving Club (SLSC)wanted to compete at the championships.
Aden Clarke was participating at his club in the under-13s age group but would normally have been made to compete at the championships in an older group. North Cronulla SLSC's Junior Activities Director, Donna Hargreaves, asked for some flexibility and the championship committee agreed, allowing Aden to compete in the championship for the first time.
The initiative aligns with SLSNSW's strategic objective to be an all-inclusive organisation that protects, educates, prepares, and embraces everyone. This commitment forms part of SLSNSW's strategic plan, aligning with our inclusive approach in education, lifesaving and membership engagement. With a growing number of clubs offering inclusive surf lifesaving programs, we identified and delivered on the need to extend this to include surf sports at a state level.
As a new initiative, we were aiming to have eight to ten members participate in the event, knowing the size and scale of the championships would mean a huge commitment for families (in time, cost and organisation) to travel to the location to participate. In a fantastic result we doubled our expected engagement.
Sixteen members of all ages living with disabilities competed in the beach flags and beach sprints. Unfortunately, the planned surf race and board race had to be cancelled due to poor surf conditions and safety concerns for the members.
Another key milestone we reached was the support gained from members throughout the state in running the events, including from our existing membership, members, officials and senior executives.
A great deal of feedback was gained from competitors and their families. This included:
Feedback from clubs and officials was overwhelmingly positive, with outstanding support and encouragement from clubs and members lining the barriers cheering members on. It was a breathtaking show of support for our newest state championship participants.