Not on our watch: lifesavers

Lifeguards Troy Johnson, left, his son Conor Johnson, Sheridan Brown and her dad Darren Brown on patrol. Picture: SYLVIA LIBERIt’s8am on a Sunday morning on Woonona Beach and the weather is already heating up.

Volunteer lifeguards smother themselves in sunscreen, set up the flags and grab their binoculars, ready for a busy day on the beach.

Hundreds of lifesavers have followed the same morning ritual for more than a century, keeping a watchful eye on beachgoers.

Woonona Surf Life Saving Club’s vigilance has resulted in “no lives lost” since it started patrolling in 1913 – a fact club president Stacey Paddon is proud to share.

“We put it on our letterheads, it’s something we’ve worked hard to maintain,” she said.

“We are very focused on keeping our record – everyone has the attitude of ‘it’s not going to happen on my patrol’, so there’s a sense of professionalism on the beach.”

This year, almost 90 members will take to the busy beach every weekend, scanning the shores for swimmers in trouble and monitoring the surf conditions.

Ms Paddon said the beach would also be teeming with budding lifesavers, with 170 kids participating in the club’s nippers program.

“Building up our nippers and keeping them involved in the club is critical,” she said.

“We take pride in educating our nippers; we have a rookie program, which acts as a link between the nippers and the senior patrols, and we do a lot of activities to keep everyone involved”.

Creating a family-friendly, social environment is one of the club’s missions.

Ms Paddon said the “Nippers Sippers” group was born out of the nippers’ parents’ regular barbecues and drinks get-togethers.

“We hold events at the club during the season where we light up the barbecue and open the bar and we have life members and new members getting together; it’s great,” she said.

“We’ve always been a very friendly club – even at a competition level; yes, the teams are competitive but they are there to have a good time and enjoy it too.”

The club’s reputation has attracted several awards, including NSW club of the year in 2013 and many other titles at the annual Illawarra branch awards.

Ms Paddon said the club had a bright future, with plans to expand clubhouse storage space, and community work.

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