A fully qualified surf life saver with Taree-Old Bar Surf Life Saving Club and the operator of a surf school, Rob Wynter shares his love of the ocean and his passion for working with people to improve their water safety knowledge.
> Rob, can you tell us a bit about yourself and where your passion for the ocean started?
I am married to Christine. We have 3 boys: Ben, Matt and James. We have lived in Old Bar for the past 20 years.
Prior to this my parents lived in Taree while I attended boarding school in Tamworth. So my school holidays were mostly spent at local beaches, including Old Bar, Saltwater and Blackhead. My dad was a surfer and my grandmother lived in Blackhead (Hallidays Point), so a lot of my early years were spent with mates around the Blackhead Beach area.
It is interesting to note that some of these mates are still involved in surfing as a career, with one coaching in the local area at Great Lakes Surf School and another the owner of surf shops throughout the area.
> When did you first discover surf life saving and where – which club?
My father was a member of Blackhead Surf Life Saving Club, and I was a member for a short time when I was young. I played Rugby Union for the Old Bar Clams and a few of my team mates were involved in surf life saving, so I suppose they planted the idea that joining a surf life saving club could be a good idea.
When my eldest son turned five and could join Nippers, I signed up as well, did my bronze medallion and became a patrolling member of Taree Old Bar Surf Life Saving Club. I enjoyed Sunday morning Nippers as an Age Group Manager. As a patrolling member, I was eligible to compete in surf life saving carnivals and enjoyed many years of testing my skills alongside volunteer surf life savers from all the local clubs.
> For those that don’t know, how can the kids, adults and parents become involved in a surf club?
Nippers at all surf life saving clubs is held on Sunday mornings, usually from 9am to 11am, so there is no clash with other sports and activities … except perhaps sleeping in!
There is no better place to be on a sunny Sunday morning then in front of the surf club with a whole bunch of excited kids who can’t wait to run, swim and paddle themselves into exhaustion. It usually ends up creating nice, quiet Sunday afternoons!
Parents can become involved in any number of ways, from helping with BBQs and fundraisers, to becoming fully fledged patrolling members alongside their kids once they move from Nippers to patrolling members themselves. These days the rookies (Under 14s to Under 18s) are especially well looked after, with development camps, first aid training, life saving skills and opportunities to represent their clubs in a whole range of programs and competitions.
Adults also find surf life saving a great way to meet people in their community, make friends and gain valuable workplace recognised qualifications, all the while helping to provide a valuable service keeping our beaches safe.
> Can you give us an insight into the responsibilities surf life savers have and take on as a volunteer?
Volunteers are well trained, and patrols always consist of experienced members (including a patrol captain) as well as less experienced members. This way no one is left to deal with things they don’t feel comfortable with.
On the other hand, a team effort requires a well functioned unit, and everybody has a job from crowd control to radio operators, rescue and resuscitation.
You don’t have to be super fit and swim like a fish to be a successful surf life saver. The idea is to learn surf life saving skills and ocean safety by joining the club.
There are too many ocean tragedies on our beaches. The volunteers who man the flagged area are trained to prevent rescues occurring in the first place, so when you are asked to swim between the flags, please do so. Don’t set a bad example for someone who may not swim as well as you.
> How do the clubs keep running? Where does the funding come from and how can people get involved?
The clubs keep running due to the traditions built up over many years by its volunteer members and strong community support. Funding is generated from the local Council, local businesses, donations and community support.
Greater Taree City Council provide annual donations of $5,000 to Blackhead, Crowdy Head and Taree-Old Bar Surf Clubs, a reduction of $2,500 from previous years. Taree-Old Bar SLSC receives strong support from local businesses, such as Saxby’s Soft Drinks and Lauders Real Estate. The NSW Department of Sport and Recreation offer funding to surf clubs for the purchase of subsidised rescue equipment.
Likewise, Yamaha and Telstra provide opportunities for clubs to apply for funding to purchase rescue equipment. Surf Life Saving New South Wales distributes proceeds from the fund raising it undertakes to the 129 Clubs and 11 branches within NSW. Taree-Old Bar SLSC also runs smorgasbord dinners over the Christmas – New Year period to raise funds.
> Surf life saving has recently become part of the ‘reality television’ craze – Bondi Rescue etc … do shows like this help raise the profile?
These shows highlight the dangers of a day at the beach and also the difficulties faced by both volunteer and professional lifeguards trying to control swimmers and prevent tragic accidents occurring.
Hopefully people will show more compassion and understanding for the time these people give up to keep these people safe at the beach. (When was the last time you walked up to a volunteer and said thanks for giving up your leisure time to volunteer as a lifeguard?)
> You also run your own surf school. What is involved with this?
Basically, I decide before the lesson on a suitable venue and students have reasons explained to them why we have chosen a particular venue that suits conditions on that day. I provide suitable equipment for learners, including soft surfboards and wetsuits. The first part of the lesson always deals with surf safety and local conditions, with the aim of teaching students how to assess ocean conditions themselves, as well as how to behave safely and with respect for the ocean environment and other beach users.
All instructors are qualified lifeguards with bronze medallions, senior first aid and advanced resuscitation qualifications and part of learning to surf is for students to become more competent while being supervised by competent surfers with life saving qualifications.
Surfing Australia surf coaches must reaccredit every 2 years, so that we are progressing and keeping up with surfing trends and methods. This means that between running lessons, washing down equipment, answering phone calls and completing coaching paperwork, I am usually trying to maintain and upgrade qualifications.
> What are the benefits of using a qualified surf school?
Saltwater Surf School is an affiliated Surfing Australia Surf School, which ensures that all lessons, equipment, Council licenses, insurance and coaching requirements are of the highest standard. We hold a license to operate at all Greater Taree City Council beaches, as well as a license from National Parks to operate from in Saltwater and Crowdy Bay National Parks.
Surfing Australia Surf Schools benefit from shared programs and resources, and as the governing body for surfing as a sport, Surfing Australia is committed to maintaining the highest standards in safety and coaching.
> Most enjoyable part of your job?
Teaching kids and adults surf safety and how to have fun in the ocean without getting into trouble. Outside the cities there aren’t as many patrolled beaches, so it is very important for local kids to learn to read the ocean, keep safe and look out for each other.
Watching the huge smiles on kids’ and adults’ faces when they stand up and ride a wave for the first time.
> Thank you Rob.