Little Nippers is a great way to enjoy the beach in a safe environment. We chat with Simon and Beth from Forster SLSC about the skills, knowledge and confidence kids acquire from this programme.
Tell us how you first became involved in Nippers and the SLS club?
Simon and I have been involved with Forster SLSC for a long time, having both joined in the early 1990s. We are both patrolling members, coaches at the club and complete in IRB racing and beach events. Simon was actually a Nipper in the club when he was 10. When our son became old enough to attend Nippers, we started as age managers of the U/6 age group – some nine years ago. Our daughter also joined three years later, and we soon moved on to organising the whole programme. Surf lifesaving really is our way of life.
Nippers is such a fantastic program for kids. At what age can kids can join, and how often do they need to attend?
Children can start Nippers from when they turn five years of age. The age groups are worked out by the age they are as of the 1st October. The age groups start at U/6 and go up to U/14. The nipper season starts in October, usually after the school holidays, and we run through until mid-March, with a few weeks off over Christmas and the New Year. Nippers is held 9am to 11am each Sunday in this period. Most people join up at the beginning of the season, though we welcome new members at any time. As with any sport, the more the kids attend, the more they will learn and the more confident they will be come in and around the surf.
Do children need to know how to swim before joining?
It is not a requirement to be a great swimmer when first starting Nippers, but as the children progress through the age groups it is an advantage if they are having regular swimming lessons and improving their swimming skills. By the time they are in the U/9 age group, eight years old, we hope they will be able to swim 25 m in a pool unaided and do a one minute survival float. We teach all our Nippers how to wade, dolphin dive under waves and swim in the ocean. Becoming a stronger swimmer helps to develop more confidence when playing in the ocean.
What are some of the fun activities available?
The younger age groups play a lot of sand and water games such as red rover, tug-o-war, racing to collect coloured balls and wading in the water. We are extremely lucky to be able to use the “Bull Ring” ocean pool, especially with these children to play lots of fun games and be quite safe. We also move over to the ocean to jump waves and play beached whales. Each game includes some educational aspect, even if it is only in following instructions from their age manager or maybe learning the lifesaving signals, so that we can communicate without shouting!
As the kids get older, we move on to beach flags contests, wading races, swimming in the ocean and catching waves. The older kids paddle on Nipper boards, practice rescuing each other with boards and rescue tubes and learning basic first aid and resuscitation.
What are some of the more serious skills kids learn at Nippers?
Throughout the Nippers programme, the age managers follow educational lessons set out by Surf Lifesaving Australia. These are graded by age and teach kids about such varied subjects as physical health and wellbeing, personal safety, sun safety, how to spot rips and avoid them, natural and manmade factors that affect the beach and what to do in an emergency. As the kids get older and become more involved, they can take part in surf carnivals and become skilled competitors in the water and on the sand. Forster SLSC offers mid-week training for all members who which to pursue Surf Sports. As Nippers move through to the U/14 age group, they can train for and gain their Surf Rescue Certificate. This gives them the skill and training to be a cadet patrolling member at the club and prepares them to gain their Bronze Medallion when they turn 15.
With the summer holidays almost here, what advice do you have to keep us surf safe?
It is always paramount to swim between the flags, as this will always be the safest place to swim. Always swim at a patrolled beach and never swim alone; make sure you always have a parent or adult with you when swimming. If you do need assistance at the beach, look for the Lifesavers and Lifeguards in red and yellow; they are there to help you. If you do get in trouble in the water, raise your hand and call LOUDLY for help. If you do see someone in trouble, don’t straight away think you have to enter the water to help them. Many people die each year trying to save others. Look around for Lifesavers or someone else who can help. Call 000 and get help for them.
Is there an opportunity for parents to be involved?
Parents run Nippers! The club operates entirely from volunteer help. There are many jobs, and you do not need to have had surf lifesaving experience. The club values the contribution from all parents – it makes the club what it is. We always try to encourage our parents to get involved as much as possible, whether it be by becoming an age manager, gaining a Bronze Medallion so that they can do water safety, or just make sure they join in with the kids. It helps for the kids to see their parents doing the activities too, and they really love it. It is proven that the more the parents get involved, the more children enjoy Nippers too.
What clubs are available to join in the local area?
In our local area we have six clubs that people can join. From north to south, Crowdy Head SLSC, Taree Old Bar SLSC, Blackhead SLSC, Forster SLSC, Cape Hawke SLSC, and Pacific Palms SLSC. All run Nippers programmes on Sunday mornings.
What’s the next step for a child once completing Nippers?
Nippers can be just the first step in a life time of Surf Lifesaving. As I said earlier, Nippers can go on to become cadet patrol members and then gain their Bronze Medallion, learn lifesaving skills such as resuscitation and first aid, learn to drive an IRB, jet ski or drone, work as Lifeguards, take part in competition throughout Australia and the world and make some amazing friends, or volunteer at a club to help to nurture the next generation of Nippers.
How can we find out more information?
Forster Nippers takes place at Forster Main Beach on Sundays from 9am to 11am. Come down and say “Hi”, or look out for posts on the Forster Surf Lifesaving Face Book page.
Thanks Simon and Beth.
Interview: Bronwyn Davis.