Illawarra Beachies Dominate on the Sand

They are called the ‘sand rats’, the Illawarra Surf Life Saving team that made history at the Allphones NSW State Surf Life Saving Championships when they claimed gold in both the men’s and women’s open beach relay and women’s open sprint final for the first time ever.

Helensburgh-Stanwell Park SLSC’s team of Blake Drysdale, Daniel McKellar, Cameron Baillie and Tom Dewey beat the favourites by a fraction of a second, the whole race a blur of flying sand and pounding legs and all over in around 40 seconds.

“Collaroy are the Australian and world beach relay champions and we came here knowing they were the benchmark and wanting to beat them,” said Drysdale, who won the beach flag title at last November’s world titles and again at these states.

He also took a moment to pay tribute to his coach, “I’d like to credit Daniel [Robberds] who puts so much time into us, he’s a big asset to the team,” and on his team he had this to say, “We are a really tight bunch and we all want to do well for each other.”

Laura Humphries and sister Alana, Laura Shorter and Katie Mott set the stage for the men with their open relay championship result.

Knowing Helensburgh-Stanwell Park’s reputation, Shorter moved from Queenscliff SLSC half way through this season, a move that really lifted the team according to coach Daniel Robberds, a former competitor and named coach of the year at the 2012 Illawarra awards for surf lifesaving excellence.

Still living on Sydney’s northern beaches, Shorter now travels alternate weekends to be part of Robberds’ squad, which includes 12 to 26 year-olds from a number of Illawarra clubs.

“I needed a relay team to motivate me,” said the dual gold medal winner at Ocean Beach-Umina. As well as the relay she also won the open beach sprint, another first for the club.

Plagued by injury for the last couple of years, Shorter has tweaked her training and is working closely with her physiotherapist. Injuries and lesser results were well and truly forgotten while she competed then watched her partner, Drysdale, work his magic.

It was a sweet result for the Helensburgh-Stanwell Park team of Kurt Drysdale, Blake’s younger brother, McKellar, Tom Dewey and Cameron Baillie, their gold medal at this year’s NSW state title softening the disappointment over last year’s fumble in the beach relay that relegated them to third spot. “It was a nice comeback,” admitted a relieved Dewey.

Coach Robberds had pretty much lost his voice by the time the men’s open relay final was run and won. “I was screaming on the sideline now, I’ve basically lost my voice.”

Mott out-classed the field in the under 17 women’s sprint final, McKellar blitzed the under 17 boy’s sprint line-up and the under 19 men’s relay team added more gold to Helensburgh-SP’s extraordinary medal haul. Success spilled over to finals day on Sunday, Blake Drysdale and Laura Humphries now state open beach flag state champions.

On the team’s rise to the top, Robberds explains, “Last year was the first year people noticed our sand team and when Laura came to us that lifted everyone. Hopefully we can repeat our success at Aussies; the belief is there.”

“We aren’t exclusive to Helensburgh-Stanwell Park, we just want people to stay in the sport. We have gone from two competitors, including me, five years ago to 15. We make it social; it’s not the Olympics after all.”

Increasing levels of participation and the sheer size of the event program have put pressure on organisers’ ability to run the event effectively and fairly. After seeking feedback from both competitors and officials, organisers have decided to split out some events and run the program over several consecutive weekends instead of a 10 day block. This will mean less clashing of events so athletes won’t miss out on the opportunity to participate and will reduce the need for people to take time off work or school to compete.

The 2014 NSW Surf Life Saving Championships will be held at Ocean Beach-Umina from the 28th of February to the 2nd of March for the Age Championships and the 7th to the 9th of March for the Open event. The Masters competitors will have their own dedicated event to be held on the 15th and 16th of March. Lifesaving events will be held on 22nd and 23rd of February, 2014.

Full results from the 2013 Allphones NSW Surf Life Saving Championships can be found on the event page.

Tue 12 Mar 2013