Surf Life Saving clubs from regional NSW have finalised their training and are eagerly packing their bags with the 2023 Oakberry Acai NSW Country Championships just around the corner, set to run from this Friday and across the weekend, January 27-29, at the idyllic Cape Hawke SLSC on the state’s Lower North Coast.

Clubs outside the Newcastle-to-Illawarra corridor will converge on One Mile Beach for the second year over the coming days to compete across a variety of surf sport events.

The Oakberry Acai NSW Country Championships is second only to the NSW Surf Life Saving Championships in size, with around 1,500 competitors, 200 officials and nearly 4,000 spectators expected across the three days of competition.

In addition to Oakberry Acai as naming rights partner, this year Allianz Australia has also come on board as a supporting partner – as part of the insurer’s ongoing commitment to bringing local communities together and doing good through sport. They sit alongside Your local club – who has been a partner of the event since 2014 – in assisting Surf Life Saving NSW to deliver three days of elite and memorable competition.

SLSNSW Director of Surf Sports, Don van Keimpema said it was exciting to return to Cape Hawke after such a fantastic Country Championships event last year.

“It’s great to be back at Cape Hawke this year, it’s a tremendous location that’s quite central in terms of being accessible to our competing clubs and they put on a wonderful show for us in 2022,” he said.

“We saw Warilla-Barrack Point come so close to dethroning Cudgen Headland as champions last year and I know I speak for everyone when I say we’re looking forward to the battle between those two clubs again, and keen to see if a new contender can emerge from the pack.

“Thank you to Cape Hawke SLSC for hosting, and to the local council for being so accommodating in getting this event together.”

Defending champions, Cudgen Headland SLSC will be looking for a fifth consecutive title to continue six years of dominance, including an uncontested, COVID-19-impacted year in 2021, and Team Manager and club Director of Surf Sports, Adam Mills knows his squad will need to be at its best to take it out again.

“We’ve had some pretty good pre-comp opportunities up here, some kids competing in the Queensland comps have done really well, and we held our own Iron race last weekend as a bit of a precursor,” he said.

“NSW Country team reps did quite well as well, Trans-Tasman team retained the cup and we had a few competitors in there.

“Chloe Jones, Hayley Smith, Jules Loemker, Isabella Tate, Izzy Arghyros, Jack Cross – earmark him for good things this year. Those are some of the names to look out for.

“We know Warilla will be gunning for us this year and we will be trying to enter as many competitors in as many races as we can.

“We know it’s going to be tight right down to the last day on Sunday. It’ll be a good battle.”

For their part, the Warilla-Barrack Point SLSC team has its eyes on the prize as the club looks to end years of Far North Coast dominance. Warilla fell agonisingly short in 2022, finishing second just five points behind Cudgen.

“We’ve all been training hard, it’s a wonderful team coming up with the kids, the seniors are helping the juniors out and vice versa,” said Team Manager, Kate Fowler.

“The culture we’re creating with the kids, not having one or two standouts but a team of strong athletes, that’s the key.

“We’re looking to go well; we’re really targeting this one.”

Just a few beaches further south, Kiama Downs SLSC will travel with a small contingent representing everything that’s good about the Country Championships – their junior-heavy team features a number of first-time competitors.

“Most are coming for the experience and to have some fun, but we have some kids like Lucas Quinn who medalled at State and Country in the Board race last year,” Team manager, Jocelyn Quinn said.

“Jack Calcraft in the U11s and Hayley and Kobe Cross in the U10s and U9s on the beach will be good too.

“It’s a great carnival and we have a lot of first-time kids who will really enjoy the atmosphere.”

Host club, Cape Hawke SLSC will be hoping the home beach advantage gives them a leg up on the competition.

“We’ve got a combination of about 47 competitors across junior and senior, which is maybe a 35% increase on last year,” Team Manager, Jeff Horn said.

“We’ve got lots of individual event competitors and some great women’s surf boat teams and we’ve created about 15 team entries as well. Those boat teams are always pretty consistent for us, and we have some pretty quick beach juniors in there.

“I’m still heavily involved with Nipper education, and I know we’re going to have some strong support on the beach from people around the club.”

Bringing the noise from the Far South Coast, Broulee Surfers SLSC Team Manager, Darren Drewson is very proud of the progress the club has made behind the scenes, tripling their competitor numbers for this year’s event.

“We did a fair bit of work publicising the event and growing it through our club, this has probably been a few years in the making,” he said.

“Thirty-three competitors this year, 23 juniors and 10 Masters athletes. It’s a big ask for us, nearly an eight-hour drive, but it’s probably the big carnival of the year for us.

“We’ve got some very good beach competitors – Zali Smart in the U10s, my son, Luke in the U14s goes alright.

“There is a heap of good water competitors too, but a lot of the work we’ve done is on team events – last year we had one team, this year we have 20. Every kid is in one, two, three team events.”

On the Mid North Coast, Port Macquarie SLSC will make the 90-minute trip south hopeful of replicating the form that saw them claim a podium finish last year.

“We’ve got about 120 competitors entered and that’s across all the age groups, so a similar size team to last year,” said Team Manager, Sara-Jane Oakeshott.

“Hopefully we’ll have really great results in our Nippers, we’ve got a big team in the 8s, 9s and 10s and they’ve all been training a lot over the last two months – for many of them it’s their first big competition.

“We think we can do as well as if not better in some of the team races which will be a good indication of our depth in the club.”

Meanwhile, for last year’s fifth placed overall club, Byron Bay SLSC, the target is personal growth above all.

“We have a squad of about 70 going down, 40 Nippers and 30 U15s to Masters,” Team Manager, Kirsty Pockley said.

“Many parents are competing this year who have returned to the club through their kids, and we have quite a bit of depth in the Board Riding.

“It’s all about having fun for our group, we encourage participation as a club and look to keep the Nippers engaged so they stay through to seniors.

“We certainly look to have a positive community atmosphere.”

Renan Pinto, Oakberry Acai Australia CEO, said he was proud to be the Naming Rights Partner of such an important and diverse event on the surf sports calendar.

“Oakberry Australia prides itself on its valued place in our unique and beautiful beach communities, and this provides the perfect foundation for the rich partnership that Oakberry and Surf Life Saving NSW have forged,” he said.

“Oakberry’s partnership with Surf Life Saving NSW is inspired by our commitment to ensuring the beaches are safe and enjoyable for all Australians. We look forward to many more years of this rewarding partnership with Surf Life Saving NSW.”

The Oakberry Acai Country Surf Life Saving Championships will be hosted at Cape Hawke SLSC on the Lower North Coast, from 27-29 January 2023.

For event information go to https://www.surflifesaving.com.au/event/2023-oakberry-acai-nsw-country-championships/

Wednesday 25 January 2023