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Inflatable Rescue Boat (IRB) racing has been part of the surf lifesaving sport calendar for decades, but this weekend is extra special for one Sydney Northern Beaches surf lifesaver.

This weekend’s Round 3 of the NSW IRB Premiership sees Kaz Marks from Narrabeen Beach and Bilgola surf clubs make her debut as the first female IRB Competition Referee.

Kaz will oversee a very busy program as the semi-finals and finals from Round 2 at Mollymook were held-over due to conditions and will also need to be completed at Ocean Beach this weekend.

NSW Director of Surf Sport Don van Keimpema says encouraging skilled female lifesavers to take on senior officials roles is a key priority.

“It’s great to see someone as experienced and enthusiastic as Kaz appointed as referee, and in what has generally been a male-dominated area of competition like IRB racing,” said Don.

It’s a far cry for the competitor who began in IRBs as a patient after being asked to train with the club’s IRB racing team.

“It is the best way to hone your rescue skills. I loved it. I started out the back as shark bait. Over the years we had so much fun, so many carnivals, carnage, friendships and great memories,” Kaz Marks said.

From the beginning the surf lifesaver was hooked and continued to develop her IRB skills over many years, however she will never forget her first carnival.

“It was a bit of a blur. Trying to race to the pigpen in time and remember what colour can I was on. Marshalls yelling, all of us piling in…we would all be chatting, laughing and shivering,” Kaz said.

“The beach was covered in black wetsuits; it was unbelievably exciting and exhausting at the same time.”

After her first IRB carnival, the addiction to racing really took hold and Kaz became part of the bigger IRB family.

“There is nothing quite like the sound and feel of IRBs when you race. It’s addictive,” Kaz said.

“IRB racing is like a big family. Whether you’re racing or helping to run the carnival, the groups are tight. It has an amazing camaraderie. I’ve not seen another sport where the competitors go out after the carnival is finished and help bring in the equipment.”

It wasn’t long before Kaz moved through to officiating in surf sports and since 2009 she has made a huge impression, not just in IRBs but also surf boat and lifesaving events.

“When our racing team became too small to compete I started going to the IRB events as an official. I started out setting the cans, then lane judge, judge-in-boat for many seasons, finish tower, course supervisor, assistant chief judge, chief judge, deputy referee and now referee,” Kaz said.

Like many officials, Kaz contributes at club, branch and state carnivals in the summer months to progress her skills.

“I personally feel it’s important to acquire knowledge and experience of the various roles, to encourage others by mentoring them and to be cognisant of when to move on to let others grow,” Kaz said.

After acting as Chief Judge in Round 2, Kaz says her appointment to the top slot this weekend would not have happened without the years of guidance from senior officials including Wayne Scott, Rod Williams, John Wake, Nigel Penn and Steve Haggett.

“I’m proud to have been put forward and have a loyal, experienced and dedicated team supporting me,” Kaz concluded.