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NSW volunteers have been recognised for their outstanding service to the community throughout the 2020-21 season at the Surf Life Saving annual National Awards of Excellence.

Following hot on the heels of the NSW awards night in late August, where members from across the state reflected on and celebrated the achievements of the previous 12 months, the national event offered many award category winners from that evening the chance to receive recognition across the country.

Thousands from within the country’s Surf Life Saving community tuned in to the virtual event, streamed on Facebook following the uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 restrictions in various states.

Hunter Branch’s Cooks Hill SLSC was the most successful NSW club on the night, taking out the Community Education Program of the Year category for its Welcome to the Beach initiative, while young Nipper, Mia Campbell was honoured with a Meritorious Award for the brave rescue of her father at her local beach in May.

Now in its sixth year, the Welcome to the Beach Program is an enormously popular support platform for newly settled immigrant and refugee families. Many of those who attend the program have never set foot onto a beach before, let alone entered the water, often due to the location of their country of origin or cultural beliefs and customs.

From a foundation of wishing to educate families, and in particular teenagers, on beach safety, the Cooks Hill initiative has proven a huge success. The club and its participants are much richer for their role in its delivery.

Those same skills were on full display in mid-May, when rising Nipper, Mia Campbell leapt to the aid of her father after he was struck by a dolphin.

Aside from a tennis ball-sized hole in the edge of the board, the dolphin also connected heavily with Ben’s left shoulder and chest, rendering him incapacitated in the surf and struggling to stay afloat.

Without missing a beat, Mia – who had been learning how to navigate the ocean on a race board that day – paddled 150m out to him, negotiating the swell and managing to get him onto the board using a technique typically reserved for unconscious patients.

Speaking after the incident, Mia was just happy her father was alright – he has since made a full recovery and is proud of his daughter for knowing what to do in difficult circumstances.

“At the time I was just thinking about getting Dad onto the board and safely back to shore,” Mia said.

“I was feeling confident, but worried about dad because he was in a lot of pain. I’m happy he’s okay.”

Mia’s bravery was recognised with a Surf Life Saving NSW Rescue of the Month award, an accolade which was also received by fellow Certificate of Merit recipient, Jason Armbruster from Ballina Lighthouse and Lismore SLSC. Jason’s quick thinking, calm demeanour and decade of experience were the keys behind a rescue effort involving two men tossed overboard a yacht in April on the state’s Far North Coast.

Other NSW Meritorious Award recipients included Nick Pavlakis, John Molnar and Jon Klopper for their work with the Westpac Rescue Helicopter Service and, specifically, an incident in late May off the rocks at Bundeena, south of Sydney.

Richard Nicholas and Courtney Date of the Bondi Surf Bathers Life Saving Club were also recognised for their efforts assisting flood-affected communities in March where they launched a brave rescue in the swollen Nepean River to save a family of four trapped under a capsized vessel.

Wednesday 10 November 2021