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NSW lifesavers have once again dominated the Surf Life Saving Australia Awards of Excellence across four categories including the prestigious DHL Surf Lifesaver of the Year. 

Surf Life Saving Australia’s President Graham Ford AM said tonight’s awards were about taking time out to recognise the significant contribution individuals and clubs make in keeping our coastlines safe.

“We are proud that every year close to 180,000 members from around the country give up 1.3million hours to keep watch over our beaches. But on top of that, there are so many people who contribute to keep our surf clubs operating, training and educating our people and the public as well as coaching, officiating and so much more.

“The Awards of Excellence provides us the great opportunity to take time out and recognise those significant contributions by individuals and Clubs that make our organisation so unique.

“In addition to recognising the achievements of our surf lifesavers, lifeguards, clubs, trainers and assessors as well as our surf sports stars, we presented the prestigious meritorious awards. The meritorious awards highlight the rescues some of our members have performed,” Mr Ford said.

NSW Award Winners


Mathew has been a highly valued member of his Club for 15 years. He currently holds the positions of Patrol and Club Captain, Captain of Surf Rescue 30 and is an integral part of training and assessment, development camps. Mat’s focus on education and lifesaving at the club has resulted in record numbers of proficiencies, Bronze and education numbers.  He is an active champion competitor, Nippers coach and mentor for young members who fosters a caring, safe and helpful environment for all his 250+ volunteers.  Mat is a strong and influential leader within the local community as well as in the surf lifesaving community.

"This award is an amazing achievement and it means so much to me," said Mat after receiving his award. "I have the privilege of working alongside some amazing lifesavers with my team at Maroubra and Surf Rescue 30. This award represents the hard work that many people put into saving lives and helping others. One of the greatest gifts that we can give to people is the gift of time. The time that people put into the organisation that makes it move forward, that's when the magic happens."

Mathew Harper Lifesaver of the year
Mathew Harper (Maroubra) - DHL Surf Lifesaver of the Year


Kai joined Umina SLSC as a 5-year old nipper and has been passionately involved in the organisation ever since. Holding positions on the Management team, facilitating youth camps; participating in the leadership program, supporting club and community education including Surf Safety in primary schools, Kai is a role model for both club youth and nippers.  He assisted in SLSNSW titles in Safety and Emergency Management, water safety and duty boat. He has been involved in many incidents over the years, including a rescue of an unconscious Umina patient. Some of Kai’s many roles include Water Safety Coordinator for nippers, Club’s Radio Officer, an assistant at Bronze courses and IRB crewing course; To support his roles within the Surf club, Kai holds many qualifications including IRB driver’s qualification as well as Spinal Management and Trainer. Kai sees his involvement with the local SES as a benefit in the relationship between emergency services.

At just 17, Kai is highly recognised and respected at Umina and the club couldn't be happier for him.

"I'm really grateful for this award. I want to congratulate all the other finalists and also thank my club and my mum and dad especially," Kai said. "Umina is such a great family club and we're so proud of everything we're achieving." 

Kai Darwin
Kai Darwin (Umina SLSC) - Youth Lifesaver of the Year

INNOVATION OF THE YEAR: Joint Operations Search and Rescue, Far South Coast Branch SLS, NSW

During the 2018/19 season, the Far South Coast Support Operations team adopted an innovative approach to developing collaborative joint operations capabilities with other Emergency Services Organisations to enhance search and rescue capabilities. Bermagui SLSC and Marine Rescue trialled a joint operations capability, devising a method of loading IRBs on board Marine Rescue vessels to provide transport to incidents.  Drone operations are new within the Far South Coast Support Operations group. The group is being proactive in finding innovative ways to increase their use in remote coastlines and rough seas. Further testing resulted when the Group joined NSW Police and SES in searches. This has positioned the Far South Coast Branch as a collaborative partner in the emergency services space.  This innovative approach relies on research, collaboration, risk assessment and agreed procedures.  Communications are also a critical success factor, with numerous positive results in Surf Life Saving and the wider community.

NSW Volunteer of the Year Wendy Law accepted the award, "Joint Operations is a Support Operation partnering with Marine Rescue where we attach and transport the IRBs on the back of the Marine Rescue boats to get to a rescue or search area quickly and allow them to get in closer to the coastline. We're a branch with 230km of coastline that is not accessible by the Marine Rescue boats. It's amazing to have made this possible. We've also gone a step further and brought in UAVs as well, launching them off the back of the Marine Rescue boats to complete faster and more vast searches."


Louis has continued to demonstrate his ability to be a level-headed and meticulously thorough official this season. He is well respected amongst his peers for his level of competency, continuing to be rewarded with many senior appointments at Branch, State and National levels. A few of these roles have included the Manly Open- Sectional Referee Beach, Deputy Referee at the SLSNSW Pool Rescue Championships and Area Referee for both SLSA Australian Open Championships and Ocean 6 Series. His approachable and friendly demeanour, open communication skills, and collaborative approach have helped to establish him as a well-respected official amongst competitors and team managers.

"It's fantastic to win this award, the other nominees are fantastic Officials too," said Louis. "This is a real privilege. This award is a thanks to all the Officials who help out with surf sports and make the events so great and such a disciplined activity."

New SLSA Life Members

Surf Life Saving Australia inducted eight dedicated volunteers Life Members. Life membership is awarded to those who have selflessly committed and dedicated themselves to the Surf Life Saving movement throughout their lifetime in many different and varying aspects.

Suzanne Storrie (nee Young), Cronulla SLSC, Clovelly SLSC, North Bondi SLSC, NSW

Throughout her 27 years of service, Suzanne has demonstrated the value of diversity through her significant involvement at all levels of Surf Life Saving including roles as Chief Instructor, Club Captain, champion ski paddler, champion life saver, national board member and governance expert; as well as actively advocated for surf lifesaving to embrace diversity of membership and thought. From her earliest lifesaving days, Suzanne embraced the knowledge of instructing and grew the team at NBSLSC exponentially. She displayed ability to push through barriers existing for women and had huge influence on younger lifesavers. Her dedication to the Nippers’ movement was legendary including lifting the professionalism and engagement of parents. Suzanne has been an inspirational agent of change as evidenced by being the first woman ever to be appointed on the Board of Surf Life Saving Australia in 2011, as well as subsequent national roles.

Peter (Cuz) Kirkwood, Maroubra SLSC, Cape Hawke SLSC, NSW

Peter (Cuz) Kirkwood is recognised as a stalwart of the SLSA community across all levels, over 52 years. His selfless voluntary dedication to coaching courses and clinics in Australia and other countries, including being founder and head coach at the NSW North Coast Academy of Sport for 15+ years, is evidence of his wide-ranging influence on the education and encouragement of all competition members of SLSA. Peter served on club committees for 23 years, and was awarded Life Membership at Maroubra SLSC in 1980, and NSW SLS in 2016, coordinating, for example, the education program and billeting of regional youth members visiting Sydney for water safety and surf skills programs for many years. From Nippers’ coaching to participation in Masters’ competition, his influence, e.g. elected/appointed SLSA Coaching Advisor for 11 years, is apparent and a clear indication of the worth and esteem in which Peter is held.

Paul Johnson Kenny, Hobart-Carlton SLSC, TAS; Normanville SLSC, SA; Cudgen Headland, SLSC, Currumbin Vikings SLSC, QLD

During his 50 years involvement in Surf Life Saving, Paul’s contributions have stretched across all areas of lifesaving, from patrols through to successful surf sport competitor, coach, team manager, event referee, club committee member, trainer and assessor of hundreds of surf lifesavers, and educator of new officials. During his time as a club committee member, he played a key role in the planning and building of a new clubhouse. Paul has made a significant contribution to the improved standards of surf lifesaving competitions over the years having taken a lead role in education, moderation and updates for officials, assessors and instructors. As National Officials’ Advisor, he works to promote excellence in appointments of technical officials for Australian Titles His outstanding contributions have been recognised in awards such as the Australian Sports Medal in 2000 and Australian Official of the Year in 2010.

Meritorious Awards

Surf Life Saving Australia also recognised 18 Meritorious Awards. The Meritorious Awards recognised the significant results by both surf lifesavers and members of the public, who went gone above and beyond the call of duty to save a life. 

Soldiers Beach SLSC, NSW

On the 28 of October 2018, Patrol 4 surf lifesavers were preparing to finish their shift when three surfers entered the water from the rock shelf at the northern end of Soldiers Beach.  The beach had been closed all day due to dangerous surf conditions.  Patrol Vice Captain Matt Neale observed that the youngest group member was struggling after losing his board. Advising the patrol, Matt entered the water with a rescue board, negotiated large and powerful surf, reached the 16-year old male and headed for the shore.  After manoeuvring through a turbulent back wash, and almost to the shore the pair were caught by a large set which dislodged them from the board. In the meantime, the remaining surfers were helped from the water by the patrol.  With the assistance of Ian McGaw, Matt swam the patient away from the rock shelf and 400m across the beach expertly using the large rip current at the northern end of the beach. Finally, Matt caught a break in the surf to swim them both to the beach.  Matt and patrol members spoke to the uninjured but shaken patients to assess and observe their condition.

Bronte SLSC NSW (Rescue 1)

At 8:00pm on Tuesday the 29 of January 2019, 10 bathers of various ages and nationalities entered the water at Bronte Beach and were quickly swept out behind the reef by a rip current.  The group, all poor swimmers, attempted to support each other, but panicked and found themselves in further difficulties.  A Waverley Park Ranger notified Bronte SLSC members at the surf club. Club Captain James McLennan as well as Waverley Lifeguards Anthony Carrol and Julianna King, paddled out on rescue boards while others took additional rescue equipment to assist on the shoreline.  Bronte SLSC member Kel Noble was already in the water on his racing board. He paddled over to one swimmer going under, pulled the person onto the board, and supported three more until assistance arrived. James coordinated his team’s response, and with Kel did a head count before heading to shore to further aid the struggling bathers. Others covered the mid-section and shoreline, and all bathers were assessed on shore.  The speedy response and coordinated rescue efforts avoided what could have been multiple fatalities.

Bronte SLSC, NSW (Rescue 2)

At 7:00am on the 30 of August 2018, Troy Stewart and Anthony Carrol were conducting classes at Bronte, while Bronte SLSC members and Waverley Lifeguards Wally Eggleton and Andrew Reid, were about to start their 7am shifts. Troy spotted a distressed female swimmer at the Bogey Hole rock pool. Troy and Andrew swam out to assist and Wally followed with a rescue tube.  Extreme conditions saw Andrew head back to shore, while Troy and Wally kept the female afloat. Anthony arrived on a rescue board, but first rescued and took to shore a male swimmer who had attempted to rescue the female before finding himself in trouble.  Anthony then returned to collect the female swimmer with Troy and Wally assisting. With other Club members, Andrew carried her to a safe area to be assessed, as she had swallowed a large amount of water.  She was transported to hospital where she made a full recovery. Coordination of skills and effort brought the rescue to a successful outcome.

North Cronulla
North Cronulla Mass Rescue Meritorious Award

North Cronulla SLSC, Elouera SLSC, Cronulla SLSC, Maroubra SLSC, and Sutherland Shire Council Lifeguards and Sydney Branch, NSW

At 1.54pm on the 17 of February 2019, at North Cronulla Beach, over 50 swimmers were washed off their feet and out to sea in a rip current.  It was a busy day at the beach with over 2000 people at North Cronulla, 1000 people at a surf Australian Surf Rowers League surf boats carnival at Elouera Beach and many more at Bate Bay.  The patrol tower surveillance contacted the patrol about the dangerous situation unfolding. Members of North Cronulla SLSC and Sutherland Shire Council Lifeguards swung into action as part of a mass rescue.  Patrol flags were dropped, and the beach was closed. Twelve rescue boards, 6 rescue tubes, and an IRB were launched from the beach. Another two IRBs from Bate Bay Beach arrived, as well as a Sydney Branch Rescue Water Craft (RWC) and two Sutherland Council RWCs. Three vehicles with six surf lifesavers and Council Lifeguards arrived from Elouera.  At the strangely eerie but calm beach there was a regular procession of craft with surf lifesavers delivering relieved swimmers to the beach. The lifesavers with rescue boards and rescue tubes assisted swimmers to remain calm and safe until the power craft arrived to collect them. Back on the beach patrol members provided reassurance and support to those rescued and the many family members separated in the rescue.  At 2.09 pm the last swimmers were returned to shore. Those involved with the rescue observed and reassured the public until all were reunited. Outstanding surf lifesaving skills and teamwork ensured no lives were lost.

Cabarita Beach SLSC, NSW

It was 1975 and Cabarita Beach was closed due to a large swell and treacherous conditions.  Lifeguard and Beach Inspector, Mark Cummins finished his shift when four men jumped into the surf and immediately got swept out to sea.  Mark took a torpedo buoy and enlisted two lifeguards to help both on rescue boards. Mark expertly used the rip current to get to the patients who were now 400m out and swam them over to the headland near the rocks where they managed to get to shore.  Mark swam back out to help one of the lifeguards, Mick Border, who was struggling after his rescue board snapped.  Mark reached Mick about one kilometre offshore and swam them out past the breakers. Club Captain Vince Craney, on a surf ski, paddled out towards the lifeguards, but his ski snapped in half too.  Mark and Mick floated until dark and Mick’s condition started to deteriorate. Another lifeguard, Mick O’Brien, made it out on his board to Mark and Mick but was encouraged to head back and seek more help as Mick Border was in no condition to make it back on a board. On his return, Mick O’Brien’s board was smashed and Mark thought their situation was now hopeless. Two IRBs were dispatched, with one capsizing in the surf. Gordon Harmon, the skipper of the other IRB, and under the guidance of John Evans from the beach, spotted Mark and Mick with the aid of a flood light. After a series of rescue attempts, including a stalled engine, Mark and Mick made it back to shore as did the remaining stranded lifeguards.  Mark never left Mick Border during the ordeal and his bravery has become legend.

Max Taylor
Max Taylor (Wamberal) - Meritorious Award

Max Taylor, Wamberal SLSC, NSW

At 5.30pm on the 12 March 2019, 11-year old Wamberal Club member Max Taylor, was waiting for his dad following an after-school surf when he heard cries for help.  Max could see worried beach onlookers and a panicked swimmer, a tourist who had just arrived in Australia, caught in a rip current heading out to sea.  Council lifeguard services had finished for the day.  Assessing the situation, Max ran back to the beach and paddled out on his surfboard.  The tide was low, and one-metre waves were breaking on the bank, making paddling difficult.  When Max reached the swimmer, they were 150 metres offshore. The swimmer grabbed onto the board, fatigued and panicking, so Max jumped off his board, allowed time for the swimmer to settle down and asked him to get onto the board on his stomach.  Max pushed the board and kicked from behind. Harry Carpenter, a member of Wamberal SLSC had seen the incident on his way home and paddled out to assist Max get the swimmer back to shore.  Max’s father arrived in time to see the tourist, now fully recovered, shaking Max’s hand in appreciation before leaving the beach a lot wiser for his experience.

Surf Life Saving Central Coast, NSW

At 3.12pm on the 6 of June 2018, Duty Officer Tony Smith received a callout request for attendance at Snapper Cave, a well-known blackspot for drownings, where a 30-year old male was trapped. A one metre south easterly swell washed into the cave making it too hazardous for a rescue helicopter or Volunteer Rescue Association abseil rescue. A rally point was established at nearby Frazer Beach and support operations responded.  David Smith and Paul Dowdell brought the Rescue Water Craft’s (RWCs) from Surf Life Saving Central Coast and Lakes Beach SLSC, while Michael Dean, Phil Murphy and John Dosanjh arrived to assist in the launch and retrieval.  David (RWC Operator) ad Paul (RWC Swimmer) were able to negotiate the break and proceeded to Snapper Cave but were unable to reach the RWC due to the swell.  Paul swam into the cave, timing his entry between the waves, and ascertained that the patient was uninjured. However, the patient was hypothermic and panicked but could swim and was willing to exit. Paul timed his entry back into the water ensuring the patient’s safe entry and assisted him onto the RWC sled. David was able to safely navigate the RWC carrying all three out of the cave – a critical phase of the rescue – and returned safely to shore where Ambulance crews gave the patients the all clear.  An outstanding result in what could have been tragic circumstances.

Surf Lifesaving Central Coast, NSW

On 15 of September 2018 a multi-agency response including police, volunteer rescue and the Westpac Lifesaver Rescue Helicopter was carried out by Sean Leicester (SLSCC) and Brianna Coyte (Toowoon Bay SLSC) on a Rescue Water Craft (RWC) and Anthony Smith and Gavin Brown (The Lakes SLSC) in an IRB. They were successfully able to rescue two teenagers trapped in a cave at Snapper Point, notorious for multiple drownings. The teens had been part of a group who had been jumping from the rocks when rough sea conditions set in. The rescue agencies decided against a vertical extraction and surf lifesavers were tasked to assist.  Whilst extremely challenging, Brianna was dropped off at the entrance of the cave and swam in to assist a shaken and shocked female patient assisting her to swim out safely to the RWC. Brianna then returned to the cave, rescuing the male in the same way.  Both patients were transferred to the IRB and taken to Fraser Park Beach, unharmed with no injuries.

Central Coast - Briana Coyte
Brianna Coyte accepts Central Coast Rescue and individual Meritorious Awards