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From Canada to Bermagui Bruce McAslan’s journey has been one of adventure but one constant has been a passion for the ocean and community, and it is this attitude that has seen this humble man and his wife Cheryl warmly embraced by the Surf Life Saving community.

Our Commonwealth cousins’ loss has been Bermagui’s gain and after taking on the reigns as President of the struggling country club, Bruce and the other dedicated volunteers have worked tirelessly in turning their fortunes around.

So effective and impressive were the results that Bermagui SLSC were named the 2017 Club of the Year at the Award of Excellence in August which was a fantastic achievement.

Bruce is a dedicated volunteer and a strong believer in the power of the surf club to unite a country town. He’s a strong advocate for his area and his beloved surf club, and is not one to seek the limelight.

His story is an example of the many different opportunities available in Surf Life Saving and it is a privilege to share part of it as September Club Member of the Month.

When did you join Surf Life Saving and what appealed to you about it?

I joined Bermagui SLSC almost 4 years ago. We were new to Bermagui and building our house so we were looking for a way to get involved in our community, meet new people and provide a temporary (much needed) reprieve from the building work. My wife, Cheryl, and I know one of our Life Members who ran the Nippers Program so we volunteered to help out with that. I make an excellent pylon, by the way.

What appealed to me was that it is an aquatics-based activity and community involved. I have been in aquatics for most of my life, starting as a pool lifeguard, and subsequently, 14 years as an aquatics rescue specialist with the fire department in Canada where I spent a lot of time under a metre of ice in very cold water!

Being at the beach in Bermagui seemed like a top idea after that experience!! For me being involved in my community has always been important to me. It was a natural fit for me to become involved.

What are the key lessons that you’ve learnt from your time in Surf Life Saving?

There are so many ways to be involved without having to be a patrolling member. Smaller communities depend on volunteers and there are only so many volunteers to go around and only so much money available to run programs.

The Surf Life Saving movement is a solid organisation of volunteers, supported well by some very well organised and professional full-time employees and established systems. If you want to be involved there is always a way for you to participate in a way that is suitable to your skill set and your time frame. Systems are in place.

All we need to do is tap into the system, find a match, train the volunteers and support them to help them to be successful in their endeavours.

Can you tell us about your time in Surf Life Saving and some of the roles that you have undertaken?

The first half-season we were involved we just helped with Nippers. The second season we took our Bronze Medallion and started active patrols. As stated, I have been involved with aquatics for most of my life and saw that there was an opportunity to be involved with training within our club.

I asked the CTO at the time if I could help out and he was looking to take a step back from the CTO role and concentrate on a more hands-on, session training role. I have been a contract trainer since I moved to Australia in 2010 so taking the CTO role was a good opportunity. I put my name forward and was accepted.

I also applied for the “Beyond my Club” program and participated in that training which opened my eyes to the SLS “family” attitude. I also have participated in the CTO conference as well as helping out with other training courses within our branch.

The networking and friendships established then, and since, have been incredible. Our club was a “struggling club” at the time and my wife and I sat down one night to discuss the future of the club and realised that we had something to offer.

Cheryl was the secretary at the time and I was the CTO but our AGM was coming up and we discussed the idea of me putting my name forward for Club President, a role that had gone unfilled the previous year. I thought that if I could recruit effectively for some key positions I would be able to contribute positively to the club as President.

What do you most enjoy about your role as Club President of Bermagui SLSC and what in your opinion makes the club and its members so special?

I love the networking aspect of the role. I feel that building relationships within the Surf Life Saving movement as well as within our community and other organisations is paramount. As previously state there are only so many volunteers and money to go around. We need to work collaboratively and find economies of scale to be successful.

We’re making some real in-roads in that regard, building strong relationships with other sporting and community groups in town. I also love meeting visitors to our beach and community. Letting them know who we are and what we do. We have a very engaged team of patrollers and committee members who have accepted a new vision with energy and a “can do” attitude.

Our team approaches new ideas with enthusiasm and is willing to “give it a go” and see where it takes us. So far, we’ve had several little “wins”. That breeds a willingness to continue embracing change. Members have been so supportive of new programs and in a small community, word travels quickly. Enthusiasm is contagious.

In August Bermagui was named the Stramit Club of the Year at the NSW Surf Life Saving Awards of Excellence, has the reality of that sunk in yet?

Good question. We look at the clubs we were up against and just say… “wow!” In many respects, it seems like a dream. We pinch ourselves, then wake up the next day and realise we have to move on and try to do even better over the next year. We started with a longer term vision and have really only just started year 2!

We still have a long way to go to establish a truly sustainable program but we’re well on the way. Awards are nice but the feedback we get from our members and the engagement and enthusiasm towards the club from our community are the rewards that mean the most to me.

Could you describe what you are most looking forward to about the 2017/18 season?

I look forward to building on what we have started.Our Nippers program concentrated on the basics last year. We now have some kids who are showing promise in competition so getting appropriate coaching for them is a goal for this year. We piloted our “Same Wave” program (for individuals with extra needs) and it was a resounding success.

We partnered with the local footy club and cricket club who are running similar programs so we are looking forward to expanding our program to include more people and volunteers as well as running the program weekly through February and March.

I look forward to training more people to expand our patrol roster and upskilling as many patrollers as we can manage. I look forward to Bermagui SLSC being an even more visible contributor to our community.

What are your goals within Surf Life Saving?

My goals are simple. To help build a sustainable program where everyone in the community wants to be involved. There are so many skill sets needed that don’t involve a bronze medallion. There are so many ways to participate and be part of our team, to have fun….to be at the BEACH!! If I can set an example for others to follow, I’d be very proud of that.

The long-term goal is to be able to identify leadership qualities in members, help to develop those traits through training and mentorship and pass on a program to future leaders that encourages innovation, continuous improvement and an environment where people feel empowered and safe to contribute in any way.

Who is someone you admire in the Surf Life Saving movement and why?

There are several. Most of whom hold, or have held, positions of authority or formal leadership within the movement. My hero is a fellow who has been a patroller for many years. He is a retired teacher who leads by example. He no longer holds any committee position within our club but is a Patrol Captain and leads patrol teams with style, skill and grace.

I asked him a couple of years ago to stay on as a patroller when he had intimated that perhaps it was time for him to try new endeavours and he agreed to stay on. His calmness and professionalism has been an invaluable example as he mentors younger members. His name is Graham Day and he’s an inspiration to me and a shining example of quiet and capable leadership. He’s definitely someone I’d like to emulate.

What is your favourite beach that isn’t yours?

To be honest, I have not visited many. Tathra is probably my favourite. The beach and club are physically beautiful but just as wonderful are the people we have met there and we’ve built good relationships with many of their members.

Finally, what has been your best memory so far as a surf lifesaver?

In the short time I have been involved there have been several experiences including training and networking that I’ve done but the absolute best memory was when I was doing my Bronze Medallion evaluation and had to do a board rescue at almost 60 years old.

The surf was huge and I caught a wave perfectly on my rescue and rode the rescue board, with my patient aboard, and rode it right up onto the beach with a large crowd watching and cheering!! What a hoot.


Friday 29 September 2017