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Debbie Cooper is the type of volunteer that every surf club needs to help run smoothly and efficiently. A go-getter, a former Nipper parent, and an enthusiastic advocate on the importance of beach safety, the long-time North Entrance administrator is worthy choice for October’s Member of the Month.

As is the case with so many before her, Debbie’s initial foray into the Surf Life Saving movement came through her children and a desire to ensure that they had the skills and knowledge to keep them safe in the ocean.

In short order she became Junior Secretary and was then asked to step in and fill a temporary gap on the senior committee.

The rest was as they say is history, and now Debbie Cooper shares her journey in Surf Life Saving in her own words.

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

I first joined North Entrance as a Nipper parent back in 2001. As we live near the beach I naturally wanted to be sure that my children had the skills and knowledge that would keep them safe in the surf.

North Entrance appealed because of being a smaller club it meant that people really had to come together, and it seemed easier to meet people with not as many faces!

My husband was a former member of South Cronulla SLSC and had actually done a bit of rowing so he was familiar with it. I was a complete rookie and had no real background in Surf Life Saving at the time.

Can you tell us about your time in Surf Life Saving and some of the roles that you have undertaken which includes making it a family affair by encouraging your husband to take on the challenge of being club president in recent seasons?

I was originally the Junior Secretary and on the Junior Activities Committee during the 2001/02 season and really enjoyed being involved. The next season I fell into the role of Club Secretary completely by accident after they asked me if I would mind helping out until they found someone who could come in on a more permanent basis.

That “little while” now extends to 12 seasons with only a three-year break in between, and since then I’ve also become functions manager at the club as well.

As for my own engagement on the beach I’ve done several first aid awards and love increasing my knowledge but aren’t a patrolling member – they’d have to save me so I think I can contribute more by being in the office.

Contrary to what people may believe I didn’t push Peter (husband and club president Peter Cooper) to stand for the club leadership. Because we’re a small club we have and do struggle to fill roles at times and he saw the panic and frustration that I was going through and decided to stand.

It’s his second season in charge now and it’s been great because we understand how each other thinks and works; well we should after 25 years of marriage!

It’s great to have my children involved. I have one child involved on patrol and with the club and the other looking to come back soon as well. That is what is so special about Surf Life Saving as it really something that can unite a family.

As a long term Director of Administration at North Entrance what do you most enjoy about the role, and what makes the club so special?

I really love having the opportunity to contribute to my club. As a small club North Entrance is really all about family and there are so many great people involved.

One of the great trends that I’ve noticed in recent years is a lot of mothers who did Nippers at the club and then moved on to compete elsewhere are enrolling their own children in our program.

We’re also a surf beach which means you are learning those skills in an environment that is really going to benefit you later on.

Everyone involved in leadership positions at the club has really embraced our role in the community in surf education as it is something we value highly.

I think that is so important as while it’s fantastic to do well at surf sport in competition at the end of the day we are teaching children how to survive in the ocean environment and that is something worth doing.

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

We’ve just celebrated the 40th anniversary of the club’s founding and it was such a fun night with many of the inaugural patrolling members coming down to share stories and reflect on their memories.

On a personal level my youngest is doing her rookie patrol season alongside her dad which will be very special and I’m looking forward to seeing that.

Our Nipper education program is going from strength to strength and while we’re not the biggest club going round (80 enrolled this season) it’s great to see the enthusiasm of these youngsters as they learn the skills for life.

We also run the Tiny Tots program which is an on-beach activity for their younger siblings and they get to wear the club cap and feel special.

That’s the future of our club right there so it’s important that we can keep them excited to return.

What are your goals within Surf Life Saving?

Like every surf club retaining members is constantly a struggle. I think we have to be realistic life does get in the way so we made a decision that we want to really engage both with our Nippers and their parents.

We want everyone to feel a part of the club so that is a big goal of mine. This year we will be doing social events and showing people what it’s like to be on patrol and hopefully a few parents will decide to do their bronze and become lifesavers, but if not the plan is for their children to have such a good time that they will stay all the way through Nippers.

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

Our Masters numbers are quite consistent and I really admire their commitment to the movement. There’s too many to name individually but I think it really says a lot about our club culture that many of our older members whose kids have since left the club still front up for patrol duties.

Some of them aren’t even competitors any more but just love the friendship and working together as part of a team on patrol. Their passion and commitment is infectious and that’s a goal for me to instill that in families.

What is your favourite beach that isn’t yours?

Locally it would be Shelly Beach and further up the coast Scotts Head and One Mile Beach. Both of those are excellent patrolled beaches, and I have great memories of the kids being taught to surf at One Mile.

Scotts Head was always a favourite holiday destination but I guess I always like the smaller beaches.

Finally, what has been your best memory so far as a Surf Life Saving?

I have this vivid memory of being at a Nipper carnival very early on just after I had joined the club. Everyone pitched in including people you never really saw and despite the early morning start it was an absolutely fantastic day.

At the end of the event we all went back into the club to celebrate and there were a lot of faces I didn’t recognise but everyone was just happy being together.

The mateship and attitude on that day was something I haven’t forgotten and it was very special to see that firsthand.


Tuesday 31 October 2017