Surf Life Saving clubs from regional NSW have their boards and skis packed and have hit the road to Warilla with the 2024 Oakberry Acai NSW Country Championships ready to run from this Friday and across the weekend, January 26-28, at Warilla-Barrack Point SLSC on the state’s South Coast.

Clubs outside the Newcastle-to-Illawarra corridor will converge on Warilla Beach for the first of a two-year hosting arrangement to compete across a variety of surf sport events.

The Oakberry Acai NSW Country Championships is second only to the NSW Surf Life Saving Championships in size, with around 1,000 competitors, 150 officials and nearly 4,000 spectators expected across the three days of competition.

Oakberry Acai is continuing as Naming Rights partner of the event for a third year, alongside Your local club – which has been a partner of the event since 2014 – in assisting Surf Life Saving NSW to deliver three days of elite and memorable competition.

Surf Life Saving NSW Director and Chair of Surf Sports, Don van Keimpema said it was exciting to return to the South Coast for the first time in nearly a decade.

“The last Country Championships on the South Coast was at Mollymook in 2015, and it’s so great to be bringing one of the biggest surf sports events on our calendar back to the region this year and next,” he said.

“Back then Warilla and Cudgen Headland were second and third on the overall point score, and now all these years later those two clubs will be fighting it out at the top again, I’m sure.

“This event is an important showcase for our regional members to compete, there are so many friendly rivalries between clubs, but the really special thing is that it’s done in such a safe and fun way.

“Last year we saw the labour of many years of work from the team at Warilla bear fruit when they de-throned Cudgen as champions, and now to be able to see them defend that title on their home turf is going to be every exciting.

“Thank you to Warilla-Barrack Point SLSC for hosting, and to the Shellharbour City Council for supporting us to get this event together.”

Indeed, Warilla was able to overturn nearly six years of Cudgen Headland SLSC dominance last time out to win the overall point score, and the club will have its eyes firmly on defending its title on home sand.

“We take a lot of pride in being the defending champions,” Warilla-Barrack Point SLSC Club President, Alan Beveridge said.

“If we’re training hard and working well, the results will come. This is a great opportunity for our athletes to show what they’ve got.

“We have some very good coaches and our team is more than ready, they’re pumped.”

As for Cudgen, the club is bringing an elite team of athletes in pursuit of the crown they lost at Cape Hawke on the Lower North Coast in 2023.

“It always is such an awesome experience and such an honour as well racing for your team and your club,” U15 Aussies Board Champion, Jules Loemker said.

“Country has always been a huge deal for Cudgen surf club, our competitors strive to do the best they can in every race, we always put in our best efforts,” reigning U15 Iron, Surf, Rescue Tube and Beach Sprint Champion, Isabella Tate added.

“To come away with a win in the overall point score again would be huge because our club doesn’t just go down to compete individually, we go down as a team, we prepare as a team, we race as a team, and we will win as a team.”

At Black Head SLSC on the Lower North Coast, the travel is a little further this year but the club is still ready and raring to prove they have what it takes to mix it with the biggest and best regional clubs.

“We’ve been in full training for months, we actually started in winter so we only had two months of off season, but specific to Country build-up, most kids are doing six days a week, a mix of board, swim, runs and squad swimming outside of surf,” Black Head SLSC Team Manager, Ian Marshall said.

“We’re taking 21 kids down and 10 Opens and Masters. Some of the names to look for are Tully Kippax, our strongest U11 competitor, Hayley Duncan and Delilah Marshall are pretty strong as well. Then there’s Ella and Ash Pegrum and Bronte Kippax who are all individually strong but also combine well in the relay.

“It’s a good, strong team that should feature in many finals.”

Slightly further north, at Tacking Point SLSC, Team Manager Candice Dawson said the team is eyeing improved results across the board in 2024.

“We’ve got a few kids looking to back up medals from last year, they’re very pumped and we also have kids that were fourth or just outside the podium last year who are looking to push on and bring home a medal,” she said.

“The majority of our kids are water competitors so the iron and swim are probably where we will be strongest.”

Meanwhile, down south at Narooma SLSC, a small contingent of athletes will be competing in their first Country Championships.

“It’s good to have it closer to home and it’s one of the first Country Championships for many in our squad, a bit more reachable and it should be fun,” Narelle Constable, Narooma SLSC Team Manager said.

“It will be good to be away this weekend and see some of the bigger clubs in action.

“We know so many of the clubs from down here, it will be great to give the kids a bigger, broader base of competition.”

The 2024 Oakberry Acai Country Surf Life Saving Championships will be hosted at Warilla-Barrack Point on the South Coast from 26-28 January. For event information, visit the event page.

Thursday 25 January 2024