Summer starts early for Grove Nippers

Keen Nippers trio, from left: Harry Farrer, Joel Bartley and Tully Roberts at the Ocean Grove SLSC Nippers first beach training session on 18 September. Picture: Ocean Grove SLSC

By Mark Heenan

THE summer of surf life saving has arrived early for new Ocean Grove SLSC junior activities manager Gavin Mahoney and incoming surf sport co-ordinator Shane Bird.
Mahoney, the former club surf sport co-ordinator, assumes the top Nippers post from the outgoing Scott McNaughton, while Bird has taken on his new role like a duck to water.
Bird said ‘four winter pool’ sessions at Bellarine Aquatic and Sports Centre in Ocean Grove had commenced prior to club’s first beach training run in mid-September.
“It is evolving the whole time and this is the earliest we have started,” Bird said.
“The big reason behind getting everyone down here on Sunday 18 September before school holidays started was to get those connections started as maybe people haven’t seen each other for six months.
“The idea was to try and get people down for the holidays.”
Mahoney said the fickle ocean conditions gave new club Nippers an ideal introduction to the beach.
“It was an introduction to the beach to get them ready for the beach,” he said.
“It is different swimming in the pool … what happens at the beach is there are tides and changes of sand and rips.
“It got them back on their board and helped with their techniques on the beach.”
Up to 60 enthusiastic club Nippers ranging from under-8s to under-13s got their first official taste of pre-season beach training at Ocean Grove Main Beach on 18 September.
Conditions had everything – it was wet, it rained and it was windy, while the higher tide made the surf challenging for the Nippers.
Bird said it was important to get the ‘right mix’ between fun and competition.
“It is trying to get that balance right,” Bird said.
“You don’t want an environment that is just about fun – because you do drop away the higher end kids.
“Or if it is just intense you drop away the lower end – our role is to find that balance.”
Last season saw a dramatic increase in Ocean Grove SLSC Nippers participation rates with up to 100 youngsters taking part in beach training each Sunday in summer.
During the peak holiday period junior numbers swelled to hundreds with the club’s busy Surf Ed program.
Ocean Grove SLSC finished equal second overall on points at the 2016 Victorian Lifesaving Championships, which included more than 30 clubs competing state-wide.
The club’s Nippers will compete in the first state junior carnival on Sunday 4 December in South Melbourne – a bay carnival event.
Both Mahoney and Bird have children who compete in Nippers at Ocean Grove SLSC.