Freshwater Surf Life Saving Club

The Freshwater Surf Live Saving Club, established in 1908, is located at Freshwater Beach in Australia. It has become a large volunteer organization with strong community bonds.[1]  The club was founded by a push from government to foster safer beach practices. It is a part of Surf Life Saving Australia, a not-for-profit organization committed to keeping the beach safe for patrons and providing beach rescue services. A visit to the club from United States' surfer, Duke Kahanamoku, in 1914 helped initiate the sport of surfing in Australia.



In the early 20th century, the Australian government began discussing the issue of water and beach safety for citizens. Bondi was the first beach to begin training people to save a drowning person and escort the victim to shore safely. Manly Beach soon followed Bondi's lead and, in 1908, hired the first paid lifeguard in Australia. The Freshwater Surf Club then established a crew of lifeguards—its members made up of local people who camped along the beach. Fred Fritz was one camper and lifeguard and became the first recognized Club Captain in 1908.[1] The Freshwater SLSC was one of the first to be recognized by the Surf Bathing Association—a committee in charge of verifying beach accommodations for dressing, life-saving and safety equipment.[2]

The club and land ownership moved from private to a council lease and officially opened its first clubhouse in 1910.[3]  The focus was on beach safety and the improvement of club facilities—attempts to employ paid permanent lifesavers did not occur until many years later. The first official competition between surf clubs was held in 1911.[4]

The naming of the club

In 1923 it was proposed that the name of the association be changed to Harbord. This was enacted by a council decision. Although this motion passed, the local members of the SLCL were fond of the name "Freshwater", and so "Freshwater SLSC" persisted. This caused problems over the coming years in the relationship between council and the SLSC, which resulted in a lack of funding from the council. The SLSC held many fundraisers to raise funds for the club and were put under heavy supervision from the council.

Competition grew from the conception of the club. From 1920, surf carnivals became a common practice. Freshwater Surf Club member, Rainsford Matheson, won the first ever surfboat race. During this time Freshwater considering itself as one of the "strongest surf clubs in existence". Through the next century Freshwater Surf Club has gone on to win a range of titles, developed many Olympic representatives as part of the club, and participated in many overseas competitions and tours.[4]

The Surf Club

After its initial construction in 1910 the club was renovated numerous times, including the addition of an extension, electricity and a phone line. However, it was proposed in 1930 that a new clubhouse was needed as the original was outdated. The process of planning and building a new clubhouse occurred over the next five years. It was a long process to ensure funds and approval. The clubhouse was built on the beach which later raised concerns over integrity of the structure due to flooding.

In the 1960s there needed to be improvements to the clubhouse that required an extension due to the influx of younger members. The club required a bunkroom and ski shed. These plans were approved.

In 1974 a storm hit that caused beach erosion along the coast of Australia. The Surf Club was nearly swept away as water splashed up against the club's wall. Dune restorations and tree planting commenced shortly after this event as the importance of the beaches' natural landscape was realised.

After 15 years of advocacy, a new clubhouse was built in 1987 and opened in 1988. The former building was heritage listed and restored. Trees were also planted around the area in an attempt to restore the natural environment.


Membership and participation in the Freshwater SLSC declined in the 1960s. The commencement of a group targeting membership of boys age 5–13 in 1965 helped to revive the club. The group was called The Nippers and events were developed over the next decades. The group included 134 boys by the mid-1970s and girls were invited to join in the 1980s. By 2003, the Nippers had over 500 registrants at Freshwater.[4]


A visit from Duke Kahanamoku (US Olympian and surfer) in 1914 helped contribute to the rise in popularity of surfing. Many riders copied his style of wooden board and, in 1952, Duke donated one of his boards to the Freshwater SLSC, where it remains a vital part of Australian surfing history.[5]

Surf craft became established in the 1930s in Freshwater as people such as Don Henderson became proficient in board paddling. He would go on to come third in the national titles. Another member of the club, Don Jackman, was the first person in the world to be photographed catching a wave over a bombora.


World War One:

Many members of the Freshwater SLSC volunteered for the war effort. 79 members participated, with 11 losing their lives. This changed the makeup of members and morale of the club, adding a sombre feel to the association.

World War Two:

187 club members participated in World War Two, with 12 losing their lives.

Although many young men were absent from patrol, numbers were consistent and unfailing due to older members acting as reserves and the recruitment of younger boys. The beach became a "battle station" full of "tank traps and barbed wire".[6]


Women were appointed as beach inspectors in 1918 at Freshwater SLSC, unlike other clubs that banned female participation entirely. Along with the introduction of the Nippers in 1965, the feminist movement helped redefine the club in the 1960s.[7] The notion that women were inferior was a popular viewpoint prior to the movement and SLSA president, Adrian Curlewis, was reported as saying that woman's role in surf livesaving was "making tea and raising funds".[7] In the mid-seventies, women were allowed partial access to club activities and in 1980 were granted full access. Events were established in the Australian championships in the mid-eighties. Prior to that, Joanne Venis was a notable Freshwater member who competed in open and male events and was successful at winning multiple events. The first Freshwater female boat crew was formed in 1999.[4]

Advancements in the rescue technique

  • 1907- Reel Line Belt system was introduced
  • 1961- CPR introduced– this technique saved a young boy on Freshwater beach after nearly drowning in the water
  • 1967- The "Jack Wilson" jet ski begins to be used by Freshwater and two other beaches; successfully rescuing many people
  • 1980s- Professional Lifeguards are introduced at Freshwater
  • 1980s- Reel Line Belt method replaced with rescue tubs and surf rescue boards [4]

Notable moments

  • 1950- Meryn Fletcher, member of Freshwater SLSC died in a competition at Dee Why Beach after his line was caught seaweed.
  • 1958- Freshwater SLCL celebrated its 50th anniversary
  • 1973- Freshwater won the Australian national championship
  • 1974- Freshwater started to participate in overseas events
  • 1980s- Darren Bogg- Local Freshwater member wins Australian surf racing titles as cadet, junior and senior. He also was the only Freshwater member to win the open surf race title.


  • Freshwater beach club holds an annual Australia day carnival, the largest in Australia.
  • The Barney Mullins Swim Classic is an annual swim-a-thon
  • The Christmas Day swim, a relaxed swim race
  • Sunday morning surf races[4]

Current members

Title Name
President/Chairperson Alan Burns
Executive Officer Wayne Freakley
Treasurer Chris Tyrrell
Club Captain/Director of Lifesaving Deandra Godoy
Chief Instructor/Director of Education Jackie Phillips
Director Sport Kevin Crow
Director Building & Facilities Phil Fagan
Director Sponsorship & Marketing Mary-Louise Parkinson
Junior Activities Chairperson Paul McGettigan
Director Member Services Claire DePaoli
Youth Development Officer Clare Freakley
Youth Development Officer Tom Duffy[7]


Freshwater Surf Club has multiple function rooms that can be hired out for special events. Proceeds go to the club.[8]

Freshwater Surf Club leases out a section of the club to Saltbush café. The owners of the business are Martin A and Chris Cooper. They provide catering services as well as being the closet café to Freshwater beach.


  1. "Freshwater Surf Club". 1909.
  2. "State Archives and Records". NSW Government. 31 January 2019. Archived from the original on 1 February 2019.
  3. "Our History". Freshwater Surf Live Saving Club. 31 January 2019. Archived from the original on 1 February 2019.
  4. Curby, Paulin (2007). Freshie : Freshwater Surf Life Saving Club 100 year history. University of New South Wales Press. ISBN 9780868409986. OCLC 225309201.
  5. Brennan, Joseph L. (1994). Duke : the life story of Hawaiʻi's Duke Kahanamoku. Ku Paʻa Publishing. ISBN 0914916963. OCLC 32592396.
  6. "Freshwater SLSC continues to keep the beach safe". 1944.
  7. "Administration | About Our Club | Freshwater Surf Life Saving Club". Archived from the original on 28 November 2018. Retrieved 28 November 2018.
  8. "About our Functions | Function Rooms | Freshwater Surf Life Saving Club". Archived from the original on 28 November 2018. Retrieved 28 November 2018.
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