By Ger McCarthy
CORK Surf Life Saving was honoured at last week’s County Mayor Sports Awards at the County Hall following yet another stellar year for the increasingly popular club.
Founded on Inchydoney beach near Clonakilty by Billy Horgan back in 2006, a club that teaches every member vital life saving techniques has grown from strength to strength over the past decade, culminating in multiple national, European and world titles.
Affiliated to Irish Water Safety and currently catering for over 300 ‘Nippers’ (age 8-14), Juniors (age 14-18), Seniors (age 16+) and Masters (age 30+), Cork Surf Life Saving’s motto ‘Every person a swimmer, every person a Life Saver’ neatly surmises what the club is all about.
Backboned by a dedicated band of volunteer coaches and led by the inspirational Justin and Alice Crowley (Clonakilty), the past three years has seen Cork Surf Life Saving become All Ireland Still Water (pool) and Open Water (beach) Master and Nipper champions. The club has also produced seven Irish international athletes who have represented their country at various world championships in Italy, Egypt, France and the Netherlands.
To underline the club’s importance, half of Cork County Council’s Beach Guards came through Cork Surf Life Saving’s Nipper and Junior Programmes in 2016.
It is against the backdrop of those spectacular statistics and 2016 world championship success that Cork Surf Life Saving was honoured by the Mayor of County Cork, Councillor Seamus McGrath, at a reception in the County Hall last week.
‘Cork Surf Lifesaving was recognised for our success at the world championships last September,’ explained club member Anne Beechinor.
‘We competed in both the still water and open events at those championships which were held in the Netherlands. The club came home with a huge haul of gold, silver and bronze medals in both the masters and junior categories.
‘The club has just returned from competing at the annual National Life Saving Championships where our masters retained our national title at the University of Limerick. And to put that into context, there were 327 competitors in the 50-metre national swimming pool at UL that weekend.
‘Our motto is every person a swimmer, every swimmer a lifesaver. So what I love most about this club is that it took me, at my stage of life, to where I needed to be and I hope to continue progressing.’
‘We have over 100 children training every Saturday morning on Inchydoney beach (Clonakilty) throughout the summer months,’ club member Bridget Lehane stated.
‘The younger members (Nippers) have regularly competed at Munster and national level since we were first setup and gone on to All-Ireland success. From a masters point of view, we have up to 40 members training with us during the summer. Fifteen travelled to compete at the recent world championships and our seniors (18-30 years of age) have proven equally strong competitors.
‘Nathan Holding has just made the Irish junior squad, underlining the terrific work being done at youth and senior level in recent years.’
Lifesaving is described as an utterly purposeful sport as it aims to encourage rescuers (pool and ocean lifeguards) to maintain, develop and improve the physical and mental skills needed to save lives in an aquatic environment.
Yet, speaking to various members the ‘fun’ element of Cork Surf Life Saving is one of its biggest attractions and selling points. Yes, you train hard, can end up competing against some of the best in the world at various disciplines and learn vital lifesaving skills but the laughter that rings out across Inchydoney Beach every Saturday morning is what cements the club’s status as a family-friendly organisation worth joining.
‘The first thing to say about Cork Surf Life Saving is that it is great fun,’ club member Tom O’Herlihy commented.
‘Every Saturday morning of the summer sees huge numbers descend on Inchydoney beach for training. It is a great excuse to stay at the beach all day if the weather stays good. Everyone learns how to swim, the safety issues around being on a beach, when it’s safe to go in the water and about rips and currents as well.
‘Even if the weather is bad and we cannot go in the water then we simply switch the training to the main beach itself and enjoy an hour and a half of running, rescuing and improving our members’ fitness levels.
‘People tend to bring their kids along for the Nippers sessions but end up travelling with us to various competitions and becoming fully-fledged members before they know it!’
‘I joined Cork Surf Life Saving to celebrate my 50th birthday and it is one of the best decisions I ever made,’ noted Anne Beechinor.
‘It is the only team sport I have ever taken part in. I’ve loved swimming all my life, grew up near Inchydoney and completed various water safety courses over previous summers, something I’d highly recommend to any parent to get their children involved in.
‘Justin and Alice Crowley plus Billy Horgan have been involved since day one and deserve huge praise for the time, dedication and effort they have put in to helping establish the club to the point where it is now competing and winning medals at international events.’
‘Registration for new club members usually occurs shortly after the June bank holiday weekend and we would encourage anyone interested to make contact with the club,’ noted Bridget Lehane.
‘From there, we coach the children and juniors every Saturday morning from 10am to 11.30am. Masters and junior competition entrants train on Tuesday nights from 6.30pm to 7.30pm. We ended up organising extra Sunday morning sessions last year; such was the demand and level of interest. We periodically run early morning still-water training at the Quality Hotel in Clonakilty.’
So, on a star-studded evening at the County Hall, Cork Surf Life Saving club took its rightful place amongst a galaxy of award winners following their achievements over the previous 12 months. It is clear a bright future awaits this progressive club.