Lined across a gloomy Scarborough beachfront this morning, nine men – all of them aged north of 70 years – held court with their exact age emblazoned on their shoulders like badges of honour.
Their brows wrinkled as much by intent as their adored years by the sea, the group respectfully described as “the gentlemen” of this week’s Australian Surf Life Saving Championships stood at the starter’s ready for their pet swim event. Among them was WA’s oldest competitor Stuart Gray, who will turn 74 on Saturday week.
But soon after the starting gun fired, much of the seriousness turned to mirth among the many watching as four of the competitors headed out into the sea in a direction distinctly foreign to the race’s course.
“Don’t blame them, they’re old and silly,” one wag chirped. “They’re a bit blind, put some bells in the buoys,” another chimed in.
But the competitors all charged on to their floating destinations, oblivious to the sledging and committed to the spirit of competition which abounded on day one of the event featuring more than 5000 combatants.
Despite a slapping surf with a tricky shore break, competition kicked off with boards, skis, rescue tubes and pure physical exertion across an impressive array of surf sport disciplines. A rich camaraderie supported each event through everything from cheers and fist-pumps to hugs and kisses.
While some were there simply for the thrill of competition and even being able to compete, others continued to haul in medal tallies from years of preparing for the event known widely as “The Aussies”. Athletes such as Northcliffe’s Anna Ballara, who snared three gold medals on day one of the event to take her individual career tally of the highest coloured prizes to 50.
“I just like the beach,” Mrs Ballara, a full-time surf life saver at Sea World Nara and former New Zealand representative, said. “But it’s cold, unlike the Gold Coast. Everyone just enjoys meeting up once a year and catching up with friends we’ve competed against for such a long time.”
Mrs Ballara said that having turned 46, her favourite part of The Aussies now was when it was over. She plans to celebrate her success by flying out for a family trip to Thailand’s Khao Lak on Wednesday.
Competition continues until Sunday on Scarborough Beach.