Plans to re-develop the Bronte surf-life-saving club in Sydney have highlighted the disparity between funding made available for surf life-saving clubs and boardriders clubs in Australia. In addition to funds from local council and the state government, the controversial, huge-scale Bronte re-build (total estimates are well over 10 million) will be bolstered by two million dollars of Federal government funding. It probably helps that Sco’ Mo grew up bodysurfing the Bronte shorey and was hell-bent on helping the local candidate, Dave Sharma, win the seat of Wentworth in a by-election for the Libs a couple of years ago when the funding announcement was made.   

A visual projection of the massive scale Surf Club proposed to be built at Bronte.

Political machinations aside, while the Bronte clubbies are fervently slapping their sluggoes over the erection (pardon the pun) of their new multi-million dollar surf club, the Bronte boardriders club is looking for a new location to host its club rounds. The ostentatious surf club re-build will consume the hallowed ground, know as The Cubes, where local boardriders hang-out on a daily basis and also operate their monthly, club contests. As far as many councils are concerned, surfers are the last interest group considered in their decision making.

Scott Morrison and Dave Sharma, back in 2018, announcing a two million dollar Federal Government, funding boost for a Bronte surf club rebuild.

While this may be a local issue, it highlights the fact that government funding for surf clubs is astronomical in relation to the more-or-less non-existent money available for boardriders clubs. There are over 200 Boardriders clubs in Australia and more than 20 000 members involved. 

In 2018 the federal government made a $36.9 million dollar commitment to the Surf Life Saving Movement. It also reaches out and makes one-off payments to specific clubs. For example, Bronte surf club, as mentioned, is set to receive a two million dollar tip from the Federal government, while in 2018 Bondi surf club received a lazy, half a million for a new gear shed. This came after the North Bondi urf club’s own multi-million dollar redevelopment. Over on the Northern Beaches of Sydney, two million in government funding was recently assigned to refurbish clubs at Mona Vale, Long Reef and Newport. Can you imagine that kind of money being given to the Boadriders clubs on the Northern Beaches? A stretch of coast that has produced more surfing world champions than anywhere in the world. 

Now, I’m not dismissing the valuable role surf life-saving clubs perform by keeping our beaches safe and also introducing young people to the ocean via their Nippers program. Many surfers (including me) learned their basic Ocean skills in the Nippers system. However, while surf clubs operate under the guise of performing an important social role they are, as much as anything else, a place for people to hang out, form social networks, and play with expensive aquatic toys. Their role as community hubs is as important as the part they play in keeping beaches safe. The point is they receive a lot of money on several levels to be social clubs, which also happen to provide a community service.

Surf club representatives are always eager to emphasize the importance of the role they play in saving lives but in truth, the task of making rescues is, at many beaches, the responsibility of professional lifeguards. A dubious system of counting a ‘whistle blow’ as akin to a life-saving action also allows the surf clubs to inflate the number of rescues they actually make. Meanwhile, the thousands of rescues made by surfers every year generally go unreported or unrewarded. It’s just something surfers do because they are out in the water and often have no choice but to play lifesaver. Almost all surfers have a story about being involved in a critical situation where there was no one else on the scene to help out.          

While they certainly get involved in the odd rescue, many surfers drift away from the regimented and jocular surf-club scene and answer the call of the ocean in a different way. Ultimately, many wind up joining boardriders clubs, which provide them with an invaluable sense of community and belonging, in the same way that surf clubs service their members.

The boardriders club has other side-benefits. Members often find work through their friends in the club and they have always provided talented surfers with a springboard to the more elite-level competition. Many would argue that a strong, grassroots boardriders culture has been a major factor in Australia’s historical dominance of professional surfing.

Much of the surf club funding is spent on expensive equipment, which enables their members to compete at events. Meanwhile, boardriders clubs generally have to pass the hat around if they want to help a local prodigy cover the significant costs associated with the professional circuit.

Mental health issues are more openly spoken about in modern times. Everyone knows a surfer who has been affected. A boardriders club helps to ensure fewer people make the descent into the darkness without somebody noticing. Hopefully, they help prevent problems emerging in the first place.                    

At a basic level, boardriders clubs require funds for equipment, judges (this adds a level of professionalism and eliminates the points for mates problem), computerized scoring platforms like LiveHeats, and trailers for storage. Anyone who has been involved with a boardriders club is aware that there is a lot of work involved with running monthly events, keeping members updated, and travelling to teams competitions. Most clubs require at least one paid role to ensure contests run smoothly and the admin’ is kept up to date.

Generally, boardriders clubs do a good job of hustling for sponsors, but access to some government funding – at any level – would definitely bolster a boardriders movement that is an important part of the fabric of Australian life.