I have found myself asking this question a lot lately.
It came to a head earlier this season when I was watching a televised broadcast of the Iron Man series when something odd was said which caught me by surprise.
In the closing stages of an Iron Man race; 1st and 2nd was decided in an exciting last gasp dash for the finish line when the commentator exclaimed “now that is what Surf Life Saving is all about..” and every one just wholeheartedly agreed without qualification.
They interviewed the winner as they quickly covered him in sponsors gear and they said this again like it was a long accepted truth.
Now don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed watching the race, but I immediately thought to myself; “NO, it’s not ALL about that at all”.
Not to me anyway, and quite possibly not to the vast and largely silent majority of club members too I suspect.
Again, this refreshed a niggling question that has been dogging me for some time;
Is Surf Life Saving losing sight of what it was originally all about and becoming too commercial?
First thing that is clear is that the Competitors are not the beneficiaries. They are still largely funded by their families and fellow club members even up to the elite level.
Each year, I hear about record numbers of patrol members being trained, and massive amounts of money being raised but life on surf patrol is largely unchanged from when I started.
We are still running the same annual money drives to fund club activities and most years we have no new patrol members so where do all the people we train go?
I know there is a lot of regard for our community service and various programs recognise time at the surf club like Duke of Edinburgh and those schools affiliated with surf clubs realise what we are about.
The question is do we retain these members after the requirements of the Duke of Edinburgh or School sports are over?
I would like to see us return to a more balanced view of our surf life saving core principles.
Where SLS Medallions are equally important as SLS Medals? Both come in Bronze, Silverand on to Gold, but the Medals are handed out for 1st, 2nd & 3rd at every event in every competition while medallions can only be earned once and define you are a Surf Life Saver.
It surprises me that this aspect is not promoted as an aspirational challenge for everyone to do more by SLS administration.
As part of the surf lifesaving community, each individual makes a commitment to actively encourage behaviours that promote a supportive and nurturing environment and contribute to our core purpose: “To save lives, create great Australians and build better communities”.
Now this appears to be right on the money for what we do.
The SLSA website looks great but wow is there a lot to digest.
Originally I joined the surf club because it was family oriented, now I realise I am part of something much bigger. It is the local rather than the global perspective that gets volunteers coming to a club.
On Monday 6th May 2013, Four Corners aired a story about Surf Life Saving that was highly critical of the SLS administration.
This was understandably met with quite passionate responses (and I was no exception) both for and against its claims as some of the footage in 1996, 2010 & 2011 was upsetting to say the least.
Criticism, no matter how well supported, at a volunteer organisation like Surf Life Saving will struggle to find footing.
None the less we need to hear it, as we improve by overcoming our challenges much more than our successes.
I think clubs are struggling to reconcile the mixed messages that are being delivered from the top to us as members.
We are too slowly realising that with increased governmental regulation, we are now viewed not as ‘volunteers’ but as ‘quasi employees’ working for a global brand.
Now nothing I have said above is intended to criticise anyone I know in Surf Life Saving be it my club, branch, state or national level.
In fact all the contact I have had thus far with all these levels has been great. Remember you can disagree with people on various issues but still maintain respect for them based on shared community values.
However something changed a few years back and I am putting this out there so we can begin to mend the balance.