There is a strange phenomena that occurs throughout Australian adolescence which is perpetrated by none-other than their so-called “loving” parents. The tradition goes as follows: at 7 am on a Sunday morning the parents-in-question emerge from a red-wine hangover and wake up their gently slumbering progeny, force a super-speed breakfast, then hurtle them down to the local beach where they will be made to sprint, do push-ups, fake a drowning and save each other’s lives – and the sun has only begun to rise.
The Australian Surf Life-Saving program is – in theory – a fun way to keep kids active while teaching them vital life lessons. It also gives the parents an opportunity to network and socialize with other communities from their neighbourhood. In reality, it’s a gigantic pain in the arse. Here is my experience…
Growing up along the coast was sometimes a bit of a struggle for yours truly: I was a chubby, English kid who said things in a funny accent – an accent so funny that I was made to repeat myself whenever I mentioned ‘yoghurt’, ‘vitamins’, or ‘dancing’. I still don’t understand why my parents ever decided that signing me up to Surf Life-Saving was an ingenious idea: surely I could learn how to not-drown and be bored at the local swimming pool? Apparently not. As I mentioned earlier, my parents and I had to wake up at un-godly hours on a Sunday morning to hurry down to Mullaloo beach before all the parking spots where taken, which they normally were by 7.10 am. I had to squeeze my awkward, pre-pubescent figure into a humiliating bathing suit, while sticking a spandex-tight cap over my gigantic forehead. Because of my unusual tallness for my age and abundance of baby fat, (I’ve had breasts since I was, like, 9) I would innocently strut about the beach getting seedy looks from old, leathered men.
The day would begin with me being thrust into groups with sporty, superior Aussie kids who outright ignored my general presence, (bloody show-offs), while my parents stood in the shivering cold having forced conversation with the overly-enthusiastic, freckled-skinned adults. My dad would often slyly knick-off for a while to have a smoke, so my mum was forced to have surface-level chats with another mum who would list off the various accomplishments of her over-achieving children. I imagine it went something like this:
“Yeah, so, Jackson, Braydon and Ashton have all got their Bronze-Medallions, so they’re pretty much qualified to run the show, ya know? Then Tara, Storm and little Shelley are doin’ real good jobs so far so I reckon they’ll be followin’ in their brother’s footsteps, ya know?”
“How’s Cass goin’?”
“Oh Cassie is doing fine. The other day she managed to sneak an entire packet of Mars Bars from the kitchen and ate them all under her desk.”
Once we were split into groups and factions depending on age and what I’m convinced was prejudice against the “fat one”, we were made to jog up the beach, up a sand-dune, back down the beach, then swim about 100 metres out into the ocean. This was always terrifying for me as I had an allergic reaction to waves and the blue, spidery creatures that lingered in its nests. It was during these times in my childhood that I would learn of the classic Aussie motto for life: “Have a go!” These 3 words boil down to simple components of encouragement, embracing new opportunities and conquering your basic fears, however, when a small girl is quivering and crying over the fear of getting sucked into the expansive blue of the ocean, maybe we should let her be? I was to come across this tedious encouragement over and over again in school when I was forced to hold a poisonous snake or climb up a mountain or abseil into a cave or anything that wasn’t being alone in my room learning the dance routines of Britney Spears’ videos reading.
Eventually I would be coaxed into the water with a caring adult, where I would immediately get dumped by a gigantic wave and emerge a few seconds later with buckets of sand in my bathers, snot pouring out of my nose and my skin chicken-poxed with the stings from jellyfish. What marvellous fun!
Then there was the game called ‘Flags’. Any person who has ever been forced to play this game has probably just shuddered a little. ‘Flags’ begins with a row of, say, 10 kids lying face down in a line with their chins resting on their hands. After a suspense-period of around a minute, a starting gun would be shot and the kids would have to jump up and race for pieces of hose sticking out of the ground 100 metres away, to which there were 9 for the 10 kids. Whoever missed out was eliminated. I’ll give myself a small amount of credit here for genuinely trying the first couple of times – I tend to get super competitive even though I’m pretty much useless at everything – but my feeble legs simply couldn’t run fast enough, although I’m sure some kids actually let me win a couple of rounds which is another characteristic of an Aussie childhood – everyone deserves “a go”. It’s a nice thought but somewhat futile seeing as I saw what I was doing as a banal torture.
After a full summer of early Sunday mornings, forced enthusiasm and a dash of trauma, I finally graduated to green caps division for the under 12s, this meant getting a 3-metre foam surfboard which was inevitably going to live in the shed as a crooked home for spiders and cockroaches. When the next summer began I was finally confident with the ocean: I would happily ride the waves to shore or dive under the bigger ones with poise and ease, and I was even contemplating surfing lessons. However, my parents pulled me out that summer after a mere couple of weeks when there were a few shark sightings and a couple of attacks. Apparently mum wasn’t willing to compromise my life over the opportunity to “have a go!”
I had always wanted to grow up and become like the older girls at the surf club; they were tall, tanned, fit and beautiful. They were fearless and ran into the ocean cutting the waves with their powerful yet elegant legs and diving through the deep abyss with confidence and ease. Well, I’m sorry childhood-self, but that’s not who you are today, although you aren’t that scared of waves anymore. Okay…maybe a little. I still like to call myself a bit of a beach bum though, despite the fact that when it’s warm enough for beach-weather, I lie on the sand slowly roasting while reading a magazine. So, I’m still a little awkward, I still opt for “yoghurt” over “yoiiighurt” and I still recoil around rough oceans, but I can honestly say that if it weren’t for my Aussie peers encouraging me to push myself, I wouldn’t have grown into the confident, fearless person I am today, and to that I say bloody-fair-dinkum-gumnut-emu-wallaby-streuth-n-farkin’ THANKS!