IN THEIR HANDS
By ANN-MARIE MAY
WHILE many Coffs Coast residents will today be recovering from a heavy night of celebrations, a group of dedicated volunteers will brave the hangover's worst enemy ? the glare of the sun ? to help make 2007 start incident-free.
Mark Napier is among this group and, dressed in the signature yellow and red, he will take his place on Sawtell Beach for an afternoon shift of patrolling.
To him, spending New Year's Day working is like any other day, part of his duties as a member of the Sawtell Life Saving Club and was just how the 'roster worked out'.
Mr Napier doesn't seek glory for his part in keeping our beaches safe, what he calls 'just doing his job'.
But today he and his fellow volunteer surf lifesavers across the Coffs Coast, and Australia-wide, will be asked to take a well-earned bow as Australia dives into the Year of the Surf Lifesaver and celebrates 100 years of the surf lifesaving movement.
This is the first time that a community-based organisation has received such an honour, and Mr Nappier believes it couldn't be more deserved.
"Surf lifesavers have become kind of an Australian icon, and it is great to give recognition to these volunteers who give up their time so that others can safely enjoy our beaches," he said.
"Thankfully in the three or four years that I have been a member of the club I haven't had anything too serious ? no saving lives ? mostly pulling kids out of rips, but I know others who have saved lives."
In the past 100 years, 520,000 people have been rescued by surf lifesavers, with many more being warned of potential dangers before they get into trouble.
Surf Life Saving began in Sydney in 1907 when bands of volunteers formed the first surf clubs in response to a spate of drownings, providing a safe environment to begin 'surf bathing'.
The Surf Bathing Association of NSW, the organisation now known as Surf Life Saving Australia, was formed by a number of these surf clubs on October 18, 1907.
Since then, the movement has grown to now consist of 305 clubs and 112,000 members, 37,400 who actively patrol the country's beaches and 38,000 who are 'nippers' (or junior surf lifesavers).