Nippers is a surf life saving club activity run for kids.  Lily’s participation in this was not even up for debate living across the road from the beach.  Having an uncle who is a life save and a Dad whose ambition this year is to become a ‘surfing dude’ couldn’t mean anything else for Lily but joining nippers – and she knew that.  She didn’t protest too much not because she was so keen on swimming in the open ocean but because she knew her protest would not change anything.  Lily was bound to join the club and the parents decision was final.  On the first Sunday of our stay on the coast we got up very early and had a quick breakfast.  Then we went across the roat to the surfing club to get Lily signed up to nippers.

The sea was a bit choppy that morning but the beach was already getting very busy with the kids, parents and the whole club getting ready for the morning activities.  Lily was holding my hand and we both felt a bit lost for a moment in the growing crowds of nippers.  Then Lily looked at the big waves she was about to conquer, squeezed my hand and quietly asked “Do I really have to do it?”  I looked into her eyes and realised how apprehensive she was to do it. I knew Lily being an adventurous outdoor girl she will quickly come to love it but at this point in time I had a little girl in front of me who just struggled to take the plunge into the big wide ocean.  And in all honesty I could not blame her! Would I have had the courage to do it?  Not in a million years!  And here I was with my little daughter (who by the way is an excellent pool swimmer – much better than I am) trying to find the right words of encouragement.

Flag chase

“Lily, I know it is a bit scary” I said “but I know you can do it!  I know it because you are strong and clever, you are courageous and you had proved it in the past.  Give it 2 months and if you don’t like it we will not continue”

In that simple agreement we went to the club shop to get Lily her Avoca nippers kit.

Dressed in her kozi and bright pink vest she joined her age group on the beach.  The kids were already doing their warm up exercises and were playing the games under the adults supervision.

Nippers open water swim

John and myself look at what was going on at the beach and then looked at each other and we smiled knowing this is the place to be.

The nippers seemed to be professionally run with plenty of trained adults supervising.  The nippers session was run over about 90 minutes and contained a number of activities:

  • Beach sprint.  The first event of the day was a beach sprint over about 50m.  All the kids lined up and when the whistle blew they all raced through the soft sand to the end.  Sounds simple but running in soft sand is actually quite difficult as it gives way everytime you plant your foot and try to spring forward.
  • Flag chase.  In this activity, the kids lay down on their tummies in the sand facing away with their arms folded in front and chins on their folded arms.  Behind them, about 10m away are flags (small bits of garden hose) stuck into the sand.  When the whistle blows, the kids jump up, turn around and then race as fast as they can to try and get one of these flags.  The number of flags is less than the number of kids and so a few get eliminated in each road until there is just two kids and then one winner.
  • Open water swim.  Here the kids swim out and around a buoy and back to beach.  They have to swim out through the rough breaking waves and then back in again.  This was the hardest test for Lily as although she is a god pool swimmer she has never swum in the open ocean before and those crashing waves were quite daunting.  The good thing about nippers is that there are plenty of trained adults available to help out.  Our club vice president (Leslie) volunteered to swim with Lily so that if she got into any trouble at any point she had someone by her side.  There are also racing skis posted around the course keeping a keen eye on the little ones.  Despite the challenges, Lily made it right the way around which I thought was a brilliant achievement.
  • Racing board.  The racing board is like a surfboard but is thicker and has handles on the top.  This is the board they use when they paddle out and rescue swimmers in distress.  To qualify for this activity the kids have had to have completed the open water swim part of the day.  Again, Leslie took Lily to a quiet area of the beach and gave her 1:1 tuition and allowed her to practice this skill in a controlled and safe environment.
Nippers girls racing ski

I must say, the willingness of the people involved in running nippers to make it a good experience for the kids made all the difference.  From a little girl who started the day apprehensive, this approach resulted in a happy little girl whose confidence was improved and had made new friends in her age group.

Nippers boys racing ski

After the beach exercises the time to swim in the open ocean arrived.  Group after group of kids started to take the plunge to swim to the buoy and along the shore and then back to the shore.  The waves were a bit choppy.  Lily’s group was the next in line.  I looked at her face and saw she was very nervous (which 9 years old wouldn’t before their first swim in the ocean).  I knew the she battled the decision whether to do it or give up.  Her group was just starting the run to the sea and Lily took a big deep breath and joined them in the race to conquer the ocean!

Rescue swimmers are always nearby to ensure water safety for the kids

As a first time swimmer she had one of the rescue team swimmers just behind her.  This is one of the many instances where the club (who is run a wonderful way) ensures the safety of its members are an absolute priority.

They a good 50m into the ocean.  Swimming in the sea is a totally different story to what she was used to doing her squads in the pool back in England.  It requires much greater physical stamina and skill as you have to deal with waves and currents.  Lily swam there and back and felt exhausted!  We were extremely proud of her on so many levels: for swimming, strengths but mostly for her not giving up when facing the challenge and the unknown.  This is the quality we truly treasure in her and encourage her to further develop, she has done very well!

Avoca Beach Surf Lifesaving Club

The swim was over and the time to do board training was about to start.  The kids paddle on the racing skis around a course marked out by buoys and on the way back they try to catch waves so that the waves push them all the way into the shore.  It looks like great fun and it is but like with everything handling the board requires the know-how and practice to ‘feel it’ and balance on it.

We thought Lily was too exhausted to give the racing ski a go but she decided to do it. Again the club members were super caring in helping Lily and supervising her in the ocean.  She also made us aware that the club runs mid-week board training (which now Lily is also a part of).

The Sunday nippers is a fantastic start to the day on so many levels!

We were totally overwhelmed by it.  The sea, the sun, the sand, the friendly and professional team of parents, volunteers.  Sausage sizzle, kids getting a healthy dose of exercise in the water and parents socialising.

No need to say Lily loved it too and can’t wait til next Sunday! What a life!

After the training, parents and kids are invited to the club as a way of socialising and making friends.

We couldn’t join in this time as we are still in the middle of organising our life here and had to sort out our car registration and other things.  We are planning to join in next time and no doubt we will write about that too!