Mid North Coast surf lifesaving stalwart ‘Chalkie’ Bob Smith OAM clearly remembers “the good old days” when 'R&R’ teams from Bonny Hills were the best on the coast.
Would-be surf lifesaving bronze medallion holders were required to show proficiency in R&R or rescue and resuscitation drills as part of their basic training.
While no longer an assessment task, R&R in its competitive format has continued at surf carnivals throughout Australia, and is one of the few events to have been run at every Australian Surf Championship ever held.
The event harks back to a time when the belt and reel were front and centre of every active patrol.
Participation in traditional surf lifesaving events has seen a resurgence at the Wauchope-Bonny Hills Surf Lifesaving Club, where Chalkie Bob is a Life Member, Life Governor and a local legend.
There is not much the former Wauchope High School PE teacher doesn’t know about the finer points of surf lifesaving competition. At various times he has acted as official and unofficial club coach, mentor to three highly skilled and motivated children of his own, each of whom has a cupboard full of surf lifesaving medals.
This year marks 50 years since the 76-year-old first became an accredited surf lifesaving official.
Incredibly, he and wife Lyn have missed only two State or Australian (or ‘Aussie’) championships between them in the last 30 years, packing their car and/or hooking up the caravan every summer to make the long road trip to competition Western Australia, South Australia, Queensland and New South Wales.
“Bob is an expert R&R and march-past judge and has been an active and respected official at surf lifesaving events for as long as I can remember,” said former branch registrar and 50-year surf lifesaving veteran, Bruce Caldwell.
“It’s incredible what he has done and contributed to surf lifesaving, and what he knows about competition is beyond comparison.”
A fierce competitor (and gold medal winner) himself, Chalkie Bob has coached or competed in surf lifesaving competition continuously at Bonny Hills since he arrived in 1961.
Highlights of his own competitive career include his World Championship silver medal in the flags event, the numerous masters triumphs he shared with great mates ‘Beaurepaire’ Bob Smith and George Fowler, and the christening of the surf boat named in his honour at the Australian championships in 1972.
“The club has fielded many terrific competitors over the years, and we’ve enjoyed some great successes, particularly in R&R,” Chalkie Bob said proudly.
The 1960s saw the commencement of a golden R&R era for the club.
R&R was the ‘blue ribbon’ event at every carnival, and our club dominated local competition from 1961 to 1970, then again from 1980 to 1987.
In a feat unlikely to ever be matched again, the club won all six R&R events at the Country Championships at Evans Head in 1986.
In recent times Smith’s passion for surf sports has rubbed off on the club’s current Nipper members.
At the 2013 NSW Surf Lifesaving Championships young Sarah Stewart and Ella Handley surprised the more favoured Sydney teams by taking the silver medal in the junior R&R final.
In February this year, the club created history with a clean sweep of the U10-U13 Mixed 2 Person R&R event at the NSW Country Championships. Their three all-girl teams brought home the gold, silver and bronze medals.
“Those kids were excellent on the day and trained so well in the lead up,” Chalkie Bob said.
“It’s great to see these girls continuing the club’s proud tradition and there is no reason why they can’t go on to further successes.”
According to the mother of one of the gold medal-winning pair, the girls take the event very seriously.
“It requires a lot of discipline and focus on technique, and that means time spent training,” said Alicia Bales.
“It’s not an event where you can hope for a ‘good wave’ to improve your chances!
“We have a huge amount of respect for Chalkie and his guidance.
“His dedication to not one, but three club R&R teams is extraordinary,” she said.