Clubs breed superstars

Mick Fanning, of Australia, hits the lip during the Hurley US Open of Surfing in Huntington Beach, California. Picture: GETTY IMAGES
Mick Fanning, of Australia, hits the lip during the Hurley US Open of Surfing in Huntington Beach, California. Picture: GETTY IMAGES

WHEN it comes to loving a surf, Australia is far from the only country where crowds of people head to the waves every weekend.

Why then are so many Australians past and present competing and winning at the sport's elite world championship level?

The answer lies in our country's unique history of club-based competitive surfing, the breeding ground of superstars such as Mick Fanning, Joel Parkinson and Stephanie Gilmore.

On Thursday the format for this year's Boardriders Battle was announced.

The annual competition pits 100 surf-riding clubs from across the country against each other, giving surfers of all ages the chance to participate regularly in competitive heats.

Offering $120,000 in prizemoney, the Boardriders Battle features eight state qualifying rounds before a two-day national final for the best 20 clubs in the country is held at Cronulla Beach over the Australia Day long weekend in January.

The 1978 world champion Wayne "Rabbit" Bartholomew is the coach of the defending champion Snapper Rocks Surfriding Club, the home of five-time women's world champion Gilmore and 2012 men's world champion Parkinson.

Bartholomew says there's no doubt Australia's competitive club environment is the reason so many surfers from these shores go on to dominate their competitors internationally.

"These days kids are joining at five, by the time they're 16 they've surfed hundreds of heats, they've surfed in all kinds of conditions and they've developed," he said.

"The mateship and mentoring process . . . the trips away. They get used to travelling.

"I really do think it gives them an edge. [American] Kelly Slater is the greatest surfer of all time but Australians have made the highest ratio at the world championship level for decades, plus we've developed world champions.

"It's that depth you can attribute to club surfing."

As an Association of Surfing Professionals sanctioned event, the Boardriders Battle allows some of the biggest names in the sport to compete alongside local up-and-comers.

Surfing Australia chief executive Andrew Stark believes it's another strength of club surfing in Australia to allow relative unknowns to compete against global superstars.

"Those surfers love it. Joel, Steph, Mick and all the world tour superstars love the ability to put on a competition jersey which represents their club," Stark said.

"I heard a story where a club member from Victoria lined up against Joel Parkinson who was this kid's idol . . . Joel beat him in the heat but they were coming up at the end and the crowd was running up to ask for autographs, it was really a special moment for that young kid which will live with him forever.

"There's stories like that throughout Australia."

This year's competition begins with the opening event in Tasmania on October 4 and runs throughout the summer.


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