Avalon Beach Surf Life Saving Club was formed in 1925 following the subdivision of Avalon in the 1920’s and the increase in the popularity of ocean bathing in the area. AJ Small (the ‘Father’ of Avalon Beach) called a group of young men together at his home, “Avalon” in Bellevue Avenue to establish a Surf Life Saving service for Avalon Beach. As the Club’s first patron, AJ Small and the first Bronze Medallion squad members, Geoff Small, Vincent Fox, Cecil Holmes, Harold Metcalf and Bert Paddon, who passed their examination on 31 January 1926, became the first Active Members of Avalon Beach SLSC.
Without a Club House, they kept the flags and rescue reel in a shed located where the Shell Service Station exists today. There were no records kept of patrols and by the summer of 1929 it would seem that all that existed was a reel in a box fixed on top of a post half way down the beach and in poor condition. The local Council offered to construct a small shed and provide a reel, line and belt provided it was frequently inspected by local residents.
In the late 1920’s, locals Dick Wilson and his brother Barry canvassed the locals and “weekend locals” to get the ball rolling to reignite the Club membership, however it wasn’t until 1935 that the next successful Bronze Medallion squad was formed.
Enlistment demands during WW2 left the beach again under-patrolled. However, boys from Woolloomooloo and the Leichhardt Police Boys’ Clubs took over, receiving intensive training in the reel, line and belt drills.
The Club’s oldest surviving Annual Report is from the 1945-1946 season and is titled the “Fourteenth Annual Report” which has caused some confusion as to the Club’s early origins. The Thirty Sixth Annual Report produced in 1967-68 clarifies this with the inclusion of a “Summary of Club History”.
The Club has had many famous members of the Surf Life Saving community throughout the years, but is best known for the development and first use of the Inflatable Rescue Boat for surf rescues by Club member Warren Mitchell in the 1960’s. While working alone as a lifeguard on a beach in the UK Warren started to think about faster and more efficient methods of rescues than the surfboards he and fellow Australian lifeguards had brought with them from Australia. On his return to Australia he furthered a germ of an idea he had of possibly using inflatable boats for surf rescues, by approaching Dunlop to arrange for the loan of an inflatable craft and OMC for the loan of a motor. First proposed at an Avalon Beach SLSC Committee meeting in November 1969, and received with much scepticism, Warren persisted with this ambitious project and in the first season of use this prototype IRB performed 11 rescues involving 26 people at Avalon Beach. Warren campaigned the potential of this craft up and down the coast and today the IRB (affectionately known as the rubber duck) forms an essential part of rescue equipment in Surf Life Saving Clubs saving hundreds and thousands of lives around the world. In 1999 Warren received an OAM in recognition of his contribution to surf rescue.
The Club today is family oriented, with a large Nipper program and is proud of its reputation for excellence in training and education. The Club has a number of current State, national and world title holders in surf competition events. The Club currently has around 1100 members.
Information and photos have been provided by the Club’s historian, Geoff Searl. A copy of “Avalon Beach SLSC 75 Years Saving Lives” compiled and written by Geoff is available to purchase ($20). Email [email protected] or visit the Surf Club during office hours or Friday evening and Sunday afternoon when the Bangalley Bar is open to all to enjoy. More information on the history of the Club is available on the Avalon Beach Historical Society webpage.