SURF LIFE SAVING
Wave warriors creator Zane Holmes says spectators will be watching the next generation of ironmen and ironwomen at a two-day carnival in Wollongong this weekend.
Beginning today, the annual gathering will see some of the best juniors from around the country go head-to-head in an ironman-style format.
Wave Warriors is open to all competitors aged nine to 16 and reinforces the importance of participation, a factor Holmes believes will strengthen the senior ranks in years to come.
"It's something that will be a very long-term proposition, to strengthen up through the senior ranks. But as these kids progress and get older and if they continue on in the sport, it will hopefully give them a taste of things to come and they stick with it," Holmes, a two-time ironman world champion, said.
The Wave Warriors model has come a long way since Holmes hatched the concept over three years ago. This year's event has gained unprecedented support and participation, in what Holmes hopes is a barometer for surf lifesaving's future.
"I came through the nippers system myself and I could see a real gap between the nippers and the elite ranks," Holmes said.
"Even though this event is all about kids having fun and participation, kids want to race and they can be pretty competitive by nature. I wanted to provide that for them and something that's more professional and runs very similarly to the ironman series."
Holmes said a good turnout at this weekend's gathering would vindicate plans to expand the Wave Warriors schedule next year.
For the first time, a Queensland leg was successfully run in October as part of the 2012 event.
"The ultimate goal would be to have one in each state - that would be excellent," Holmes said. "We could culminate that with a national event for everyone to come to. That's something that's on the horizon but it's still very long term.
"We're just trying to focus on each regional event that we've been doing really well, and trying to build it organically from there."
Illawarra residents Emma Meredith, Kimberly Chan and Lachlan Kimberley will be among hundreds of competitors taking part today and tomorrow.
Bondi Rescue stars Anthony "Harries" Carroll and Bruce "Hoppo" Hopkins will attend.