Lifeguard of the Year accolade for Stanwell Park paddler

Wollongong City Council lifeguard Chanan Clark has been awarded lifeguard of the year. Picture: ANDY ZAKELI

Wollongong City Council lifeguard Chanan Clark has been awarded lifeguard of the year. Picture: ANDY ZAKELI

As Chanan Clark paddled a kayak with a broken rudder in five-metre waves and 60km/h southerly winds off Sydney Heads, the last thought on his mind was winning an award.

The Stanwell Park lifeguard still had roughly 1000 kilometres ahead of him, having begun an epic paddle the previous day from Bellambi to Noosa in Queensland - all to raise awareness of the skills professional lifeguards possess.

On Thursday, almost a year after he completed the paddle, Mr Clark was awarded Australian Lifeguard of the Year, beating heavyweights such as the team from Bondi Rescue and lifeguards from the Gold Coast.

"I was pretty stunned - I've done a few things throughout the year that were a bit out of the ordinary," the Wollongong City Council lifeguard said.

Mr Clark said he had been inspired to complete the paddle after a member of the public told him to "get a real job".

"The community is quite naive to what professional lifeguards do," he said. "I wanted to show off the skills."

The paddle was far from easy. At one point, Mr Clark was pulled 13km out to sea in a fog off Forster.

"I thought, all I've got to do is go forwards ... [but] I'd be gently pushed out. Every metre I went forward I was swept three metres to the side," he said.

Wollongong City Council lifeguard Chanan Clark has been awarded lifeguard of the year. Picture: ANDY ZAKELI

Wollongong City Council lifeguard Chanan Clark has been awarded lifeguard of the year. Picture: ANDY ZAKELI

Paddling to Queensland wasn't enough for Mr Clark. In December 2013, he swam 26 kilometres from Stanwell Park to Wollongong.

It was meant to be a relay, but when someone suggested Mr Clark swim half the distance, he decided to "do the whole thing".

He was also one of the lifeguards on duty in January 2011 when 47 people needed to be rescued at Stanwell Park - the second-biggest mass rescue in Australian history.

Mr Clarke said he felt privileged as one of three Wollongong City Council lifeguards who had received Lifeguard of the Year.

He said it was good to see knowledge was being passed down through the ranks.

"It's a job where it's pure experience," he said.

"You can't go learn it at uni - it's a job where you need to be mentored."

Wollongong City Council lifeguard Chanan Clark has been awarded lifeguard of the year. Picture: ANDY ZAKELI

Wollongong City Council lifeguard Chanan Clark has been awarded lifeguard of the year. Picture: ANDY ZAKELI

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