Teneagers shine at Illawarra Branch Championships

Tough competition: Thirroul's Jason Cross and Ian Sakoff competing in the Illawarra Branch Championships on Sunday. Picture: Georgia Matts.
Tough competition: Thirroul's Jason Cross and Ian Sakoff competing in the Illawarra Branch Championships on Sunday. Picture: Georgia Matts.

Hundreds of surf lifesavers have descended on Bulli beach for the annual Illawarra Branch Championships on Sunday.

The competition is the biggest event on the Illawarra surf lifesaving calendar and Kevin Starling from Surf Lifesaving Illawarra was pleased with the way the event ran.

“It was very successful,” Starling said. “We had more competitors turn up than expected and some of the smaller clubs had good representation, which was very good to see.

“Some of the athletes from Bulli, Thirroul, Wollongong City and North Wollongong, were very impressive and it looked like they will do very well at the next level at state titles.”

The highlight of the meet was the ironman competition, with the gold medal decided in the sprint up the beach to the finish line. 

Bulli’s Lachlan O’Grady led for much of the race, however he faltered late to provide Jake Beaumont with a sniff of a come-from-behind victory. The Thirroul athlete took the opportunity with both hands, storming home to overtake O’Grady in the beach finish and claim the gold medal. Bulli’s Greg Miller finished third. 

Experienced Bulli lifesaver Michael Locke took out the open ski race, with Adam Meredith of North Wollongong prevailing in the men’s swim. Beaumont added to his ironman victory with gold in the board event, while O’Grady was a member of the Bulli crew that claimed the under 23 boat race. 

Bulli flexed their muscle in the boat races, demonstrating why they are one of the best surf boat programs in Australia. The competition hosts claimed the men’s opens, under 23s, and mixed veterans boat race.

The day did not go exactly to script for the Bulli rowing crews, however, with the second ranked crew upsetting their more-fancied clubmates in the top squad to claim the opens gold medal. The top crew struggled throughout the competition and eventually finished in third place behind Corrimal.

Windang claimed the gold in the men’s reserve boat race, with North Wollongong taking out the victory in the under 19s boat race.

While Bulli dominated the men’s boat races, it was Wollongong City who dominated the women’s events, claiming both the opens and under 23 races. 

Teenager Kaimana Fittock delivered an impressive performance to claim the ironwoman event ahead of Thirroul’s Megan Fox. 

The Bulli product is just 16 years of age and is one of the region’s best emerging surf lifesavers. She added to her medal haul when she took out the women’s open swim event. Fox also took the victory in the women’s open ski event. Zara Sharman of Bulli won the open women’s board race.

On the soft sand of the beach, the sprint races were dominated by two names, Davina Strauss and Diego Alvarez. Both Strauss and Alvarez completed the flags-sprint double to sweep the individual beach races. 

Alvarez is another youngster with plenty of promise. The Corrimal teenager is blitzing his rivals in just his first year of surf lifesaving.

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