Shane Geloven can't remember how long he has been Bulli Surf Life Saving Club's open men's sweep but, boy, does he have some stories from the sea that he will never forget.
A surf boat crew consists of five members - four rowers and a sweep - with the sweep standing at the back of the boat and steering by using a long oar. Geloven estimates that he's been in that role at Bulli for about two decades.
There's been plenty of ups and downs during that period, with highlights including multiple national title victories. However, there have also been plenty of hairy moments while competing.
Geloven remembers one particular story well.
"I had changed one of my rowers, second bow, and he was new to the crew. We congratulated him on the Bellambi boat ramp and then had his first row out to sea," the 46-year-old told the Mercury.
"We weren't supposed to be going near the waves and I was out on the reef off Bellambi boat ramp and it was quite big (swell). I said to the boys 'stop rowing, because we don't want to catch this thing coming because it's massive'. And it just sucked up on the reef and the boys looked at me and said 'we don't have a choice'.
"We were side on and it lifted us from the top. We dropped from the top in one hit, straight down to the bottom of the wave - all five of us - and we snapped the boat half. There were oars out everywhere and the whole centre of the boat cracked, right down the centre of the boat.
"We pretty much got monstered, but we all came through okay. That was quite an initiation for that second bow rower - we'll never forget that one."
Geloven first became interested in surf boats when he was a Nipper many years ago.
He was active in swimming and board paddling and continued with the surf life saving movement through to the senior ranks. Geloven then spent more than five years rowing, before he turned his attention to both rowing and being the sweep.
'Something had to give and it was the hardest one, the rowing side of things. And I've been sweeping ever since," Geloven said with a laugh.
"As a sweep, you're pretty much the eyes of the crew. They're going backwards through the break so you need to communicate and let them know everything that is happening. In a race situation, you've got to have a good line on your turning can and a good line back home, going with the wind or swell. And you have to navigate the cans that are halfway out. So there's a little bit to it, but the hardest bit is holding the wave straight.
"Communication is massive. They need to know what's coming. Are they out past the break, or is there more coming? And that gives them the indication on how hard they have to be on their game, how hard they put the pressure on the oar. It's a massive team effort, it's definitely not a one-man band with a boat crew."
The Bulli open men's surf boat crew are set to reconvene for training over the coming weeks after taking time off for the winter months.
Geloven says training will ramp up as the season progresses, with the crew aiming to win their third straight Australian national title in April.
"I give them a good break over winter. We all do our own thing and hardly catch up, unless it's for a beer, because we see each other that much during the summer," he said.
"We'll start off reasonably easy, one to two day a week on the boat. Come peak season, we're in the boat four times a week, plus doing our gym work. We always work around everyone's work schedule, work takes priority because we don't get paid to row. Most of us are tradies, so it's usually afternoon (training) for us.
"But I love it - that's why I still do it. You have to love it because it takes so much time out of your day and your life. It's a fine line that you've got to juggle with family and rowing."
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