One of the state's most prestigious surf life saving competitions will return to the Illawarra next month.
Surf Life Saving NSW held a launch event at Warilla Beach on Thursday morning to announce that Warilla-Barrack Point SLSC will host the 2024 NSW Country Surf Life Saving Championships, which will be held from January 26 to 28.
It was officially revealed in April 2023 that Warilla would host the next two championships, marking the first time that it's been held on the South Coast since 2015 (in Mollymook). The prestigious event hasn't been held at Warilla in more than 20 years.
More than 1500 competitors are expected to take part in next year's event, which is also set to attract hundreds of officials and thousands of spectators, in a major win for tourism in the Illawarra.
Warilla-Barrack Point Surf Life Saving Club are the competition's reigning club champions, having secured the crown at Cape Hawke in January 2023.
"It's an absolute privilege to host the championships," Warilla-Barrack Point SLSC president Alan Beveridge.
"The last three years, we've been knocking on the door to win the championships, and we finally did that last year. So we're looking at defending our title, though we know there's going to be a lot of pressure on us. There's a lot competitors doing exceptionally well in country NSW.
"We've been to Cape Hawke the last two years and Cudgen before that, and we were taking a strong team of roughly 90-odd juniors and seniors, plus officials and parents. So we've had very good support carnival, and now Surf Life Saving is supporting our club.
"You'll find that everything within 25 to 30 kilometres of Shellharbour City has been booked out, so it's really good for the area. The whole community benefits from it."
SLSNSW director of surf sport Donald van Keimpema said that he was excited to see the country titles being held in Warilla.
"It's happening as part of our rotation to move down to the South Coast area. And secondly, Warilla has a very strong club. They have a lot of members, they support the event really well and they won the championships last year," he said.
"We're also celebrating the refreshment of their clubhouse and the extensions that they've done, so we thought that we have to showcase this and it's the perfect opportunity and perfect location to do it."
van Keimpema added that the championships would attract competitors of all ages, from under-eights to 75 years plus.
"The level of experience will go from ones that just like to have a bit of fun, to ones that are really serious and want to win everything. So it's great to see that we've got that wide variety," he said.
"We will also see some really good competition between everybody from the South Coast, the Far South Coast area to the North Coast, to see what they can do and to showcase their skills and the experience they've got.
"It's very important for the development of our athletes in NSW, as part of our strategic plan to increase the skill level within those areas."
One youngster who is looking forward to having the championships in the Illawarra is Warilla-Barrack Point SLSC junior Kobe Sims.
The 14-year-old will compete in the water events at next month's competition.
"My preparation has been good, it's been a lot of hard work but we've been training well for it," Sims said.
"I'm hoping to do as much as I can to get points for the club. I'm feeling pretty nervous but pretty pumped at the same time for it. It's a good feeling that everyone has to come down for it and we don't have to travel too far for it.
"It's a great community club with great people."