Surf Life Saving Association handbook, 1927:
With the object of stimulating enthusiasm in the work of surf life-saving, interclub surf carnivals are held regularly during the summer months ... There are hundreds of entries at a single carnival, and the training keeps the members physically fit and thoroughly efficient.
The thrill of the carnival
Soon after surf lifesaving clubs were established, they held carnivals in which lifesavers would test their skills. Surf carnivals also reassured the public of the lifesavers' discipline and competence.
Tens of thousands of people attended carnivals in the 1920s and 1930s and they were also staged to commemorate royal visits, the sesquicentenary and the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Early carnivals included novelty events such as pillow fights, chariot races and a tug of war but these were phased out due to concerns they would undermine the serious nature of surf lifesaving.
Today the Australian Surf Life Saving Championships are surf lifesaving's premier event, attracting up to 8000 competitors.
One of the greats
Bob Newbiggin was a champion swimmer, breaking the Australian Junior 110-yard record in 1937 and competing in the Empire Games the following year. But it was in the surf that he became a legend. Newbiggin dominated surf races before and after the Second World War. Always a powerful swimmer, it was his ability to pick the best wave and ride it to the beach that won him many races.
A break from war
Australian armed forces serving overseas often held their own surf carnivals. In places such as Gaza, Tel Aviv, the Solomon Islands, New Guinea, Vietnam and Iraq, soldiers have competed in surf races, rescue and resuscitation events and the march-past. Sport was encouraged as a leisure activity for off-duty soldiers but surf lifesaving, with its emphasis on discipline and drill, was considered to be particularly suitable.
Competing with sharks
In January 1949 Raymond Land was competing in the rescue and resuscitation event at a surf carnival. As beltman, he swam out to rescue the 'patient'. Twenty metres from the buoy, he signalled that he was in trouble. The line was caught on a rock so the patient and the number three linesman swam to his aid. They had almost reached him when a shark attacked. Raymond was taken to shore on a surf ski but died from his injuries