Cronulla National Surfing Reserve

The Cronulla Beaches NSR was declared in September 2008 and is one of southern Sydneys’ premier surf spots. Cronulla is home to former world champion surfers as well as other important figures in the development of Australian surfing and surf lifesaving. One of the largest NSR in Australia, the ‘Nulla’ is proudly preserved by a strong surfing community from an area better known as the ‘Shire’. The reserve’s Local Stewardship Council is administered by Surfing Sutherland Shire.

A National Icon:
From the time the coastline in Sutherland Shire became populated the beaches of Cronulla have been a drawcard. Today the beautiful stretches of sand and famous surf breaks remain an iconic location attracting locals and visitors alike. Throughout our relatively short history, Sutherland Shire Council has strongly supported surfing, surf life saving. This began in 1906 when, under the Local Government Act, council became responsible for the regulation of bathing, for providing equipment to assist in lifesaving activities and for constructing and maintaining bathing houses. In 1911, council appointed its first official lifeguard, a role that is still fulfilled by professional lifeguards employed by council to help keep people safe on our beaches today.

Taking to the Waves:
Cronulla has been a tourist destination for more than 100 years with its beach as the main attraction even in the 1880s. Although there are no reports of surfing at Cronulla until early in the 20th century, by 1904 the popular seaside village had become known as ‘the Many of the southern side of Sydney’.

The new craze of body surfing helped grow Cronulla’s reputation as a seaside resort and before long everyone seemed to be having fun at the beach. Invevitably, people drowned in the surf and, after one such death at Cronulla in 1908, Cronulla Surf Life Saving Club was formed. Other clubs followed at North Cronulla in 1925, Wanda in 1946, Elouera in 1967.

Surfboard riding, however, was not encouraged because of the danger it posed to bathers, but all that changed in the summer of 1914/15 with the visit to Australia of Hawaiian Olympic swimming champion, Duke Kahanamoko. The Duke’s demonstrations of boardriding at Cronulla, Freshwater and Manly created a sensation, especially his exhibition at North Cronulla when big swell was running. The St George Call described how he made surfing look ‘ridiculously easy by standing on his head, diving off and twisting the board’.

The Duke and crew at Cronulla – Image source: Unknown

In 1956, Australia experienced another invasion, this time by a group of Californian surfers riding shorter, lighter Malibu boards, which were more manoeuvrable and could be carried easily. The Californians surfed at Cronulla Point and put on a great show, just as the Duke had done 40 years earlier. One of the earliest practitioners of the new inside – the-curl style of surfing was Cronulla legend Bobby Brown. Brown made the final of the 1964 NSW titles, and after Brown’s untimely death Farrelly competed in, and won, the inaugural Bobby Brown Memorial Contest at Sandshoes Reef in 1968. A new generation of surfers and surfing lifestyle was born that year, bringing to a close the era of Malibu board, Surferplanes and Paipo boards. Manufacturers, such as Graham Ferris and Brian Jackson, who celebrated 50 years in the board business in 2007, were instrumental in the development of a local surfboard industry.

Cronulla Boardriders:
The 1960s saw the birth of surfboard riding clubs. The first was Cronulla and its female counterpart the Kurranulla Wahines, followed a decade later by St George, Eatern states and Wanda Beach Boardriders Clubs.
However, the renaissance of the modern club surfing really began with the Midway Club, which ostensibly an offshoot from the local Comfort Surfboard Factory. This club attracted nearly all of the best local surfing talent in the mid 1970s. There was so much talent that it could not survive long-term, thereby seeding the formation of a new generation of boardriding clubs.

“Recognising the Cronulla Beaches as a National Surfing Reserve provides a focal point for the local community to celebrate the role Cronulla has played in defining Australian beach culture” Kathy Lette: Writer of Puberty Blues

Mark Occhilupo made his first appearance at the Cronulla Junior Boardriders Club, which consisted of the best junior surfers of the day. Sandshoes, a protected reef break at Oak Park, always had its local club and attracted a small core of dedicated regulars, but it was Cronulla Sharks Boardriders, formed in 1978, which had the most competitive success, winning the Australian Title in 1990.

Established in 1980 and 1985 respectively, Elouera and Cronulla Point Boardriders to this day have a strong membership of committed local surfers. However, the Cronulla Christian Surfers, founded in the late 19702 by local surfer Brett Davis, has left the biggest legacy. Now an international surfing movement, this organisation has boardriding clubs in 15 nations with more than 400 volunteer workers.

Cronulla continues to have a prominent presence in the surfing world, spitting out world class surfing competitors like Bobby Brown in the 1960s and 1999 World Champion Mark Occhilupo, as well as dozens of state, Australian and international competitors. Members of local boardriding clubs also put Cronulla on the map as being the bodyboard capital of the world, assisted by the extreme surrounding reef breaks that gave up-and-coming bodyboarders a chance to gain national and international recognition.

The Surf Reserve:
The unique layout of Cronulla Beaches provides a wide variety of surfing locations ranging from soft, easy beach breaks to world class waves at Shark Island and Voodoo. People began surfing here in the early 1900s . The first Surf Life Saving Club was formed in 1907, with surfboard riding clubs following in 1960. Since then hundreds of thousands of Australians have ridden millions of waves at the beaches within Bate Bay. This Reserve acknowledges the surfing way of life, and link past, present and future generations with our oceans, waves and coastline.

Surfer: Kirk Flintoff – Photo: Brad Whittaker

Surf Life Saving Clubs:

Cronulla Surf Life Saving Club: Ideas fostering a Cronulla surf club were as evident as early as 1906, however foundation activities materialised soon after the formation of the Surf Bathing Association of NSW in October 1907. The club’s first home was a disused ‘King Street Sydney’ cable tram trailer car, located at the northern end of Cronulla Beach.

In 1909, assisted by Sutherland Shire Council, a timber clubhouse was built and since that occasion a further three buildings have been constructed. The present clubhouse officially opened in 1940.

During ten decades the Cronulla Surf Life Saving Club has trained and qualified some 3000 active members with the basic Bronze Medallion award, creating patrolling lifesavers who have recorded nearly 9000 surf rescues whilst of duty.

Celebrating its centenary in the year of the Surf Lifesaver in 2007, Cronulla Surf Life Saving Club continues an unwavering commitment, built on a heritage of the past, to sustain the safeguarding of the surf bathing community with dedicated ‘Vigilance and Service’

North Cronulla Surf Life Saving Club:
The North Cronulla Surf Life Saving Club was founded in Decemeber 1925 by seven members from the Cronulla Surf Life Saving Club, to accommodate the increasing numbers of people visiting the government-declared ‘dangerous beach’. Since that time North Cronulla has become recognized as one of the most outstanding and innovative surf clubs throughout Australia, and has made significant contributions to the advancement of international lifesaving techniques.

In the year of the Surf Lifesaver in 2007 North Cronulla, celebrated 82 years of outstanding service to the community, having trained more than 8000 men and women to serve as patrolling lifeguards.

Of the many outstanding rescues performed at North Cronulla, the sad loss of the club captain, Major James (Jim) Peryman during a heroic rescue on 19 February 1950 displayed the true spirit of Surf Life Saving Australia and its motto ‘Vigilance and Service’.

Elouera Surf Life Saving Club:
The history of Surf lifesaving tells of heroes, deeds and magnificent achievements, as well as the formation in 1966 of the fourth surf club in the Bate bay area – the Elouera Police-Citizens’ Boys’ Surf Lifesaving Club.

In the year of the Surf Lifesaver in 2007, Elouera celebrated 40 years of surf lifesaving, having trained more than 1500 surf lifesavers and successfully conducted more than 3000 rescues. Elouera continues to qualify active male and female members to uphold our motto of ‘Vigilance and Service’, which aptly expresses the aim of surf lifesaving, to watch over and safeguard from danger those who use our beaches.

Wanda Surf Life Saving Club:
Wanda Surf Life Saving Club was formed by members of the armed forces returning home after World War 2. These men saw a need for a surf club in the sand hills at the northern end of the Bate Bay beaches. The club was formed on 13th October 1946, and patrols started on 9 March 1947. From the first year of beach patrols in 1947 to the year of the Surf Lifesaver in 2007, more than 4000 rescues have been performed by the lifesavers at Wanda Beach. Patrols also have carried our numerous preventative actions on the beach to protect the surfing public. Over the years the Wanda club has trained in excess of 2000 members to become active lifesavers.

Our heritage and duty is to safeguard the surfing public on the beach and to observe the motto of the Surf Life Saving Association of Australia – ‘Vigilance and Service’