Oz Grom Cup's young surfers take their sport seriously

 abc.net.au  4/21/2017 7:20:46 PM   ABC Coffs Coast By Liz Keen

Posted April 22, 2017 05:20:46

The Oz Grom Cup junior surf competition has been running in Coffs Harbour on the NSW mid-north coast this week, its fourth year and a major part of the youth surfing circuit.

With 240 children competing and 100 in the reserves, its founder and contest director, Lee Winkler, said the number of children wanting to register was increasing.

A former competitor at elite levels in the World Surfing Championships, Mr Winkler said the sport had changed since he was young.

"Back in my day we had in the car park of a surfing event old combi vans. The mindset of the families was very different," he said.

"It was very relaxed and it was a lot more honesty in the industry."

He said some kids at the Oz Groms were already earning hundreds of thousands of dollars in sponsorship.

Some of the children who competed in the cup travelled to numerous competitions each year under their sponsorship arrangements, receiving financial support or support in kind from a business.

Lilliana Bowrey, 12, is sponsored by Billabong and travelled from the Sunshine Coast to compete.

She said being sponsored changed her approach to the sport.

"There's a little bit of pressure but it's pretty relaxing at times too and it's a privilege to have them," she said.

As I'm getting older I have to travel to more surf comps to show I need this."

The pressure of competing

Mr Winkler said he thought a lot of the children actually felt less pressure to push themselves once they were sponsored because the sponsors and their coach took their safety seriously.

"There are more people watching them and believing in their ability. I think the kids feel more comfortable once they are part of a team," he said.

When there was undue pressure, Mr Winkler said it tended to come from the parents more than the sponsors.

Harley Walters, 10, who travelled from Yamba to surf in the competition, said surfing in competitions felt different to free surfing.

"I feel a little bit nervous and stuff. You have to do proper turns," he said.

"You just want to surf how you normally surf. [In competitions] you just want to surf proper turns and big turns so you can get the scores."

Mr Winkler said as well as being committed to competing, kids who wanted to go professional also had to travel extensively to train on a range of waves.

"To make that commitment it's important they are honest with themselves about whether they really have what it takes," he said.

"Each family to their own, and each kid to their own, but once you work out your goals you have to work them hard."

Loving the water

Mr Winkler said while they worked hard, the young people loved their sport and were in the water as much as they could be — compared to other sports where people often did other things in their down time.

Lilliana Bowrey said she had been passionate about surfing since she first hit the water at five years old.

"It's the feeling of the water, the sounds of the waves breaking, how surfing makes me feel," she said.

"The best surfer out there is the one having the most fun."

Will Martin, 9, has been surfing since he was two. He tried to get into the water twice every day.

"It's fun, you get to make new friends. You have the time in the water not just on land."

A dangerous sport

Surfing is a dangerous sport where even the best can be badly injured.

In 2015, professional surfer Owen Wright suffered a serious brain injury that took him off the circuit for a year while training in Hawaii.

Mr Winkler said that danger was very real for the kids and they took it seriously, but it was also what made the sport what it is.

Surfing kids see fear a lot. They fear for their lives a lot more than kids who play badminton. These kids are very clear on what life means to them," he said.

Ms Bowrey said she had been badly dumped a number of times, mainly in the white wash, and it was something you had to be prepared for.

"You've just got to charge them," she said.

Topics: surfing, sport, international-competitions, coffs-harbour-2450

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