Change of venue irks surf life savers

SURF LIFESAVING: The Australian Surf Life Saving Championships will return to Perth's Scarborough Beach in 2014 much to the bewilderment of some Sunshine Coast officials and competitors.

Surf Life Saving Australia officials and the West Australian government hailed the move yesterday as a big win, predicting it would attract 6000 competitors and a further 5000 spectators, and a $20 million boost to the local economy.

Some questioned the move, however, pointing to the fact that numbers were down when Scarborough last hosted the Aussies in 2009.

Mooloolaba ironman Matt Poole said the WA beach was disliked by athletes and the cost of getting there was prohibitive for eastern seaboard-based competitors.

"Yes, Scarborough has flat conditions, but as a host beach it's terrible for the titles," he said. "It's a hot, long beach and very flat and has very testing conditions.

"In the past when they've gone over there, numbers more than halved and then when they went over there again they went down again. But still they're giving it a go.

"When people go over to this competition they want to make sure they're coming up against the very best."

Poole said a club the size of Mooloolaba would struggle to subsidise its athletes' air travel and equipment transport costs to Perth.

He also questioned whether Scarborough was the safest venue, pointing to WA's high rate of shark attacks. Five people have been killed by sharks in WA waters since August 2010.

Surf Life Saving WA officials and the WA government, however, described Scarborough as a popular beach and the announcement as a win for the sport.

"Scarborough beach has ideal conditions for the Aussies and was widely praised by competitors and organisers when it last hosted the event in 2009," WA Tourism Minister Kim Hames said.

The Sunshine Coast has successfully bid for the 2016 Aussies, but it is still unknown where next year's event will be held.

The 2013, '15, '17, '19 and '20 titles were to be hosted at Kurrawa, but that plan changed after two deaths in three years at the Gold Coast break.

Young New South Wales ironman Saxon Bird was killed at the Aussies in 2010 when he was struck by a runaway ski, and Maroochydore 14-year-old Matthew Barclay drowned during this year's event.

Their deaths prompted a Surf Life Saving Australia review of the use of Kurrawa. As a result, it will not be considered as a venue for future championships.

It is believed SLSA will consider other Gold Coast beaches as replacement venues for Kurrawa, and the Sunshine Coast is not in the running.

Chairman of the Sunshine Coast Aussies bid Scott Derwin said the region did not put its hand up to host the 2014 championships but was considering making a play for other years, such as 2018.

"If it does become available, most certainly (the Sunshine Coast would bid)," he said.

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