Ironman (surf lifesaving)

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The sport of Ironman was developed in 1964 in Australia by Valentine Trainor to combine the four main disciplines of surf lifesaving into a single race; swimming, board paddling, ski paddling and running. The sport should not be confused with Ironman triathlon. It is typically run as a single event as a part of a surf life saving carnival, although it can be run as a sport in its own right. Internationally it is sometimes called Oceanman


After the creation of the Surf Lifesaving movement in 1907,[1] members needed a way to stay fit and hone their skills in between patrols. Thus, in 1915, the first NSW Titles were held. These early titles held traditional events such as the boat race, march past, R&R and surf races. On a 1964 Australian tour of California, the competitors came across an event known as the 'Taplin', which involved a swim, ski, board legs, with running transitions. This became the ironman race. In 1966, it was first held at the Australian Championships at Coolangatta beach, and was won by Hayden Kenny.[2]

Perhaps the most famous ironman was Grant Kenny, who in 1980 at the age of 16 made the event famous by winning the Australian Junior and Australian Open Ironman championships within the space of half an hour. Grant became a national hero, appearing on cereal boxes and television advertisements, and was seen as the pinnacle of Aussie sportsmen. The short Ironman event became famous and the centre of attention at all surf carnivals.[3]

In the early 1980s a movie was made called The Coolangatta Gold, about an ironman event that required competitors to complete a 42 kilometres (26 mi) course along Queensland's Gold Coast. A circuit was then developed that mixed 10-minute Ironman races with the 'Coolangatta Gold', and a range of other professional Ironman events around Australia.[4]

In 1989 an elite group of Ironmen took the sport one step further and created an ironman event for TV. The event was named the Uncle Toby's Super Series and was initially very successful, but after 10 years of big television ratings, the retirement of a few of the sports biggest start lead to a decline in its popularity in the late 1990s. This led to the end of the Uncle Toby's Super Series in the 2000/2001 season. An attempt to revive the series was made in 2011 with the introduction of Kellogg's Nutri-Grain Ironman Series[5] which was also televised on Network Ten however by 2011 the Australian sporting television landscape had changed, meaning live, free to air sport didn't command the same viewing numbers as the 1990s and therefore didn't support as high a level of commercial support and funding. Whilst those that watched the revived series found it highly entertaining, attracting the required large numbers proved to be an uphill battle.[citation needed]

In 2013, the Kellogg's Ironman series switched to the larger viewing base of Channel 9 and Wide World of Sports. They also reverted to 5 pre-recorded rounds followed by a live final. This was deemed to be a successful transition and at least temporarily breathed life back into the Australian Profession Ironman circuit. It may be a while before the return to the "household name" days of Grant Kenny, Trevor Hendy, Guy Leech and Darren Mercer but has given a new platform to young Ironman stars, Shannon and Caine Eckstein, Ky Hurst, Matt Poole, Tannin Lyndon, Ali Day and Kendrick Louis.[citation needed]


The typical Ironman race consists of a water leg of either swim, ski or board, that lasts about 3–4 minutes, with a course going out through the break, around a set of turning buoys, and back in. It then has a run of about 150m, around two flags on the beach, before the next water leg in a similar fashion to the first. This continues for the third water leg, before a final run to the finish line. The order for each water leg is determined at the start of every carnival by random draw. The distances for each leg vary upon conditions, however they are around 800m for the ski leg, 600m for the board, 400m for the swim and 150m for each run leg.[6]


The surf ski is an 18-foot long kayak, that is especially designed for going in and out of the surf. Because of its lack of stability, it can often be the most challenging in rough conditions, however, because it is the fastest, it allows the competitor to be aggressive when it comes to getting out through surf and in chop. The Ski course is around three buoys, set in an apex course.[7]


For the swim leg, the competitors are required to swim around the 'string line', a line of 9 coloured buoys. Perhaps the most technically demanding of the legs, because it requires the athlete to swim under waves whilst swimming out to sea, and bodysurfing them on the way back in. Because of the often rough nature of the water, ironmen must be very proficient at swimming. The best swimmers in an ironmen field are often close to Olympic standard, such as Ky Hurst, whilst training for three other disciplines.[8]


The board leg involves paddling a modified Malibu paddle board around a set of four black-and-white string lines. Going out through the surf can be quite difficult, as athletes must use their weight to 'pop' over each wave. However, on the way in is relatively simple, as the athlete must only prevent the board from nosediving. As such, many big waves can be caught in the board leg.


A relatively short and easier leg in the ironman race. The run leg involves running from the edge of the surf, around two flags set on the beach, and back out into the surf. Because of this, the surface can change very quickly from wet to hard to soft and back again, so the ironman must change his running technique regularly.


As the order of the ironman changes for every race, the start procedure changes for the first leg. For a swim first, the athletes will line up on the sand and run into the water. For board first, they will line up in a similar fashion, but with their boards under their arms. For ski first, they will start on the water's edge, next to their ski, and jump in when the gun fires.[9]

Major Events[edit]

While ironman races are held at every surf carnival, there are some major events that attract prize money, sponsorship and television coverage.

Australian Ironman Championship results[edit]

Held at the Australian Surf Life Saving Championships every year, the Australian Ironman Title is awarded to the winner at this event. The format is the same as for typical surf carnivals, a ten- to twelve-minute race with a field of sixteen, with the first eight competing in the final. The blue ribbon event at the carnival, and also the one that attracts the most attention in terms of television and spectators on the beach. It is typically the last event on the program, raced on a Sunday afternoon[10] .

Year Male Winner Location
1966 Hayden Kenny Coolangatta QLD
1967 Barry Rodgers Southport SA
1968 Barry Rodgers Nth Cronulla NSW
1969 Barry Rodgers Clifton TAS
1970 Fred Annesley Ocean Grove VIC
1971 Norm Rabjohns City of Perth WA
1972 Norm Rabjohns Swansea NSW
1973 Ken VIdler Burleigh QLD
1974 Simon Martin Glenelg SA
1975 Ken VIdler Dee Why NSW
1976 Ken VIdler Clifton TAS
1977 John Holt Bancoora VIC
1978 Robert Chapman Kingscliff NSW
1979 Greg Allum Trigg Island WA
1980 Grant Kenny Maroochydore QLD
1981 Grant Kenny Wanda NSW
1982 Grant Kenny Moana SA
1983 Grant Kenny Clifton TAS
1984 Robert Chapman Kurrawa QLD
1985 Dwanye Thuys Point Leo VIC
1986 Dwanye Thuys Moana SA
1987 Trevor Hendy Scarborough WA
1988 Trevor Hendy Sutherland NSW
1989 Dean Mercer Burleigh QLD
1990 Trevor Hendy Nth Wollongong NSW
1991 Trevor Hendy Scarborough WA
1992 Trevor Hendy Collaroy NSW
1993 Guy Andrews Kurrawa QLD
1994 Trevor Hendy Swansea NSW
1995 Dean Mercer Kurrawa QLD
1996 Darren Mercer Kurrawa QLD
1997 Darren Mercer Kurrawa QLD
1998 Steven Pullen Kurrawa QLD
1999 Ky Hurst Kurrawa QLD
2000 Ky Hurst Kurrawa QLD
2001 Ky Hurst Kurrawa QLD
2002 Ky Hurst Kurrawa QLD
2003 Shannon Eckstein Kurrawa QLD
2004 Zane Holmes Kurrawa QLD
2005 Nathan Smith Kurrawa QLD
2006 Shannon Eckstein Kurrawa QLD
2007 Pierce Leonard Scarborough WA
2008 Shannon Eckstein Scarborough WA
2009 Pierce Leonard Scarborough WA
2010 not contested Kurrawa QLD
2011 Shannon Eckstein Kurrawa QLD
2012 Shannon Eckstein North Kirra QLD
2013 Cam Cole North Kirra QLD
2014 Shannon Eckstein Scarborough WA
2015 Shannon Eckstein North Kirra QLD
2016 Shannon Eckstein Maroochydore QLD
2017 not contested North Kirra QLD
2018 Kendrick Louis Scarborough WA
Year Female Winner Location
1992 Samantha O'Brien Collaroy NSW
1993 Karla Gilbert Kurrawa QLD
1994 Karla Gilbert Swansea NSW
1995 Stacy Gartrell Kurrawa QLD
1996 Kirsty Holmes Kurrawa QLD
1997 Stacy Gartrell Kurrawa QLD
1998 Kerri Thomas Kurrawa QLD
1999 Kerri Thomas Kurrawa QLD
2000 Kirsty Holmes Kurrawa QLD
2001 Hayley Bateup Kurrawa QLD
2002 Kristy Munroe Kurrawa QLD
2003 Karla Gilbert Kurrawa QLD
2004 Kristy Cameron Kurrawa QLD
2005 Kristyl Smith Kurrawa QLD
2006 Naomi Flood Kurrawa QLD
2007 Kristy Harris Scarborough WA
2008 Alicia Marriott Scarborough WA
2009 Kristyl Smith Scarborough WA
2010 not contested Kurrawa QLD
2011 Courtney Hancock Kurrawa QLD
2012 Rebecca Creedy North Kirra QLD
2013 Courtney Hancock North Kirra QLD
2014 Elizabeth Pluimers Scarborough WA
2015 Elizabeth Pluimers North Kirra QLD
2016 Rebecca Creedy Maroochydore QLD
2017 not contested North Kirra QLD
2018 Lana Rogers Scarborough WA

World Championship[edit]

Held at the World titles every two years. Carries none of the prestige of an Australian Championship, the field at the beginning of the carnival is usually smaller, and is not raced in as tricky conditions. The World Ironman Champion is decided from the results of the World Interclub Championships.[11]

Year Winner Location
1981 Mark Bennetts Bali, Indonesia
1983 Dwanye Thuys Hawaii
1988 Trevor Hendy Southport, Australia
1990 Trevor Hendy Lubeck, Germany
1992 Trevor Hendy Shimoda, Japan
1994 Trevor Hendy Newquay, England
1996 Nathan Meyer Durban, South Africa
1998 Nathan Meyer Auckland, New Zealand
2000 Phil Clayton Manly, Australia
2002 Shannon Eckstein Orlando, USA
2004 Shannon Eckstein Viareggio, Italy
2006 Zane Holmes Lorne, Australia
2008 Shannon Eckstein Berlin, Germany
2010 Shannon Eckstein Alexandria, Egypt
2012 Shannon Eckstein Adelaide, Australia
2014 Shannon Eckstein Montepelier, France
2016 Shannon Eckstein Netherlands
2018 Ali Day Adelaide, Australia

The Coolangatta Gold[edit]

The ultra-endurance marathon from Surfer's Paradise to Coolangatta and back. The Coolangatta Gold is the toughest race in ironman, and one of the toughest in world sport.[12]

The Ironman Series[edit]

First known as the Kellogg's Nutri-Grain Grand Prix in 1986, before the creation of the Uncle Toby's Super Series in 1989, and then the Kellogg's Nutri-Grain Ironman Series in 2002. The Ironman Series has always involved a variety of formats and locations, making it tough for any one athlete to dominate. The Series over the years has given a much greater profile to the sport and its athletes, and has allowed many athletes to become semi-professional.[13]


  1. ^ "History of Surf Life Saving 1907". Archived from the original on 16 November 2011. Retrieved 15 February 2012.
  2. ^ "Events Surf Life Saving". Retrieved 15 February 2012.
  3. ^ "GRANT KENNY Bio". Retrieved 15 February 2012.
  4. ^ "The Coolangatta Gold IMDB". Retrieved 15 February 2012.
  5. ^ "". Retrieved 15 February 2012.
  6. ^ "SLSA Admin & Resources". Archived from the original on 19 February 2011. Retrieved 15 February 2012.
  7. ^ " – Getting Started". Retrieved 15 March 2012.
  8. ^ "Ky Hurst". Retrieved 15 March 2012.
  9. ^ "SLSA Admin & Resources". Archived from the original on 19 February 2011. Retrieved 15 February 2012.
  10. ^ "Aussies 2012 – Surf Life Saving". Retrieved 15 February 2012.
  11. ^ "Rescue 2012". Retrieved 15 February 2012.
  12. ^ "Coolangatta Gold". Retrieved 15 February 2012.
  13. ^ "". Retrieved 15 February 2012.

External links[edit]