Committee For Lorne: Surfboats on Louttit Bay

February 26, 2024 BY

One emblematic sight … indeed, some may think it an image as iconic of Australia as the Sydney Opera House or Uluru … spread its colourful canvas across Louttit Bay last weekend.  A flotilla of surfboats from almost every beach and surf club in the nation were competing in the Open and Masters divisions of the Royal Australian Navy-supported Australian Surfboat Rowers League [ASRL] Annual Carnival.  

As I began this piece, I found myself wondering if I had been witnessing the National Surf Lifesaving Surfboat Championships under the auspice of Surf Life Saving Australia [SLSA] — my initial thought — or was this ‘event’ in a somehow different category?  A search for ‘SLSA Championships 2024‘ revealed that the annual SLSA carnival is not to be held until April at Maroubra, New South Wales.  So, what exactly did happen here in Lorne between February 15th and 18th, and why were all these surfboats here?

Given that some 300 boats from most Australian States competed, and as each boat had a crew of five — four oarsmen and a sweep [NB: the event caters for male and female crews] — between 1,500 and 2,000 athletes competed.  Add several active support staff per crew, plus families and friends, and an estimated 4,000 surfboat enthusiasts came to town!  And … all for a non-SLSA rival fixture!

When I turned to the ASRL website to learn about the genesis of this second competition, I found a complex web of circumstances that split surfboat racing in two in the ’80s and ’90s.  Beginning nearly four decades ago, the schism was mired in sponsor issues and television rights.   

To explain, it might be simplest to paraphrase parts of the website of the Australian Surf Rowers League [https://asrl.com.au/history-of-the-australian-surf-rowers-league-asrl/] … seen in italics.

“In the early 90s, a group of committed surfboat sweeps became concerned that surfboats were being omitted from the SLSA competition promotional picture.  During the late ’80s, SLSA had heavily promoted TV coverage of the ‘Kellogg’s Ironmen Series’ in cooperation with corporate giant, Kellogg.  In the early ’90s, a Kellogg competitor, Uncle Tobys, decided to introduce a competing televised program — the Uncle Tobys Series.  Though Uncle Tobys was keen to include a surfboat competition, SLSA blocked their attempt.

In 1993, Uncle Tobys directly sought some surfboat crews to compete in the Uncle Tobys Series alongside a group of Ironmen who had agreed to switch across from the SLSA/Kellogg event program.  However, while SLSA sanctioned the Ironmen to compete in the Uncle Tobys Series, the surfboat crews were not permitted to race.

Frustrated by the denial of opportunity, several surfboat crews from Queensland, New South Wales, and Victoria — initially led by a New South Wales crew from Freshwater — decided to form a break-away body.  When New Zealand and South African crews agreed to participate, the International League of Rowers (ILOR) was formed.

Despite much discussion between the ILOR and SLSA, SLSA continued to refuse to allow surfboats to join in the Uncle Tobys series, but, defying the SLSA ban, the ILOR crews decided to ignore the sanction and accept Uncle Tobys invitation to race.  The first Uncle Tobys surfboat event was held in 1993 at Surfers Paradise, with twenty-four crews from Queensland, New South Wales, and Victoria competing.

An SLSA disciplinary committee meeting charging ‘conduct unbecoming’ followed.  With legal teams hired by both sides, common sense finally prevailed, and the charge was withdrawn.

However, things soon turned nasty again when Uncle Tobys surfboat crews continued to race, ignoring what is described on the ILOR website as ‘… a sustained assault of intimidation and threat from SLSA and SLSNSW’.  State SLS officials were even assigned to video and record the crews’ names at Uncle Tobys events for possible future disciplinary action.  SLSNSW instigated disciplinary action against some of the Uncle Tobys Series crews and attempted to prevent them from competing in other NSW events.  Lawsuits followed, only ending when the Federal Court of New South Wales decided the case in favour of the ILOR, with costs awarded against SLSNSW.

As more and more crews became aware of what was happening, they joined the push for a “fair go” until, eventually, SLSNSW withdrew their objections and threatened sanctions.

After four further seasons of the Uncle Tobys series — including ILOR surfboat racing — the ASRL was formed to represent all surfboat rowers and allow competition on a more level playing field.”

So, have we been watching the National SLSA Championships?  No.  But the event certainly provided a surfboat spectacle of equal interest and one with a laser focus on the surfboat alone.  With that difference in mind, Lorne was privileged to welcome and host the 2024 ASRL championships — an event proudly supported since 2008 by Team Navy and the Royal Australian Navy.

As I wrote this story, I couldn’t help but think of parallels in other sporting codes.  In the late 1970s, a schism split international cricket when the Kerry Packer-driven World Series Cricket briefly flamed, then burned.  Even now, several cricket competitions — notably the Big Bash League in Australia and the Indian Premier League — challenge the time-honoured ‘primacy and purity’ of the ICC-led Test Series.


In other sports, sponsors (particularly the major TV conglomerates) continue to sue and counter-sue as they ‘battle it out’ in the courts over TV rights — golf, tennis, and football come to mind.  It seems that nowadays, sponsorships, egos, and money rule all.

Putting that thought aside, the sight of dozens of surfboats in the bay is spellbinding: … sleek boats catching practice waves on the bar; … a boat far behind and out the back surging past a hapless leading crew caught wallowing in dead water ahead; … a town filled with fit, bronzed men and women in their prime; … the ‘village green’ carpeted by slim, gleaming craft of every hue, their shining, varnished wooden ribs smelling sweetly in the warmth of the sun; … all made for a remarkable, welcomed, and unforgettable presence in the town.

While I had initially intended to pen a short history of the Australian surfboat, I soon found this piece taking an entirely different direction!  Maybe a historical perspective on the Australian surf boat can await another day.

In the meantime, Lorne extends its thanks to the ASRL and Team Navy for highlighting our 2024 Lorne summer with a wonderful, colourful, and keenly contested event showcasing Australia’s surfboat athletes at their very finest.

As an addendum, it was nice to see so many crew members from all over Australia enjoying the hospitality of the Aquatic Club, where the queue for Hutch’s unfailingly welcoming service stretched out the door and nearly back to Jason’s Window!

John Agar

Feature Writer



A word from the Chairman


Please don’t turn off when you see Council mentioned!  This is incredibly important for the future of Lorne, so please read on and heed the Call to Action below.

The long-awaited electoral structure review of Surf Coast Shire Council has been released.  The review is part of a process implemented in 2022 by the State Government under the Local Government Act (LGA), to look at the structure of councils to ensure equitable representation of ratepayers and voters.  The last such review occurred in 2012.

The review was conducted by an independent Electoral Representation Advisory Panel and considered the following issues:

  • The number of councillors (noting this can be between 5 and 12)
  • Whether the council should be divided into wards or have no wards  
  • The number of wards and where their boundaries should be
  • The number of councillors to be elected for each ward

The LGA requires electoral structures to provide fair and equitable representation and facilitate good governance.  One important consideration is that each councillor represent an approximately equal number of voters, within a 10% range.

The reviewed structure is to apply to the October 2024 council elections. 

Under the current electoral structure, Lorne is a separate ward with one councillor and has been well-served by its councillors, Clive Goldsworthy and Gary Allen.  Their representation and advocacy has secured amazing facilities for Lorne and has allowed Lorne to have its voice heard on the issues that specifically affect our local community.  Unfortunately, Lorne is not able to retain its special status as a one-councillor ward and the Panel has determined that a nine single-councillor ward structure would be unworkable under the principle of “one vote, one value”, given rapid ongoing population growth. 

The Panel found that a 3-ward structure would best represent the 3 distinct communities (urban, coastal and rural hinterland) in the foreseeable future.  Each ward will have 3 councillors, thereby retaining the current number of councillors at 9.  Under this structure, Lorne will be part of the Otway Range Ward which will also cover Anglesea, Aireys Inlet, Jan Juc and Deans Marsh.

So what does this mean for Lorne and its future representation? It means that Lorne will no longer have a designated councillor but, as the Panel’s report states, the new structure “could allow for a Lorne resident to be elected if a strong candidate from the town nominated and had enough community support”. 

Call to Action!

So it’s up to us all to find that person, and when the time comes to make sure we use our vote to ensure that Lorne continues to be heard around the council table in Torquay.


Another amazing weekend in Lorne with exciting surfboat action bringing many national and international visitors to our town.  The one comment that was heard over and over was – ”How good is this place!” 

We know that.


John Higgins – Chairman

Lorne Ward Events Calendar


  • 10 Lorne Aquatic & Angling Club – Major Fishing Competition No 2

Weigh cut off 12.30pm. Free roast lunch for competitors, $10 non-fishing members.

  • 17 Deans Marsh Festival, Live music, local harvest, market stalls, dog jumping, kids events and much more

10 am – 6pm at Deans Marsh Reserve.

  • 28-13/4 Photographic Exhibition, at Lorne Community Connect

1st prize $1,000, 2nd prize $500 submissions close 19 January 2024

  • 30 Lorne Market

9-4pm https://www.lornemarkets.com/

  • 31 Lorne Aquatic & Angling Club – Major Fishing Competition No 3

Weigh cut off 12.30pm. Free roast lunch for competitors, $10 non-fishing members

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