Surf Lifesaving: Maroochydore’s “Black Swans” On The Crest Of A New Wave Of Home Grown Talent

GOLDEN SWANS: Matthew Magnussen, Samuel Short, Matthew Palmer and Hayden Cotter ended Northcliffe's reign in the prestigious Open Surf Teams. Photo Courtesy

Australia has a proud history in surf lifesaving with so many of its Olympians mixing their successful swimming careers with surf racing.

The results of over a century of lifesaving activities feature some of the countries greats from Australia’s first Olympic swimming gold medallist in Freddie Lane, to Manly boys Andrew “Boy” Charlton and Noel Ryan and gold medallists like Mark Kerry, Mark Tonelli, Duncan Armstrong, Jon Sieben and Olympic medallists like Steve Holland, Graeme Brewer, Ron McKeon and Max Metzker – all celebrated lifesavers.

Surf clubs are proud of the roles they play in the community and of their association with the Olympic movement and over the past week thousands of lifesavers have descended on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast for the return of the Australian Surf Life Saving Championships.

The first time since 2019 after COVID forced the cancellation of the 2020 Championships and competitors turned out in their droves from the Youth Championships and Masters competitors who keep on keeping on to the hotly contested and much sort after Open championships

Maroochydore Open surf teams Matthew Magnussen, Sam Short, Matthew Palmer and Hayden Cotter

GOLDEN SWANS: Matthew Magnussen, Samuel Short, Matthew Palmer and Hayden Cotter ended Northcliffe’s reign in the prestigious Open Surf Teams. Photo Courtesy Photo Courtesy:

Olympians and some with Tokyo in their sights mixed it with surf sports specialists as they chased their own slice of sporting glory.

The Championships attracted an online audience to its Live Stream and featured a two-hour Live package on free to air television.

Swimming World has followed the fortunes of host club Maroochydore this week after it embarked on a plan in 2015 to re-ignite its presence in a competitive surf sports market – embracing its local home grown talent – which is paying golden dividends – especially in the swimming area where they celebrated huge successes.

Maroochydore had emerged in the 1960s and 2000s – in two eras of “The Aussies” success and you get the impression 2021 has signalled an exciting new era.

The club, under a team of noted club stalwarts like Danny Short, John Baxter and Jason ‘O’Pray with the club’s god father, Life Governor and Club Historian Ralph Devlin AM QC, casting his learned and passionate eyes over the flock is very much on the crest of another golden wave with a 14-strong gold medal haul at an Australian Surf Life Saving Championships on its home Beach on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast which wrapped up yesterday.

It was a memorable week for “The Black Swans” who turned the clock back to those glory days.

Maroochydore finished third on the carnival pointscore behind Gold Coast powerhouse Northcliffe and Sydney Northern Beaches super club, Newport – with their swimming prowess very much the talk of he beach.

Devlin, a former club president and Queensland president and club historian, had eluded to the successes on the final morning of finals, praising the fact that the majority of its medal haul had come from within its junior program.

“Maroochydore is fiercely proud of the fact that so many of our successes have come from home grown junior talent – and If we finish in third place on the 2021 Club Pointscore, we’ll be content, that will be job done for us,” said Devlin, who has high hopes for the future.

“I can assure you the morale is absolutely sky high; here’s hoping we can keep them all together and keep them all training and competing together.”


TOP TWO: Hayden Cotter and Sam Short’s 1-2 finish gave Maroochydore a winning edge. Photo Courtesy:

These home grown emerging swim stars are being led by the likes of open water swimming star Hayden Cotter, teenage pool swimmers Samuel Short, Matthew Magnussen and talented ironman brothers Matthew Palmer and Adam Palmer.

Cotter has already made a splash with his open water swimming exploits in another exciting new group of Australian marathon swimmers who will spearhead Australia’s Olympic campaigns to Tokyo, Paris, Los Angeles and in their own backyard in Brisbane in 2032.

And that talent was on display with Noosa’s impressive surf swimmer Nick Sloman surging to his third Australian open surf race crown as he continues his pursuit of an Olympic 10-km berth in Portugal in June.

Hot on his heels came Northcliffe’s ever present Bailey Armstrong, who won a thrilling finish with Cotter in a neck-and-neck battle for silver and bronze, with Under 19 surf race winner, Short in fourth place.

maroochydore open belt

TEAM COTTER: Australian open belt champion Hayden Cotter and his line crew. Photo Courtesy:

But it was in the open belt where Cotter claimed a prestigious individual gold – streeting the field – much to the joy of past champions Peter Rigby (1964) and Jason O’Pray (2002 and 2003) who were on the beach to hail the new champion, welcoming the talented youngster into a special club of individual open champions.

“Hayden received an embrace from Peter Rigby who is now relegated to our third best beltman,” joked Devlin, as he cast his eyes over a vibrant finals day activities.

“We kept on telling Peter he was our second best beltman until about two days ago.

Maroochydore SLSC is capping its 177 champions including number 1 cap John Rigby. Peter Rigby in cap 4, holding his brother John's number 1 cap. Photo: Che Chapman / Sunshine Coast Daily

FAMOUS CAP: Legendary beltman and 1964 Australian champion Peter Rigby. Photo Courtesy: Sunshine Coast Daily.

“He still takes a vital interest in the club activities and is proud of a record which saw him win the junior belt in in ’63 and the open belt at Collaroy in ’64, so he was our distinguished beltman (despite the successes of his 1960 Olympian brother and 1962 Australian open surf race champion John Rigby).


“Then along came Jason O’Pray with two gold and two silvers in the open and now young Cotter has gone under 19 and open belt with a year in between and he demolished a class field; it was hectic but he won it by a good 10 metres.”

Cotter and Short had kick-started the Maroochydore presence with gold medal swims in the 2km Ocean Swims – Cotter in the Opens and Short in the Under 19s – and they also spearheaded the successful teams events victories including the Open and Under 19 Rescue Tube Rescue triumphs.

But in a dominant show of strength the young Maroochy boys blew the best (four man) open surf teams in the country out of the water with Short and Cotter hitting the beach together in first and second followed by Magnussen (8th) and Matthew Palmer (11th) to clinch the coveted open surf teams.


MATT FINISH: Every place counts in Surf Teams racing as Matt Palmer holds off a determined Matt Poole.  Photo Courtesy:

Short was strategically placed out of the pack and knew he had to get of the beach quick, saying: “I has to be quick off the beach and after searching for the buoys Hayden (Cotter) came through 1 and 2 as planned, and then we relied on our big boys to try and (swim) tough through the middle.

“It’s an elite field and… even if you’re ahead, or alongside those boys like Hayden it’s at a fast pace.

“After a big week at the Australian Age in pool, it was good to get some distance into the (surf) races. I was obviously sore at the end, but it was good to be able to use my strength.”

It was a morale boosting start to the golden week – winning the club’s first surf teams title since 2005 when Shaun Bright, Shannon Greig, Ryan Layt and Kazu Schofield won the club’s third straight title.

The win ended Northcliffe’s record-breaking streak that started in 2006 with legendary ironman brothers, Shannon Eckstein and  Caine Eckstein along with fellow ironmen, Jeremy Cotter and Pierce Leonard starting a rare procession of victories.

Short and Magnussen showed just how talented they are after being among the stars of the Australian Age Swimming Championships just two weeks ago on the Gold Coast.

Sam Short 2

RECORD SWIM: Sam Short after breaking a 30-year-old Kieren Perkins record in the pool. Photo Courtesy: Delly Carr (Swimming Australia).

Short, 17, was primed to swim fast after his triumphant in the 200, 400, 800 and 1500m freestyle in the 17-18 years Age group – breaking a 30-year-old Kieren Perkins record in the 800m freestyle before turning his talents back to the surf where his father Danny and uncle Stephen have forged their names into the Maroochydore club’s proud 105 year history.


Short will now return to the pool and join his Rackley Swim Team on their campaign for the 2021 Olympic Swim Trials in Adelaide in June – starting this week with a two-week training camp in Townsville.

Magnussen, at just 17 won silver and bronze medals in the 17-18 years 100 and 200m backstroke at the Gold Coast Aquatic Centre – and he struck a rare double –adding the Under 17 surf teams to his open win.

“We have been pumping out Under 15 and under 17 surf teams pretty constantly since just before our centenary in 2015 and that was the start of it,” said Devlin.

“The club is no stranger to putting our talented stand out juniors up into the opens and (Short and) Magnussen are following upon a fine tradition in the modern era…so we are absolutely delighted (with their results).

“Our goal next year is to win all three male surf teams; it’s a lofty aim and a very difficult one to achieve but we are on track for that.


ALL ABOARD: No stopping Beau Farrell and Matt Palmer as they charge to the finish to win the open board rescue. Photo Courtesy:

“And our belt racing and board rescue (with gold in the opens to Beau Farrell and Matt Palmer) and rescue tube rescue training is reaping dividends where we are figuring in most of the male podium finishes.”

Devlin praised the influence of the club’s first full-time Surf Sports Director Danny Short.

“Danny has brought a lot of experience from his time on the Australian Lifesaving Team where he coached, managed and competed,” said Devlin.

“He has been an enormous influence and he has a group of very knowledgeable supporters such as John Baxter who was also an Australian captain manager and coach and a lot of experience in the management of surf sports.

“We’ve branched out into beach events and we have added some championships on the sand and in the boat area as well so that’s a good beginning.”

But you get the feeling Devlin will keep marshalling the troops – young and old – towards what will be an exciting future.

“They are going to have to keep this up for a couple of years to challenge the record of the swim group from 1998 to 2006,” says Devlin.

“That was a remarkable era and when we celebrated our centenary in 2016 our History Book contained a really interesting summary and comparison of the ‘60s to that period in the 2000s where the success of it was quite obvious compared to the ‘60s, albeit to the less number of events of course.

“And it included the performances of Stephen Short who was the last person to knock off (two-time Olympian and 10-time Australian Open Surf race champion) Ky Hurst in the open surf race in 2000 and our open surf race champions in John Rigby 1962 and the late Robert Thomason (the tenacious) boy from Rockhampton who conquered mountainous seas at Kurrawa in 1996.”

It seems only a matter of time before the likes of Hayden Cotter, Samuel Short and Matthew Magnussen join a celebrated but select list of Olympians and surf race champions in Australia’s decorated surf sport history.





1 comment

  1. avatar
    Leigh Short

    Samuel Short is 17……. not 18 ..