Some of the Hunter's littlest surf lifesavers were all smiles after two days of fierce competition at the 2021 NSW Surf Lifesaving Championships in Lake Macquarie.
The championships kicked off Thursday with challenging conditions, but the surf dialed down a notch to allow the Under 9, 10 and 11 age groups to get through a full program of teams events on Friday.
For many, it was their first taste of competing at a major carnival with water events hosted by Swansea Belmont Surf Lifesaving Club at Blacksmiths and the beach sand events at Redhead due to COVID-19 restrictions.
More than 2400 junior competitors from 71 clubs across NSW registered for the premier surf lifesaving event.
Hunter branch clubs were cool under pressure with the older competitors showing their experience.
Levi Gibbs from host club Swansea Belmont won the U11 surf race in extremely challenging conditions. The trio of Levi and twins Thomas and Mitchell Chalmers used their home-beach advantage to retain the U11 male board relay title from last year.
Sidney Burns from Cooks Hill was a stand-out and won the U11 board race and the U11 Ironman. He was also part of the Cooks Hill U11 male surf team.
He narrowly claimed the Ironman title from long-time rival Thomas Chalmers from Swansea Belmont, with the pair consistently tussling over first place every time they meet.
Sidney teamed up with Will Munro to win the board rescue event after getting second place at the Branch Championships. They said communication was the key to success in the board rescue.
"We almost fell off twice but we picked it up and kept going," Sidney said. "You can't do this race without talking because otherwise, you don't know where you're at. Basically, you pick up your stroke rate so you can go faster and it's all about talking and timing."
Fingal Beach's Ezekiel Hay won the U10 beach sprint and came second in the beach flags.
Gold medal winners from the Central Coast included Talia Tebb from Avoca Beach in the U10 board race and Billy McCarthy from Wamberal in the U10 surf race.
Zach Mitchell from The Lakes SLSC could barely contain his delight in winning the U10 board race in a highly emotional finish that came down to the wire with an all-out battle to cross the line between him and Felix Stephens from North Steyne.
After braving the big surf it was smiles all round for the boys who seemed like they'd been mates for years but only just met waiting in line for their race to be run.
"I don't know what happened out there, it was such a mission," Zach said. "Felix my buddy here gave me a great race. I was just, no matter what, coming down that wave I knew I had a state medal.
"The best thing is getting to make friends. It feels amazing and I'll never forget that race. Last year going from sixth to first now, it's awesome. This is my first medal. This is such fun conditions to race in."
The championships continue throughout the weekend at Swansea Belmont and Redhead SLSCs with the Under 12/13/14 age divisions, followed by the senior events over the next few weeks.
Top 10 Pointscore - U9/10/11s
1. Wanda SLSC,104
2. North Curl Curl SLSC, 98
3. South Maroubra SLSC, 94
4. Coogee SLSC, 85
5. North Bondi SLSC, 79
6. Cooks Hill SLSC, 53
7. Avoca Beach SLSC, 42
8. Manly LSC, 40
8. Swansea Belmont SLSC, 40
10. Newport SLSC, 35
11. North Cronulla SLSC, 32