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Surf titles return to deadly beach, nine years to the day after drowning tragedy

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Queensland’s state surf lifesaving championships will return to a deadly Gold Coast beach that claimed the lives of three national surf athletes and that was banned from hosting all championships until 2020.

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Surf Life Saving Queensland will return the state championships to Kurrawa Beach at Broadbeach on the Gold Coast from 26-28 March 2021, nine years to the day after a third death in national competition that caused all major state and national titles to be dumped from the beach.

On 28 March 2012, 14-year-old lifesaver Matthew Barclay from Maroochydore drowned at Kurrawa Beach during the Australian Surf Life Saving Championships under-15 board race held in testing conditions.

Barclay died two years after 19-year-old Sydney lifesaver Saxon Bird died on the same beach after being hit by a surf ski during the national titles.

In 1996, 15-year-old member of the Kurrawa’s under 18 boat crew, Robert Gatenby, drowned in treacherous surf conditions as Cyclone Beti ravaged the Queensland coast.

Following Barclay’s death, Surf Life Saving Australia determined that Kurrawa would not be considered for future championships until 2020.

But SLSQ has vowed to return to Kurrawa Beach for the State competition.

The Australian Championships, along with the national youth and masters titles, will be held at the Sunshine Coast the following month.

SLSQ defended the decision to return to Kurrawa with strict safety measures in place including options to move or cancel events on the day.

“Safety of all participants at SLSQ sports carnivals is of the highest concern,” a statement by SLSQ said. “If the conditions are determined to be unsafe on the day of the carnival, the carnival will be moved to a different location.

“SLSQ have a number of safety measures in place for all surf sport events, which they strictly adhere to.”

Barclay’s father Steve told News Corp that he hoped organisers had learnt from the tragedies. “I can only trust and hope that they have learnt lessons from the three deaths that have occurred there,” he said.

Former SLSQ president Ralph Devlin, who led the organisation between 2011 and 2016, said the landscape for running carnivals had been transformed since the deaths.

“I think the majority of the surf lifesaving community would be comfortable that, as long as all the safety measures are in place, that competition could happen there again,” Devlin said.

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