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Shifting sands as surf champs turn their back on deadly beach once more

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Surf Life Saving Queensland has overturned its decision to return its championships to a deadly Gold Coast beach that claimed the lives of three national surf athletes, claiming the backflip was “out of respect” for the families.

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The state championships were slated to return 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 banned from Kurrawa until 2020.

SLSQ originally defended the decision to return to Kurrawa, stating it had strict safety measures in place including options to move or cancel events on the day depending on weather and ocean conditions.

However, the SLSQ Board of Directors at its latest meeting resolved unanimously to overturn the decision.

In a statement, SLSQ said that the publication of the Kurrawa venue was communicated to the public prior to the Board having the opportunity to consider such an important decision and was “an administrative oversight.”

It said the decision to overturn plans to hold the championships at Kurrawa was made “out of respect” for the families of Saxon Bird, Robert Gatenby, and Matthew Barclay who lost their lives at Kurrawa during competition.

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

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

SLSQ said scrapping Kurrawa as the 2020 venue was also made as in certain environmental conditions the nature of the surf and weather at Kurrawa continued to pose too great a risk for the safety of competitors.

It said other venues were more suitable and the location would be decided upon after a consultation process within SLSQ, which would then be approved by the Board in the coming months.

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