Livesaving legend

HE’S not a paramedic or a super hero, but Reg Wood has saved more lives than most people could dream of.

While he didn’t always pull them out of the surf himself, he spent the best part of 70 years equipping hundreds of others with the skills to do so.

At 87-years of age the grandfather of Sussex Inlet Surf Life Saving Club has decided to stand down from active life saving.

His life memberships at Sussex Inlet and Avalon surf clubs were earned after dedicating almost 70 years to the volunteer organisation.

Mr Wood became involved with Surf Life Saving in 1944 as an 18-year-old.

At the time he was a member of the Woolloomooloo Police Boys Club training and competing in wrestling. 

Avalon Surf Life Saving Club sounded a call for more members through the Police Boys Club and Mr Wood was “talked into joining”.

“I was only just a swimmer but that was the start of it,” he said, thinking back to how he began a life-long passion for the organisation.

There were no rapid-response inflatable boats back then. The rescue boat involved grabbing an oar and paddling a heavy, wooden surfboat through the waves, he said.

“In the old days we used the belt and line system for rescues,” Mr Wood said.

“Through the years the one thing that stood out to me in the surf clubs was that it didn’t matter who you were or where you were from.

“In surf lifesaving you get people from all walks of life.

“The beauty of it is you can have a chap who would be a street sweeper during the week who is the boss of the beach patrol, and one of his patrol members could be a high-court judge.

“I have always enjoyed the companionship and being around the water,” he said.

Mr Wood and his wife Marjorie moved from Sydney to Sussex Inlet in 1989 transferring his knowledge and skill to the local club.

At that stage the Sussex Inlet clubhouse was a caravan and had only been operating since 1981.

The club graduated to calling a shipping container home in 1984 with the current clubhouse under construction a few years later.

Mr Wood was active in helping with the new clubhouse fit out, fundraising for the club and new equipment and the training of new and existing members in Surf Bronze Medallions and other lifesaving awards.

He served for 14 years on the boards of examiners and lifesaving and was also a South Coast Branch District supervisor conducting patrol inspections across the nine clubs of the branch.

In 2010 he stood down from the board to follow his passion to train members in the Surf Bronze Medallion, Advanced Resuscitation and other lifesaving awards.

Mr Wood trained his last class of new Surf Lifesavers on December 1, 2013.

South Coast Branch president Steve Jones said Mr Wood was well known for his tenacious commitment and enthusiasm to anyone who has an interest in being part of the organisation.

“Reg has given 68 invaluable years of community service, knowledge, skills and friendship to many in the surf lifesaving movement,” Mr Jones said.

“I have seen him training young children and adults and the way he talks to them has them all in awe of him.

“I’m in awe of him after all these years. I’ve watched him with the kids coming through the club and he has a connection with young people. Every time he says something they listen.

“In exams when they answer the question he helps them explore those answers and adds to it so they take more away,” Mr Jones said.

One of those children was his grandson Brad Wheeler who is club captain and senior vice president.

He remembers learning under his grandfather and said it’s the real-life experiences he speaks of that helps give weight to his words.

“He’s got a lot of experience and it’s not from a text book and that makes it much more engaging,” Mr Wheeler said.

“I was in Nippers for a couple of years when I was younger, then I stopped for a few years.

“Then one day pop rang me and said ‘I’m starting bronze medal training’.

“I told him I didn’t want to do it. He said ‘I’ll pick you up at 10’.”

“It’s hard to say no to your grandparents,” Mr Wheeler said.

Mr Wood said a combination of trouble with his knees and wanting to spend more time with his wife of 60 years and their family were his reasons for stepping down from active membership.

“I’ll still visit the club and fossick around. There’s always something to be done,” he said.

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