Durban Surf is the only non-Australian club to have ever won the World Title, and they did it not once but twice!! Durban Surf Lifesaving Club is now a globally recognised powerhouse in the world of Lifesaving. Durban Surf won 2 World Club Championships in 1998 and 2004, captained and coached by the now SA Swimming coach Graham Hill, Brett Pengelly and Julian Taylor.
Duban Surf LSC was the first proper voluntary surf lifesaving club in the country, formed on Tuesday, June 28, 1927. The club has over the years produced more national team competitors than all the other clubs combined. The list of top swimmers, ski and board paddlers, boaties and pool specialists is a who's who of the lifesaving movement. Durban Surf is the only South African club to have won the World Championships / combined surf and pool events. This was achieved in 1998 and 2004.
How Duties Began
Oscar Osberg, a founder member of Durban Surf gives his version of how voluntary surf lifesaving began in Durban.
In 1927 one of the main features of the beach was the semi-circular pier or “enclosure” opposite the Kenilworth Tea Room adjacent to the entrance of the beach Baths, which was then at the south end. This “enclosure” has been built to make the bathing safe from sharks and during the day, from 6am to 6pm, two lifesaver attendants, employed by the Durban Corporation, were on duty to prevent any drownings or other mishaps. Also parallel with the promenade were change rooms on stilts.
However, for some years prior to this time the sandy beach had gradually been eroded so that at high tide only very active and good swimmers were able to bathe within the enclosure, resulting in more and more people bathing in the sea opposite the Addington Hospital. Subsequently, even the sea opposite the Beach Baths became frequented by the bathing public, after they changed at the Baths.
Inevitably some drownings occurred and in about May/June 1927 a Mr Thornton, then recently arrived from Australia and familiar with Bondi Beach, suggested to Humphrey Abery of Queens Park Swimming Club that a voluntary lifesaving club similar to that at Bondi Beach be formed by swimmers who frequented Durban beach. A representative of each swimming club – Tech, Queens Park and others – met for coffee one Sunday afternoon at the Kenilworth Tea Room after the usual training session and it was agreed to act on this suggestion.
The Tech club was the most active at the time and within two weeks after this meeting two squads of four each took turns to guard the bathers on Saturday afternoons and Sunday mornings on the outside of the north end of the enclosure. At this stage there was no official formation of a lifesaving club, although Mr Tommy Berman, chairman of the municipal General Purposes Committee showed some interest but was non-committal.
These two squads comprised Tech members only, namely Osberg, I’Ons, Stewart and Howard and Alder, Skellern, West and Wyman. No facilities were provided and gradually more members were recruited from Tech club until squads patrolled Addington Beach as well during the weekends. The red and black woollen costumes were purchased by individual members from Wrights Knitting Mills in Umbilo. Even changing facilities were not free.
After about three months Durban Surf Lifesaving Club was officially formed and affiliated to the Natal Amateur Swimming Association with Mr Billy Griffiths as president and chairman after a public meeting in the Mayor’s Parlour. Much more interest was taken in the club and a room in the old chair shed at the back of the south end of the Beach Baths was allocated to us for our meetings.
Further recruitment of members brought a number of chaps whose main attraction to the beach was surfing with short, wooden curved surfboards. In order to encourage this membership, one of their number, VI Visick, was elected the first club captain.
No set drill was performed by the squads, each of which had now been increased to six members. Practices were regularly carried out and definite signals and a proper sequence of actions were done. Originally the only reels available were those placed in boxes on poles at various points along the beach and I do not recall how and from whom the first two portable reels became available. But there were very acceptable in place of the others, which usually broke when strain was applied.
In 1930 during the Currie Cup swimming tournament in Cape Town we were requested to give a demonstration to the newly-formed Clifton Surf Lifesaving Club and on a Sunday morning this was performed by a squad of Durban surf members consisting of Osberg, Payne, Stewart, I’Ons, savage and Wyman.
During the first few years Thornton, an elderly man, acted as honorary secretary and treasurer, but later a member of Queens Park, ‘Chips’ Curtis, was elected secretary and treasurer when Thornton returned to Australia.