Three times Olympian Andrew ‘Boy’ Charlton (1924, 1928, 1932) made a brief appearance in the surf life saving record-books for Manly LSC in Sydney as a surf swimmer. Yet he was in awe of the pool and surf swimmers he competed against from Maroochydore, such were the ‘glory days’ of the late 1920s and the 1930s.

Charlton visited the then small communities of Nambour and Maroochydore in 1932 out of respect for the men that strode the national stage and who hailed from this Region – Axel Suosaari, Australian 100 yards freestyle champion in 1929 and 1930; Joe Suosaari, Australian Breaststroke Champion for a decade; and Jack Petersen, Australian Surf Belt Silver Medallist, 1933 and 1934.

This is what the first ‘Golden Era’ for Maroochydore Swimming and Life Saving Club meant for the followers of both sports in the Southern States – ‘Who are these men? Do they train in a pool? How are they so good? So many from one small place?’

Golden Era Andrew Charlton

Pictured – Andrew Charlton, second from left.


It took the arrival at Maroochydore of Olympic swimming hopeful Arthur John Rigby in late 1958 to spark a second ‘Golden Era’ at the Maroochydore Surf Lifesaving Club. Rigby won the Club’s first-ever surf life saving Gold Medal at the 1959 Australian Surf Life Saving Championships, held just around the corner at Mooloolaba. In this Centenary season Rigby was honoured as the ‘Number One Cap’ for Maroochydore SLSC, which has now ‘capped’ an impressive 177 Australian Surf Gold Medallists who have carried off 182 Australian Surf Championships in the club’s first 100 years.

Back in 1959, however, things looked a lot different at Maroochydore Surf Club. Jack Petersen, the young farmer from Rosemount, had won many Queensland Surf Championships in the 1930s but had taken two Silver medals in the blue riband Australian Belt Championship in 1933 and 1934. By 1959 Maroochydore SLSC had waited 26 years for ‘Aussies’ Gold. The surf club’s hero of the moment, Rigby, had his eyes firmly on selection for the 1960 Rome Olympics. By early 1960 the tenacious Rigby had won selection in the most successful Olympic Swimming Team in the history of Australia at the Games. He joined Dawn Fraser, John Devitt, John Konrads, Murray Rose and David Theile, not to mention Athletics champion Herb Elliott. What an experience for the boy from West End in Brisbane. John came away with a Bronze medal in the 4 x 200 metres Relay.

The returning Olympian set about leading a distinguished period of success in surf swimming which forever installed ‘The Black Swan’ of Maroochydore as a Champion Surf Club. Rigby won the 1962 Surf Race Championship of Australia and led in the victorious Surf Teams (4-man team) in 1961 and 1965. Three ‘Aussie’ Golds in 5 years didn’t tell the full story, though – Rigby led a squad of high achievers – brother Peter (6 Gold in the same period, including the Belt Race Championship of Australia), Barrie Munro (5 Gold) and another 4 Surf Champions emerged: John Fingleton, Laurie Higson, Jack Etchells and John Bennett all added to Maroochydore’s success in ‘Aussies’ competition.

Rigby became the first Maroochydore member to win selection in another highly-competitive area – the Australian Surf Team to tour the USA in 1965 – just reward for a fine competitive career. Arthur Scott had served in a 1938 Australian Instructional Team to Victoria, but John was the first of 30 Athletes to compete internationally for Australia in Surf Life Saving. Rigby also distinguished himself as one of Maroochydore’s greatest-ever Club Captains, serving across four patrolling seasons from 1962-1966. He later served a distinguished term as President in 1988 – 1991. He was elected a Life Member of the club in 1985.

The second ‘Golden Era’ in surf competition 1959-1965 showed the athletes of subsequent generations how it was done, with ‘Loyalty, Guts and Glory’. It was by no means an accident that the ‘Third Golden Era’, 1989 to 2015, began under the leadership of Club President John Rigby.

While John Rigby led the swimming side of the club, Graham Ashton emerged as a surf boat sweep of exceptional talent. ‘Asho’ became known throughout Australia for his successes with Maroochydore crews. A former State Champion in surf board paddling in 1955, by 1960 ‘Asho’ was Boat Captain, a position he held until 1974. ‘Asho’ and his Maroochydore men changed the perception of Queensland surf boats as ‘easy beats’, scoring podium finishes in 1965, 1966, 1967 and 1973. He swept a Junior (Under 18) crew to ‘Aussie’ Gold in 1974. In the same period, Maroochydore crews dominated the sport in Queensland.

Maroochydore surf club prospered, with such skilled leadership, in a second ‘Golden Era’, 1959 – 1967, in which a new culture of excellence in the sport of surf life saving led the way.

Golden Era Andrew Clint Robinson (1)

Pictured – Graham ‘Asho’ with his crew

Golden Era Andrew Charlton (1)

Pictured – John Rigby celebrating on the shoulders of teammates


In this third ‘Golden Era’ another Olympian emerged and took John Rigby’s excellence to a whole new level. Clint Robinson OAM dramatically won the K1 1000 metres Kayak Olympic Gold at Barcelona, sensationally defeating Norwegian World Champion Knut Holman in a tight finish. The 19 year old from Maroochydore stunned the Australian public with his strength and speed to pull off what seemed an unlikely victory. Robinson became a ‘household name’,as they say, being the very first Australian to become Olympic Champion in a sport traditionally dominated by northern hemisphere athletes. Robinson, at 19 years of age, had achieved the top of the mountain in Olympic Kayak competition.

When he retired from Kayaks, Robinson had represented in five Olympics (1992 – 2008) and had won Olympic Gold, Silver and Bronze. When he retired from surf life saving competition in 2011 Robinson had won 36 Australian Surf Life Saving Championships for Maroochydore, in the period 1987 – 2008. This is still the most by any athlete. Shannon Eckstein of Northcliffe SLSC has won 35 Gold in his stellar career, but has never been an Olympian.

Though Robinson was the cornerstone of his club’s ‘Third Golden Era’, he was by no means the only Champion to make a contribution. By way of example, in the same period, 1989 – 2015, Maroochydore men have followed John Rigby as Surf Race Champions of Australia – Robert Thomasson (1996) and Steve Short (2000). Jason O’Pray emulated Peter Rigby as Australian Surf Belt Champion, winning the event in 2002 and again in 2003.

Maroochydore’s champion women began to emerge in the mid – 1990s. Linda Halfweeg was the first of many ‘Aussies’ champions with a stellar career in the sport from 1996 – 1999. In her final year, Linda was awarded the ‘Most outstanding Female Competitor’ of the Australian Championships. In 1998 and 1999 Kerri Thomas was crowned Ironwoman Champion of Australia. Then followed champion surf ski paddlers in Jasmin Kelly and Britt Collie. Miranda Bell won 10 Australian Surf Life Saving Gold between 2007 and 2011, including the Womens Surf Race Championship of Australia in 2011.

It is remarkable that this ‘Third Golden Era’ in surf sports competition has been sustained for such a length of time. Good coaching, effective team management and a strong ‘Nipper’ program has sustained this long run of surf sports success at Maroochydore. 

There is another ingredient that powers the athletes at Maroochydore: ‘Loyalty, Guts and Glory’ abounds still at ‘The Home of the Black Swan’. If you attend the ‘Aussies’ at Maroochydore Beach (13 – 21 April 2024) you will see plenty of Maroochydore’s finest athletes displaying their surf skills, as the ‘Third Golden Era’ continues. 

Golden Era Taplin

Nikki Chapman, Alyce Wood (nee Burnett) and Laura Pettigrew

Golden Era Andrew Clint Robinson

Clint Robinson