It was a long trip well worth it for the Far South Coast competitors who travelled to Kingscliff for the 2020 Envirobank NSW Country Surf Life Saving Championships on February 1-2.
There were just 10 of them but they took home some of the most prestigious medals on offer. Thirty four clubs and over 1300 surf lifesavers attended the two-day championships where two Far South Coast clubs took out both the male and female Open Flags titles with a young but strong team.
Elli Beecham from Narooma SLSC has won the Country Champs Beach Flags title for three years running. At just 15 years old, she's one of the fastest and most nimble soft-sand sprinters in the state. On the weekend she continued to impress, taking out both the Open and Under 17 Female Flags and coming third in the Under 17 Beach Sprint.
She wasn't confident leading into the event with the heavy smoke from bush fires severely affecting her training and preparation but was beaming after her first win.
"The fires down at home have meant I haven't been outside that much and I've been sick for the last week," Elli said.
"I love Country Champs because it's a chance to have competition without the big city clubs and it's so much fun. It's hard to be the only one from the club here but I put my head down and work hard for the club."
It's a big trip for Elli and her family to make, but she continued to make the annual pilgrimage to Country Champs.
"It feels pretty good because I won the Under 14s and 15s and now the Under 17s and Opens in the Flags so that's three years in a row I've come here and won," she said.
Elli will take the momentum she's gained into the State Championships next month. Darren Drewsen from Broulee Surfers SLSC was successful in defending his Open Flags title and added to his medal tally by taking out gold in the 40-49 Flags and the Beach Sprint.
This year Drewsen said everything was a little harder with only a week without smoky conditions due to the fires. He said the squad appreciated the getaway: "We have a great young squad and they love that they get to travel to compete." The young gun Broulee team returned home with a bag of medals. Far South Coast Branch president Tony Rettke expressed how proud he was.
"For Elli at Narooma and the Broulee team to come home with the results they have, it's just really nice to have some good news down here," he said.
"We're truly delighted to celebrate the effort they went to to make the trip and to have their skills in the water and on the beach rewarded."
The championships was won by Cudgen Headland SLSC for the fourth consecutive year. Broulee took out 20th position tied with Mollymook while Elli Beecham's results alone put Narooma SLSC in 27th place.