The activities are fun for kids—things like pole-grab sprints, swimming, and paddling in the ocean with lifesaving boards. Plus running in the soft sand and swimming in the waves is great exercise. The Nippers is popular thanks to the physical training and the fact that the kids enjoy it, which is why there are supposedly more than 10,000 of kids belonging to the Nippers in Queensland alone. In addition to the physical training, the Nippers also learn about beach and ocean dangers—not just the tides, but also how waves work, the topography of the ocean floor, dangers along rocky shores, and the dangerous living things that lurk in the ocean. They even learn first aid when they turn thirteen, and when they turn fourteen, they can take a test to earn their Surf Rescue Certificate. This makes them fully-fledged surf rescuers able to participate in beach patrols and competitions.
Unlike swimming schools that teach kids how to swim, those who want to be Nippers must take an aptitude test to make sure that they have a certain degree of swimming skill before they join. The test makes sure they can do things like hold their breath for 30 seconds underwater and perform basic swimming techniques. This means that in many cases, children start swimming school when they’re babies in order to get into the Nippers later. The Nippers also have surf clubs in various regions—there are 22 surf clubs and Nippers clubs just here on the Gold Coast.
Training is usually done within the individual clubs, but they sometimes train together and have competitions or races with kids from other clubs. When the Nippers participate in large competitions or festivals, the beaches are teeming with kids wearing colourful uniforms bearing their club names.
Every club decides on its own uniform color, and for safety they tend to go with really bold ones for their swimming suits and uniforms—fluorescent yellow, pink, orange, bright blue, bright green, and so on. Because the training takes place in the ocean, it is only held in summer, with the first ones starting on a Sunday in mid-October each year. Because the kids have school, I figured they could only train on the weekends and on school holidays, but it turns out they cram some sessions in on weekday evenings as well.
You often see the parents who take the kids to practice watching on the beach as well. My friend’s kid belonged to the Nippers, and said that she turned almost black from being out in the sun watching them train once summer rolled around. There’s also a Nippers club on Miami Beach where I live. The Miami Beach Nippers’ uniforms are fluorescent pink, and whenever I see the kids training on the beach in those bright uniforms, I know that summer has finally come to the Gold Coast. The season where the beach comes alive will soon be upon us.
The Nippers train in small groups of just a few people (as you can see in the photo) up to huge groups of a hundred or more.