Busy St Kilda life saver makes clean sweep of life

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MATT Culka is a paramedic, president of the St Kilda Life Saving Club, coaches rowing five or six mornings a week and has a one-year-old child.

“I never get a chance to sleep,” he says with a laugh. “But I love it.”

Culka is speaking ahead of the Life Saving World Championships in Adelaide and the Australian Surf Rowers League, both of which start in November.

The Life Saving World Championships, known as Rescue 2012, are a unique sporting event as they are as much about practising proper life-saving methods as they are about competition.

“You’ll be racing down a pool with a weighted mannequin or swimming in an obstacle course, where you’ll have to dive under a one-metre deep barrier every 25 metres,” Culka says.

“It’s all based on simulating rescue and training for better fitness. Every event is designed to simulate a type of rescue for when you’re on patrol.”

Despite his many hats, Culka is no different to a rookie and is also rostered on for patrols. That’s a requirement for all championship events, as well as the surf rowing.

Rowing a surf boat requires phenomenal strength and skill  as the crews row around a buoy about 400 metres offshore and then return to the beach.

Culka, the sweep, steers the boat and hurls commands at the four  rowers. “It’s certainly not easy; it takes many hours of practice.

“To be an elite-level rower you need to do about 10 to 15 sessions a week.”

The surf league, which is sponsored by the Australian Navy, includes rounds all over Australia, with many crews travelling interstate.  As Culka points out, the opposition is always of a high calibre.

“There are a number of crews who will have people who rowed at the Olympics in London and are now switching to surf boats,” he says.

“It’s not just a bunch of chumps having a crack. They’re high-level athletes.”

As for St Kilda’s chances, Culka says they are more than prepared to give the competition a shake.

“One commonly-held belief is that we must struggle when it comes to surf because we practise in the bay,’’ he says.

“But the Spirit of Tasmania gives us three perfect waves at 6.15 every morning and we travel hundreds of kilometres every weekend.

‘‘All our best results have involved managing bigger surf.”

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