We had the Devon Ocean Championships last month for the nippers. It was a wonderful, exhausting day and I wanted to take a moment to sing their praises.
There are, if I’m honest, occasionally moments in the week before a big nipper competition that team managers can find themselves asking why we do it. The splendid Rich Elliott and myself are the nipper team managers and there can be lots of planning, ‘to do’ lists, entry forms and meetings in the days leading up to a competition like the Devons.
Our part of the bargain is to try our hardest to make the day enjoyable for everyone, not just the brilliant 20% who win about 80% of the medals. We want to give as many of our nippers as possible the chance to experience competition in a friendly, supportive environment.
Giving up the day to compete is a commitment from children and their parents that we really value. It can be pretty scary to compete in an actual real-life ocean, one that is trying to dump water on your head or flip you off your board - and doing that aged 8 is a big ask.
There are lots of ways to measure success at these events. Some more obvious than others. One is in how many new children you can bring along with you, and we had a rash of brand new nippers competing which was brilliant. Bertie Saunders, Josie Moore, Paddy Lansley, Archie Cresswell, Jack Davis, Fin Cole: you all made us very proud on Putsborough Beach!
Another is in watching the children cheer one another on. Everyone encouraging one another, cheering each other and celebrating each’s achievements (whether that was getting medals or simply getting to the end of the course). I loved watching (and hearing) our girls chanting for Rory as he tried to battle his way through to a medal in the flags for example.
Another is in our nippers’ endless capacity to take part. The 'have a go’ attitude of all of our nippers on the day was astonishing. Whether it was swimming or paddling out back through an increasingly challenging set of waves, those attempting the gruelling ‘Golden Nipper’ for the first time, pushing hard on the 1km run or lining up for beach flags in front a backed arena of spectators. I’d like to single out the bullet-proof Romesh Molligoda here for his Duracell bunny impression: up for any race, at any point in the day, in any conditions. Even when the waves were double his height, by mid-morning this 9 year-old was up for taking a spot in the 10-11 year-old surf relay team.
One of the real joys is in watching the kids in your charge develop over time. Nippers like Soren Wilton who have transformed in front of your eyes, not just (seemingly) doubling in size but also in confidence and taking an enjoyment from their own considerable abilities that is a real pleasure to watch.
There are the medals of course – and lots of our kids are blessed with bags of natural talent, whether it’s their speed on a board or their speed on the sand, or their fast reaction times. In the sea Sam Hare continued his amazing run in his first year of competition, smashing the competition to win gold on his board, while Daisy Lambert and The Mia Morris Medal Machine bowed out of their last nipper comp with medals swinging round their necks.
We are, as ever, slightly in awe of Jess Adams’ athleticism. She led our best performance on the beach in years – with gold and silver in the sprint and flags for her, and golds in the flags for Oscar Lambert and James Hare with a silver for Amias Tufnell and bronze for Mia. I have watched the irrepressible Hare Major miss out by a hair’s breadth on a few medals and so it was amazing to get to see him take gold.
We watched Rory Lansley and Jess Goodfellow come within one place of getting medals in flags too! Stacks of medals in the relay sprints for teams of the boys and girls like Gracie Trueman, Gaby Lansley, Millie-Grace Elliott and ‘Flo-Jo’ Benfield, all of whom didn’t drop a single baton all day. Archie Cresswell stood next to me on the start line of the sprints and said quietly but firmly, “I’m quite good at running”. Sure enough, dude had two sprint bronze medals round his neck an hour later.
Another total joy is those who turn up and aren’t lucky enough to get a medal but light the place up simply by being there, and by being happy and cheering on others. Children like Chloe Hagley, Evie Poynter, Maia Moore, Daisy Cox and Daisy Upward, who are an utter joy to have around on a long hot day on the beach and without whom we would be a much poorer club.
For each of our nippers we desperately want to give them a moment that is their own at these events. Something to stick away in the memory bank. Something to replay in their heads on the way home. Like watching Milly Lambert absolutely smashing it on the board and making the finals. Or watching Amias come flying out of the sea like a small blond exocet missile to overtake two unsuspecting other kids on the line with his board, determination etched on his face.
And then you think: ah yes. THAT’S why we do it :)