Saving lives on Durban’s Addington Beach are lifeguards Thobani Nhlangano, head coach and manager Russell Sadler, and Mdu Mngadi. 
 Shelley Kjonstad African News Agency (ANA)
Durban - The song A Shabby Little Hut by The Bats with the lyrics “a shabby little hut by the dock, down by the sea” was a major hit in the swinging 1960s.

It was also the signature tune of the first ragtag band of lifesavers on Addington Beach, whose wooden hut was set up in 1963, making it the first base for the Marine Surf Lifesaving Club (Marine SLC). The club is now eThekwini’s single biggest supplier of trained lifesavers who are sought after nationally and internationally.

The club’s championships are being held today and the adaptive surfers competition, hosted by the club and held on North Beach, is tomorrow.

These take place as the competitive surf lifesaving season draws to a close, with the club having bagged two silver and one bronze, finishing 8th in the World Lifesaving Championships in Australia - the only SA team in the world’s top 20 - as well as winning the national open water championships, National Grand aggregate champions and KZN Senior and Junior Championships.

Described as an “unprecedented unbeaten season”, it is a far cry from their humble beginnings, with one of the club’s founders and current president, Danny Morris, saying joining the lifesaving crew in 1963 turned his life around.

“There’s no question about that. If you want to be successful as a lifesaver you have to be fit and disciplined, that’s what Marine’s taught me - discipline,” he said.

He was 18 years old when he joined the breakaway group from Durban Surf, along with Norman Billingham, Bill Scotney and Bert Ashford, to form the new club at Addington Beach.

The escapades of Marine’s lifesavers and surfers through the next five decades makes up the stuff of Durban legends, which is led by the annual Shark Net Parties on Boxing Day, December 26. The dress code has always been strictly formal - tie and Speedo - with members having to build a raft and head out to the shark nets where they have a braai.

Some annual celebrations were better than others, with one year seeing an optimistic attempt at braaiing a sheep on a spit which ended badly, with a half-cooked sheep floating in the waves.

During his days as a lifesaver, Morris said pies, chips and curry gravy from XL Roadhouse were the best cure for a hangover, while the nearby nurses’ home saw an endless parade of lovely ladies suntanning on Addington Beach. During a rescue of three people, he saved a nurse who was struggling in the water.

“If we hadn’t been there, she would have drowned, she was tired and struggling. I got the girl in and she was the only person who ever came back and said thank you,” he said.

And away from the “jolling”, that incident highlights the serious side of the lifesaving community.

According to Morris, the biggest mass rescue he was involved in was 60 people who had got caught in a rogue surf.

“The waves were running across and we had to herd all the swimmers together and we got them in,” he said.

Over 50 years, taking on big swells and unpredictable surf, braving bluebottle swarms and dealing with many an intoxicated swimmer has been the work of the lifeguards, who have saved more than 3000 swimmers in distress.

Their patrol hours exceed 10000 man hours of voluntary community service each year.

The club reached its lowest membership levels in 2008 when the new promenade was under construction and they moved into two containers in the uShaka car park. They decided to start incorporating other water sports and the membership now stands at more than 1000.

Head coach and club manager, Russell Sadler, said this included surfing, surfskiing, canoeing, open water swimming and adaptive surfing for people with physical challenges.

Sadler, whose father Mickey Sadler was the legendary lifeguard for 50 years on Scottburgh Beach, was in the waves from an early age. He oversees the training of new young lifesavers, helping them to forge a future.

“While we are now a water sports hub, our core activity remains lifesaving. The biggest feather in our cap is the number of people we have trained, some literally from the gutter, and who are now employed full time,” Sadler said, adding that they supply lifeguards for eThekwini beaches and beyond, which includes lifesaving at pools around the country, as well as working as lifesavers beyond our borders such as in Dubai and the Caribbean.”

He said for the basic entry course, candidates needed 40-50 hours of lecture time, which excluded the practical ocean skills.

“Time required for teaching ocean skills varies depending on the candidate’s exposure to swimming,” he said, adding a basic requirement was knowing how to swim.

Independent On Saturday