Stars at Casuarina
By KEN SAPWELL
ICONIC Aussie rock band Mental As Anything will headline a celebration of surfing and beach culture at the fourth annual Casuarina Beach festival over the weekend.
The veteran rockers will perform on Sunday at 2.15pm (NSW) as part of a weekend of free entertainment which also showcases some of the world's top professional surf stars.
The packed program includes an international beach ball on Saturday where partygoers can let their hair down as well as market stalls, art exhibitions and gourmet fare from top local restaurants.
Events kick off at 9am on Saturday with the Watermans open ocean paddle board race over a 28km course with local and international competitors chasing a purse of $8500.
For the first-time teams from Hawaii and California will compete in the race, billed as the longest and richest in Australia.
Other competitors include reigning world champion, Australia's Jamie Mitchell and former multiple world champion Mick Di Betta who will be paddling to Cook Island and back in pursuit of the prizemoney.
Event director, Surfing Australia's Glen Best, says the going will be tough for the expected 20 two-person teams.
Mr Best says the festival is fast becoming the highpoint of the Northern NSW ocean sports calendar and had been expanded to include international surf stars competing for total prizemoney of $20,000.
Competitors take the plunge again on Sunday with a series of invitational expressions.
They include aerial surfing, longboarding, women's events and a program of junior competition designed to nurture the next generation of surf athletes in the Northern Rivers region.
Names include longboarders Wayne Deane, Ray Gleave, Jackson Close and Lucas Proudfoot, professional women surfers Ste- phanie Gilmore, Amanda Clegg, Sheridan Shields and Jodie Cooper and the wild flyboys of aerial surfing, Josh Kerr, Asher Pacey, Craig Wharton, James Lewis and Dave Reardon-Smith.
Apart from Australia's favourite party band, local band Max Judo and Gold Coast favourite, the Beach Brothers, will be performing between 11.30am (NSW) and 1.45pm (NSW) on Sunday.
Casuarina's developer Don O'Rorke, who is the driving force behind the festival, said bringing the surf competitions to Casuarina was an easy decision.
"Casuarina Beach is at the heart of one of Australia's best surfing regions with more worldranked professional surfers living here than anywhere else in Australia," he said.
The beachfront development on Monday picked up a prestigious award for excellence in the Northern Rivers Tourism Awards for 2004.
The coastal town has been named joint winner of the New Tourism Development award.
Mr O'Rorke said the award not only recognised the development's physical attributes but its cultural activities, including events like the surf festival.