MEDICAL student Sam Atkins is key to a long-term plan hatched by Cudgen Headland SLSC to dominate at the elite level in surf rescue boat racing.
Starting out in tinnies as a toddler, the Kingscliff teen always knew he wanted to race.
While powering an Inflatable Rescue Boat (IRB) at speeds of 35kmh as the driver of Cudgen Headland's crew is a far cry from the days of jumping into the back of his father's boat, it's a natural progression for the self-confessed IRB fanatic.
"I've been into IRB's since the day I could walk,” Atkins said.
"I loved driving boats from a young age. I idolised the guys in the boats, so it just made sense to get into racing.”
Joining Point Lookout SLSC five years ago, the 19-year-old gained his IRB driver's licence when he was 17 and hasn't looked back.
"It's a different perspective on racing. It brings us back to lifesaving and what you're about as a club and organisation,” he said.
Atkins and his crew will compete in the inter club open competition at the 2017 Australian IRB Championships in Kingscliff this weekend, which has attracted more than 720 competitors across 185 elite boat crews from around Australia.
While Atkins has only been part of Cudgen Headland's team for a short period, he's created a tight bond with his new team who will be racing against the country's best crews.
"We're a small team and it couldn't have happened without a few members transferring from other clubs, but that's what makes us special,” Atkins said.
"We're united for the Far North Coast as one, to provide a sense of unity. We're not just individuals and that's a good thing.”
Atkins and his crew of seven will be the club's first IRB team since Cudgen hosted a state championships in 2004 and forms the nucleus of a five-year plan hatched by the club to reach elite status in IRB racing.
After hosting the Australian championships in 2014, club president Adam Mills said the club set about blazing a trail for elite IRB teams to compete out of Cudgen, which will culminate when the club holds the championships again in 2019.
"In 2014 we didn't have any IRB crews and since hosting that one, we've now set up a racing team and are trying to attract members to get involved,” Mills said.
"We've got an agenda to try and attract major championships to the area, to give our members something to aim at rather than just lifesaving.
"2014 was the year to showcase it, and get members interested, but this is an opportunity to develop a racing team. By 2019, we want to be competitive and up on the podium.”
Atkins said his focus was firmly on the long-term but had already seen sharp improvement in the side.
While competing for the experience this weekend, he said the club had built the foundations for long-term success.
"Next year and going forward We want to stay together and learn the ropes of what it takes to win,” Atkins said.
The championships kicked-off today in interstate competition, while the inter club contests will begin from 8am Saturday at Kingscliff Beach.