September 6, 2017

Taylor Carre-Riddell

New all-ages show on ABC The Nippers provides all audiences, young and old alike, with a glimpse of beach-bound childhood as a part of the junior life guard ‘Nippers’ program. The show documents the stories of thirteen South Maroubra Nippers (mini life guards) from ages 9-14 as they prepare to face the challenges of a new surf season, including “…gain(ing) confidence in the ocean and (being) taught… different techniques to be used in a situation if there was no life guard” as Jes in the under 14-year-old group puts it.

The show must be commended on capturing a diverse range of Nippers; their different upbringings and varied personalities and interests are brought to life with the hallmarks of the Australian childhood. There is a harmony between the challenges they face in their personal lives, and the challenges they face in the ocean as well as the fierce competition, but Tyler from the under 14-year-old group reminds us that Nippers “…also caters for those who aren’t as competitive!”

There is the strong impression that community and values like patience and persistence are a huge part of the Nippers’ education, but the highlight of the show is certainly the immersion in Nippers/Surfer culture. We learn surfboarding terms like ‘pop’ and ‘roll’ and ‘wave set’: things you could pick up on with first hand exposure to the timeless beach culture. The children use these skill terms, and -for the most part- execute them well in the water with surprising effortlessness: we are left to marvel at them.

In fact, we get to see the children demonstrate these skill terms in action in an effective form of regular Go-Pro camera cinematography. It’s a little choppy at times, but very authentic and immersive on the whole. We see the kids’ perspectives, such as the moment when where Jes, for example, shares that “what I did learn during that time was that being yourself and embracing your true personality on camera is the best way to express your life as a nipper.”

We are privy to elements of young surf culture at this “amazing and beautiful beach,” as nine-year-old Milla describes South Maroubra like never before. Whilst most of us have heard of the game or competitive training regime Flags, we discover little rules and intricacies that help build the game up to be a point of pride (and fierce bragging rights!) in Nipper culture.

The Nippers’ trainers and parents have key roles in the show: we hear about what makes them consider Nippers a source of nourishment and growth for their child, what they want their child to gain from Nippers as they would any other extra-curricular activity- even if the stakes and safety risks are a little higher, so that the kids can “conquer their greatest fears” as Tyler puts it. A highlight of the show for the older audiences might be the insight into the trainer’s pedagogy, or way of teaching the Nipper’s when they are nervous or downright fearfu

l of the waves ahead.

One of the trainer’s revealed how the Nippers distract themselves when they feel afraid; which is a subtle, yet reliable coping mechanism. The trainers combat this by feeding the competitive nature that the Nippers have with their mates, on and off the surf, coupled with plenty of training, where “having to get up early every Sunday morning and getting in the big waves or the cold water is hard,” Milla says.

The use of a narrator as a stylistic choice was a wise one: it gives the show structure and sense of flow, but first and foremost grounds the ‘insight’ into the lives of the South Maroubra Nippers in the voices of the kids themselves. We see how they position themselves as friends, competitors and team mates within the surf culture at large. We learn very quickly that “the most special thing is all my friends and everything you learn about the water,” as 11-year-old Tom says.

If this show is lacking in anything, it would be that I found myself very intrigued by what about Nippers appealed to the kids individually, and how it influenced other aspects of their lives. I think more time of looking at who the children were and drives them aside from the sand and surf would have been a great way to further enrich the narrative of these children’s lives.

As far as being on national TV goes, Tom says “sometimes it was a little annoying, with all the questions, but now I have seen the results and it’s really cool.” Couldn’t have it put it better it myself.

Production details:
Series Producer: Amy Bingham
Executive Producers: Frank Chidiac And David Ogilvy
Executive Producer ABC: Chris Rose

-Taylor Carre-Riddell

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