Volunteer Profile: Matt Culka

Matt Culka has been an active member of the lifesaving community for almost three decades, and while surf boats and sports play a big part in his lifesaving journey, he has been active in ensuring St Kilda LSC’s pledge that “Everybody, Every day, Anybody, Any day” is known and practised within the club and community.

On the eve of this year Midsumma Pride March, we learn a bit more about Matt and St Kilda’s work in this space!

Current Club: St Kilda LSC

(Previous clubs include Point Lonsdale, Torquay, South Melbourne and Gunnamatta)

How long have you been involved in lifesaving?

I joined in 1993. I started at Gunnamatta SLSC, which was a great club to learn about lifesaving and surf. A real “lifesavers” club and a great environment to be a member. Later I moved a bit for competitive boat crews, to Point Lonsdale, one of the best-run clubs and has wonderful people, and Torquay. But in the late 1990s I joined St Kilda to assist with patrols and to train in winter and ended up as President. After a couple of years struggling with just eight members and a couple of failed attempts to get a surf boat crew going, I stopped competing for other clubs, learnt to sweep and have been a member at only St Kilda since 2004.

Why did you become involved in lifesaving?

I joined after agreeing to help a friend coach a surf boat crew. He’d never rowed or swept. As it turned out, they were always one short, and I ended up joining to row boats. But we were not much chop, so that didn’t last long and I took up IRB racing and craft events.

What are some of your responsibilities at your club?

I’m currently the Director of Competition.  My responsibilities are mainly associated with that, but lots of my time is also dedicated to being a sweep/coach for the surf boat teams we have.

What do you enjoy most about lifesaving?

I believe that lifesaving’s most valuable commodity is that it brings people together from all backgrounds. It teaches members to accept people for who they are and to care less about what job they do or what school they went to. I hope that my own children get to mingle with all the different types of people and learn that it doesn’t matter what you do for a job, or how great or average a competitor you are, underneath we can all have something to offer.

To put a bit of an explanation to that, I am lucky enough to coach some supremely inspirational people. And through that, they have shown respect and understanding of what I bring to the table. No egos and no attitude, just good human beings. It is that type of person I want my children to associate with.

Are you able to tell us a little more about your role with LSV in the Pride March?

St Kilda LSC has a very diverse and open membership. More widely, the community is vibrant and is very open-minded. For a number of years, we have spoken about being more openly accepting and open to anyone, and with our President being very supportive, we put our money where our mouth was and had one of our surf boats sign-written in a rainbow flag.

We entered this in the Midsumma Pride March parade and were very proud.  The boat lives outside our club for all to see, and I would say it is one of the most photographed surf boats on the planet. Our pledge of acceptance “Everybody, Every day, Anybody, Any day” is written on the boat and is there for all to see. But it is not just about LGBTQI+, we also recently held a first aid course for indigenous youths and have had some “Grey Bronzies” achieve their awards in the last couple of years. So, the whole club is working to make sure the community know what we stand for.

What is your greatest achievement in lifesaving so far?

After 25-odd years in lifesaving clubs, no one thing really stands out. Mostly I have some great friends, and I really enjoy spending time with these people. At a club level, I love my club and what it has been able to achieve, and having contributed a little to that is satisfying. What gives me greatest joy now, is seeing people achieve things they haven’t before or performing close to their best, regardless of what club they’re from.

When you’re not lifesaving, what keeps you busy?

I have a family and two young boys and work, of course. I’m not sure that “not lifesaving” is actually a thing for us? I am in the boat coaching most mornings over summer and planning over winter. As a family we do love to ski and travel, but in all honesty that travel does usually involve lifesaving. For example, we went for a family holiday to Queensland in September 2019, and so I took a boat and my open male boat crew came up for a training weekend. And in September 2020 we’re heading to Italy for the World Lifesaving Championships.

Current volunteer roles:

I am currently the Director of Competition and Head Coach. In a small club, many roles fall to the same person, but most things are only achieved through the support of others. I am blessed to have incredible support with coaching, sweeping, and admin tasks that make it all possible.

Previous volunteer roles:

At a club level, I have been a President (St Kilda LSC), Director of Lifesaving, IRB captain, Coach, Team Manager, and general committee. At a state level, General Committee and President of the VSRL, which is also the Surf Boat representative on the LSV Aquatic Sport Executive.

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