By James Brosnan
SURFING Victoria CEO Max Wells has been honoured for his service to surfing and the community with an Order of Australia Medal (OAM).
The Inverloch resident was announced as a prestigious Australia Day Award winner on the nation’s patriotic day on Sunday.
But after scanning through Wells’ accolades that qualified him for such an award, it is easy to see that his impact has been more widespread than just the surfing fraternity.
Wells said he was delighted to receive such a highly regarded award.
“I’m stoked actually and quite humbled by it,” he said.
“I am proud of it. You always hope that you are a positive person in your life and something like this maybe says I am on the positive side of the ledger.
“It is great to get an individual award, but really I couldn’t do the things that I have done without having the support of my wife Debbie and my two daughters Sarah and Kate.
“They have had to make sacrifices as well along the way as well. I am away on weekends and sometimes half of the year so I couldn’t have done it without their support.”
Wells’ long list of credentials goes way back to the early 1980s when he was the Inaugural Patrol Captain of Mount St Gwinear Ski Patrol from 1981-1985; before being named a Life Member in 1986.
He was also a member of the Victorian Nordic Rescue Service for around 15 years; his work including state-wide searches and rescues.
From the ski-fields of the high country to the beaches of South Gippsland, Wells’ association with surfing management started from his time running the surfing program at Wonthaggi Secondary College.
From then the list includes Surfing Victoria Committee Member (1993-99), Manager Victorian Surfing Team (1994-2001), Schools Surfing Coordinator (1999-2000), in 2001 he developed the Roxy Surf Jam (all-girls instructional surf days) and is still involved, Manager Australian Junior Surfing Team (1995-2001) and developed Victorian Indigenous Surfing Program which he has been involved in since 2001.
In 2001 Wells took over as CEO of Surfing Victoria, and then as the Event Director of the Rip Curl Pro at Bells Beach in 2002.
“I moved onto the surfing thing via Wonthaggi Secondary, by taking some of the surfers to competitions and that’s what started me – I took over school surfing and one thing led to another and I ended up where I am,” Wells said.
“I have been there for 15 years and the last 13 and a half I have been the CEO.
“Probably the most high profile role that I do is being the Event Director for the Rip Curl Pro which is arguably the most prestigious surfing event in the world – it’s a nice thing to be a part of.
“In our sport we manage all levels of surfboard riding right across the state, from overseeing the surf schools like Offshore here with Shane Hogan in Inverloch and the affiliated surf school network across the state, which has about 50,000 participants every year – right through to the domestic competition to the professional level.”
Through his high profile role, Wells has also been part of the Australian Water Safety Council (1999-2009) and is a current member of the Victorian Water Safety Council.
And an issue which seems constantly in the headlines, Wells helped establish the ‘Wingman’ campaign, a campaign aimed at preventing alcohol-fuelled violence with the Department of Justice Victoria.
“Youth alcohol violence issues in our community are really big at the moment and we have been doing work on the Wingman campaign,” Wells said.
“Currently we are working on another program as well called ‘Be the Influence’, which is aimed at helping young people make better decisions when they have been out having a drink.
“That’s an important part of our community and what we do is use positive role models such as our high profile surfers to promote looking after your mates.”
Other social justice programs such as ‘Play it Safe by the Water’ and further initiatives with VicHealth also keep him busy.
“The Indigenous Program that we are running at the moment, which includes some people from around the local area, is one of the biggest engagement programs for Indigenous people in the state,” Wells said.
“Day to day we are just running the sport of surfboard riding – providing opportunities for education and we are involved heavily in safety.
“Play it Safe by the Water’ is one of our key projects we work on and we have state wide engagement programs for both young boys and girls.
“Some days I go into work and I’m not even sure what I do – but my days are filled up that’s for sure.
“The other person I should thank is Elley Harrison who is my back up and general manager at Surfing Victoria – she is another local from down here and went to school in Wonthaggi – and also the whole team at SV because they support me and I get to do these things.”
Wells will be officially presented with this OAM at a ceremony in a few months’ time.
“You don’t get to make a speech; I think it’s more like a production line. There is a lot of people – I think it’s a march up, get pinned and march off again,” Wells said.
“It will be cool to go to Government House to receive the award; it will be a big thrill.”
But immediately, Wells will wrestle with the decision on whether to include the OAM title on his email signature.
Max Wells – OAM?
“I’m still to decide on that one. A couple of people who do know about these things are saying I should be putting it on there. I probably will, but I’ll have to think about it,” he said.
The OAM is added to a list which also includes the Eunice Gill Leadership Award, VicSport (2011); Outstanding Organisational Contribution, Surfing Australia (2003 and 2005); State Honour Roll, Victorian Secondary Schools Sports Association (2003) and a Service Award, School Sport Australia (2001).