Shannon Eckstein remembers his first Ironman gold medal as if it was yesterday. It was the Queensland State Junior Championships at Etty Bay, Innisfail as a 12-year-old in 1996.
“We were all kitted out in stinger suits, that’s how I remember it,” recalled Eckstein after featuring in a thrilling finale with brother Caine in this year’s Kellogg’s Nutri-Grain Ironman Series at Noosa Heads.
“I played a lot of sports when I was young but as I tell the kids I talk to these days – you always go back to the sport where you have the most fun and that’s why I stayed with the surf.”
Shannon had some other notables alongside him in that famous class of ’96 – notably Luke Munro and Ken Wallace – Munro who was an outstanding State junior champion board paddler, went on to become an ASP World Tour professional surfer and Wallace to Olympic kayak gold in Beijing and is still paddling for Tugun today.
As a junior, Caine Eckstein has a second to none record winning every State swim, board and Ironman gold medal apart from one between the age of 11 and 14.
The Eckstein boys were taught the ways of the surf by their late father Billy at Surfers Paradise SLSC and looking at their extraordinary careers, which has netted them every Ironman title there is to win, their former Currumbin board paddling father certainly left a classy legacy.
The next generation of the Eckstein brothers will hit the sand and the surf next month when Maroochydore on the Sunshine Coast hosts the 2012 State Junior Championships over three days, on March 9, 10 and 11.
Budding girls and boys from all over Queensland, will be trying to emulate their heroes when junior lifesavers aged between 11 and 14 contest events from the Ironman and Ironwoman to surf, board, sprint and flags as well as water and beach relays and board rescue events.
The 2012 State Junior Championships will be conducted over three days, featuring the cream of Queensland’s next generation of Ironmen and Ironwomen at Maroochydore on March 9,10 and 11.
A week later the best that Queensland has to offer in surf sports will be on show at Kurrawa at the 2012 Crazy John’s Queensland State Championships on March 16,17 and 18.
And it was at the Queensland Championships in 2002 that Shannon launched his professional career – winning the under 18 and Open Ironman Championship double to start what has become a decade of Ironman stardom and leading him to five Series wins and four Australian Open Ironman crowns.
“I missed the State titles last year and I haven’t had many opportunities to wear the Northcliffe cap this year and it will be a perfect hit out for the Aussies, particularly in the teams events,” said Eckstein.
Eckstein will be joined in the open men’s events by the likes of Northcliffe team mate Zane Holmes, brother Caine and his Kurrawa team mate, Olympian Ky Hurst, Ironman comeback king and defending Australian surf belt champion Phil Clayton, Mooloolaba stars Ali Day, Matt Poole and Dane Windshuttle and Metropolitan Caloundra’s Australian board champion Corey Jones.
While in the women defending Australian Ironwoman champion Courtney Hancock and 2011 Queensland State Champion and 2012 Series winner Liz Pluimers will line up in a who’s who in a Northcliffe team that includes Series runner-up Kristyl Smith and the ever present Bonnie Hancock.
Pluimers will set her sights on the Queensland-Australian Championship double in what has already been a rewarding season, after her second place to Courtney Hancock in the Coolangatta Gold.
The State Championships will be the start of the major 2012 championships as Queensland’s best warm up for this year’s Aussies (March 26-April 1) and the World Life Saving Championships at Rescue 2012 (November 4-18).