Chris Allum: Educating a New Wave of Champions

A distinguished athlete, devoted educator, a proud father of two boys and part of a lineage of teachers, Christopher Allum's life has been intertwined with the pursuit of excellence both in and out of the water. But his journey goes beyond mere athletic accomplishments; it is a story of family legacy, perseverance, and a passion for shaping young minds.

In a recent interview with UNSW Sport, Allum shared his thoughts on the connection between teaching and surf lifesaving, stating, "Both organizations have a service background. Teaching and lifesaving are all about serving others, looking out for others, and helping others grow.” Allum's journey into teaching and surf lifesaving is intertwined, driven by his innate desire to serve and make a difference. Having completed his Master of Education (Gifted Education) in 2019 Allum drew parallels between the two fields. He emphasizes the shared values of looking out for others, skill development, and lifelong learning. Growing up in a family of educators, including his mother, brother, sister, and wife, Allum's destiny seemed preordained. The values and character instilled in him by his family, combined with his passion for surf lifesaving, have shaped his dedication to both professions.

Allum's accomplishments as a surf lifesaver are nothing short of extraordinary.  And although he referred to himself as the surf lifesaving “perennial bridesmaid” having secured so many silver medals he has still had an illustrious career. Allum has amassed an impressive collection of 22 championship medals - 5 gold, 8 silver, and 9 bronze. He was crowned the World Surf Race Champion in 2008 and the World Games Surf Race Champion in 2009. At the Australian Open Surf Race Championship, he emerged victorious in 2008. In addition, he clinched the title of NSW Open Surf Race Champion an impressive nine times between 2005 and 2012.

While each medal holds its significance, one race stands out in his memory— looking to go back-to-back in the 2009 Australian Open Surf Race in Perth with one of the hottest competitive fields in 10 years. It marked the return of open water swimming champion Kai Hurst after an Olympic hiatus. Allum led the race for the majority, even mentioning “I was out of view of the helicopter camera shot at one point... that’s how far ahead I was”. But luck was not on his side as an outside wave gifted 7 racers, including Hurst, the easy run to shore with Chris eventually finishing 8th. Although he didn't secure a medal, Allum expressed immense pride in his performance. It allowed him to mature as a competitor and be proud of all the hard work he had put in rather than blame a single wave.

In addition to his sporting achievements, Allum has received numerous accolades, including the Peter Lacy Memorial for Surf Lifesaving Australian member of the year in 2005 and most notably the Order of Australia Medal in 2018. These prestigious honours recognising his outstanding contributions to surf lifesaving and his commitment to inspiring future generations.

Allum's journey is characterized not only by personal achievements but also by his genuine desire to give back and make a positive difference in the lives of others. Allum pays homage to his parents and the thousands of other surf lifesaving members before him stating "We live in an age of entitlement where people constantly ask, 'What can I get out of others?' I'm fortunate to have supportive parents and remember those who have given me a lot and the unsung heroes in surf lifesaving who volunteer their time and knowledge simply to give back. I look forward to being a volunteer myself one day." He understands that true success is measured not just by the medals won but by the impact one has on the lives of those around them. 

During his tenure as the head coach at Queenscliff Surf Life Saving Club from 2012 to 2019, Allum had the opportunity to mentor and guide a group of five gifted athletes to win multiple gold medals at their first Australian titles. Reflecting on his successful coaching tenure at Queenscliff, Chris's most memorable accomplishment was not just the medals, but the personal growth and success of his athletes. Allum humbly admits "Gold medals. Great. But that feeling of a gold medal doesn't last more than 10 minutes after you finish the race. It's the mentoring side of what I did with them and where they are now that truly matters, and I'm really proud of the role I played." 

While Allum's achievements as an athlete, mentor and educator are undeniable, his role as a father holds special significance in his life – “my goal in life was to be the best dad I could be. Now that I have two beautiful boys, teaching allows me to work hard for 10 weeks and then enjoy a two-week break to be the best dad”. And although his kids are not as brave in the ocean as their dad is he looks forward to hopefully one day having them at nippers on Sundays and giving back to his local community. 

The induction into the UNSW Sport Hall of Fame is a meaningful moment for Allum. Sharing this prestigious honour with his father, Greg Allum, highlights their family's sporting legacy, a passion for mentoring, and the values that have shaped Chris's path. His legacy will serve as inspiration for surf life savers, teachers, and athletes encouraging them to make their own meaningful contributions to their own lives and others.