Sunshine Coast school students reflect the trend toward less alcohol, more health-conscious choices

In contrast to the Gold Coast’s packed crowds and pumping DJ sets, students on the Sunshine Coast say they’re looking for a laid-back atmosphere.

School dropouts in Mooloolaba trade hangovers for wholesome daytime activities and trade the schooners for smoothies, reflecting a trend among young people to drink less.

Dakota Hedberg from Toowoomba said she was reading a self-help book and enjoyed keeping it quiet with her friends before their proms.

“We were reading that together, watching the sunset. It was very cute and wholesome,” she said.

“Then I was reading again… had a nap and I did some stretching.

“We met… had little beach parties and got to know each other and just talk.”

Schoolie, Dakota Hedberg sits on Mooloolaba Beach with her friend Sophie as they read a self-help book
Dakota Hedberg and girlfriend Sophie say their days were beach swimming, music and markets.(ABC News: Olivia Mason)

Andy Gourley, founder and principal of Red Frogs, said school leavers who chose the Sunshine Coast as their school destination were typically looking for a more relaxed party.

But he said anecdotally that he’d also noticed a big change in student habits across the board.

“The culture has changed. Amazingly, it’s not like our time, probably 40 to 50 percent are not big drinkers these days,” Gourley said.

Andy Gourley
Andy Gourley founded Red Frogs Australia to provide young people with a positive peer presence.(Included: National Australia Day Council)

“We notice this in the cafes. Cafes used to be empty at school locations, it would be like a ghost town.

“Now they’re full of schoolboys making their smashed avo and lattes.”

Sunshine Coast Police said there were no school-related problems in the area and it was great to see school leavers enjoying the lifestyle the coast had to offer.

So why the shift?

A 2021 study in the European Journal of Public Health found that adolescent alcohol consumption had declined in nearly all high-income countries, including Australia.

The study pointed to concerns for the future, health awareness, social media and binge drinking that are no longer perceived as “cool” as some of the possible reasons for the decline in alcohol consumption.

Schoolie, Kelise Beaver is on Mooloolaba Beach
Kelise Beaver notes that while this year’s celebrations weren’t too “frantic,” she’s seen a lot of vaping.(ABC News: Olivia Mason)

Kelise Beaver from Toowoomba said students wanted to have fun but also want to go out during the day and meet new people.

“I think they enjoy exploring all day, they care more about other things and don’t want to waste a day with a hangover,” she said.

“I think everyone just slows down these days.”

Savannah Nicholls said she had hoped for more parties, but was having a good time and was looking forward to a night without drinks.

“I wanted to go to the Gold Coast, I have to admit,” she said.

“But it was cheaper here, so we decided to come here and it’s still pretty fun.”

For most of the class of 2022, there were no regrets for a more relaxed approach.

“I like being away from those things, as you hear on the Gold Coast, there’s heaps of drugs and fights and stuff, which is probably why I enjoy being here a bit more,” Ms Hedberg said.

“It’s a bit more relaxed and we just cruise around and meet people.”

School leavers Gabe Goodchild (left) and Daniel Edwards (right) stand together at Alexandra Headland Beach.
Gabe Goodchild and Daniel Edwards chose to go to the Sunshine Coast because they thought it would be a “beautiful scene”.(ABC News: Olivia Mason)

Brisbane school leavers Daniel Edwards and Gabe Goodchild agreed.

“I thought the Gold Coast would probably be a bit too much there, so we came here to have a relaxed, fun time with our friends,” Mr Goodchild said.

“We’ll probably have breakfast in the morning, get some goodies,” Mr. Edwards said.

Schoolies welcomed by local tourism authorities

Sunshine Coast CEO Matt Stoeckel said school visitors came to the coast for the right reasons.

“We know we attract a lot of young people who want to come here to just relax, connect and get out into nature [and] spend time with their friends,” he said.

Schoolies stretch in Mooloolaba
School students at Mooloolaba enjoy yoga sessions on the beach.(ABC News: Olivia Mason)

Mr Stoeckel said he saw good growth potential for accommodation and tourism providers to target the cohort of relaxed school students.

“That market of people who want to come here and really explore the destination, and those who are aligned with our values,” he said.

“The students bring economic benefit to the region, [they’re] spending on restaurants, bars, accommodation, tours, experiences, so it’s a great injection for us.”

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