Meet some of the New Zealand lifeguards looking out for you this summer

by Vomle Springford / 28 December, 2017
Created in collaboration with TSB

Surf patrol

Meet some of the surf lifesavers keeping New Zealanders safe this summer.

While you’re frolicking among the waves this summer, don’t forget to be thankful for the volunteer lifeguards from Surf Life Saving Clubs who are looking out for you. In 2017, TSB provided $115,000 in grants to Surf Life Saving Clubs around New Zealand. This is one of the ways the bank supports its communities as part of its partnership with Surf Life Saving New Zealand. Here, we talk to seven lifeguards from beaches all over the country about why they’re dedicating their summers to watching out for people in the waves.

Victoria Mulrennan

Lifeguard for seven years and patrol captain at United North Piha SLSC

What is it about lifeguarding that appeals to you?
The work itself is really rewarding. It’s nice to be outside in the summer but the work we get to do – providing a service to the public – is a nice way to give back to the community. Also, the people at the beach. My sisters work with me too, so it’s a great way to get to do something together.

Did your sisters get you into it?
 Yeah, my older sister Catie joined the club first and my twin sister and I joined when we were old enough to become lifeguards. The three of us have done it together for a few years now.

Your club is getting a $20,000 grant from TSB (through the bank’s support for Surf Life Saving New Zealand) to refurbish the patrol tower. How will that help your work? It’ll be huge. The tower is part of the hub of our beach. North Piha is a very long strip, so it can be quite hard keeping an eye on everything – so the tower is key to being able to see everything.

Piha can be quite treacherous, right?

We do have a few permanent rips, and lots of rips and holes which can make it quite treacherous for swimmers. Obviously being the beautiful beach it is, we get a lot of tourists who aren’t familiar with the conditions we have. The safest place to swim at Piha is between the flags when the surf lifeguards are on patrol.

What’s the most satisfying rescue you’ve done?
I was involved in a mass rescue, rescuing multiple patients at a time. They were spotted from our tower in a rip that’s straight out from the river mouth, which is a permanent and dangerous rip. There were about six people in the water, so the boat wasn’t able to pull them out all at once. I was out there as one of the tube rescue swimmers to help stabilise the patients in the water.

Catie Mulrennan

Lifeguard for eight years at United North Piha SLSC

A possibly silly question:  do you think Baywatch helps or hinders the profile of lifeguards?
I actually just spent six weeks in California lifeguarding! I got to meet the guy who wrote Baywatch. It definitely helps, it’s very glamorous. People definitely admire what you’re doing.

Why were you over in California?
SLS Northern Region runs an exchange programme that sends two lifeguards over every year. We get to learn what they’re doing over there and see if we can bring any of it back to help us in our operations, because they’re completely professional over there. It’s quite a different world because they’re all paid, but even though we’re volunteers, it’s still the same stuff at the end of the day. It is Baywatch-like, they’re all very athletic!

How will the TSB grant you’ve just got help the club at Piha?
 The tower, after the lifeguards themselves, is pretty much the most essential bit of equipment we have, because we have 2.5km of beach to watch, and without that vantage point and being able to see where people are swimming up and down the beach, our job would be very difficult. It’s also our communications hub as well – it is really vital to our operations.

Do you have any memorable rescues?
There’s one, it wasn’t a dramatic rescue – just pulling a guy out of a rip on his boogie board – but he was just so grateful and overwhelmed, he started training to become a lifeguard himself. That was really nice to be involved in, to see that level of gratitude and that level of appreciation.

Any advice for people hitting the beach this summer?
Get out there and enjoy it, don’t be scared to come to the west coast but just be sensible, swim between the flags.

Chaz Gibbons-Campbell

Lifeguard for 12 years and director at Whiritoa Lifeguard Service, Coromandel

What’s the beach like that you work at?
It’s a soft, white sand beach. Whiritoa is Maori for shifting sands and our beach is always changing. Going into the ocean, there’s quite a steep drop-off so it has quite a large shore break – big waves smash onto the shore and catch out young kids and the elderly quite easily. We get rips, they’re shifting too as the sand’s always moving and changing where the rips form, so that’s always quite a challenge for us because where people swim one day, they’ll go back the next day and there might be a rip or a hole where they were quite happily swimming a few days before.

TSB recently gave you a grant as part of their support for Surf Life Saving New Zealand. What will you use it for?
We were lucky enough to receive $5000 from TSB, which is amazing, and we’re going to put it towards an ATV [all-terrain vehicle] training course for our members. [You need] trained people driving those – they can be quite dangerous. We’re also updating our stash of lifejackets, buying all-new lifejackets and helmets to use in and around the rocks.

Do you have any memorable rescues?
The serious rescues are quite vivid, but what really sticks in my mind and gives me satisfaction are just the thank yous. There was one, pulling two young girls out of a hole. I was just standing on the beach and saw them out of the corner of my eye. I jumped in, pulled them out and got them to safety. Their family was above and beyond thankful – they ended up making a donation, and they visit every year and give a talk to our junior surf groups.

Peter Boyd

Lifeguard for 35 years and club coordinator for Ngāti Porou SLSC, based in Onepoto (Hicks Bay)

What got you into lifeguarding?
Because we’re surfers, we’re watermen, we’re fishermen here in Te Tai Rawhiti – that’s what got me into it. We’ve grown up being watermen. Culturally too, for Ngati Porou, it’s part of our history, our whakapapa – lifeguarding and kaitiaki o te moana.

The club recently received a $10,000 grant from TSB. How will that help?
We didn’t have a storage shed, we didn’t have patrolling equipment, so this grant has been awesome. We are looking at getting a container, and are working with the council about the land for it. The grant’s come at a good time.

What’s your favourite part about the job?
 It’s not really a job, it’s a way of life. Like in surf life saving, they have a saying: “In it for life”. It’s probably the best way to put it.

What’s been the most satisfying rescue for you?
I’d prefer to talk about a young lifeguard, Jara Swann, who rescued a family of three. A father took his kids out at Onepoto, when the waves were big. On this particular day the rip came in and sucked straight out; he got sucked out like someone pulled the plug out. Luckily Jara was there off-duty on his stand-up paddle board, part of our rescue equipment. He got them just in time before they got to the breaking zone which would make it hard to find them. We won Rescue of the Year 2015 for that, so it just proves the point that if that skill, particularly in this smaller community, wasn’t there, tragedy could have happened. Getting this grant, in terms of need, it’s going to a small community and mihi koutou katoa to TSB for their support, a big mihimihi.

What do you think about Baywatch?
I think Piha Rescue kind of gives a better portrayal of it, ‘cause that’s Hollywood bro. In terms of getting a feel for what lifeguarding’s about, Piha Rescue’s your best description.

Gary Hinds

Lifeguard and chairman of Hot Water Beach Lifeguard Service, Coromandel

How did you get into lifeguarding?
My daughter got into Nippers when she was four, so I joined in helping and thought I should probably get involved. I’ve been at Hot Water Beach for 10 years – I have one of the busiest beaches in the country. I look after Cathedral, Central Cave, Pauanui and Hahei too.

What’s the best part about lifeguarding?
I enjoy getting to work with the young lifeguards, seeing the way they grow and become strong able-bodied people.

How will your $10,000 TSB grant be used?
We’re using it to train people as first responders. We can be left isolated for some time over the summer period, so we need to train our lifeguards on how to look after people for longer than most beaches. They are training in the bush, how to winch people out of banks, deal with hypothermia... it’s an essential skill, so it’s great to be able to get that grant.

Mathew Mannington

Lifeguard director at Ocean Beach Kiwi SLSC, Hawke’s Bay

Any advice for people hitting the beach this summer?
It’s always the standard: swim between the flags, don’t drink alcohol, if you get in trouble put your hand up. A new one we’re seeing is people swimming on their own – we seem to be seeing a lot more of that this season. We’ve had seven rescues of that already, which is like three times more than we ever have this time of year. Just don’t swim alone.

Is that because it’s been really hot?
Yeah, it’s just been a real spike in mid-week incidents, probably it’s a bit warmer than normal.

How will Ocean Beach Kiwi SLSC’s TSB grant help?
 It’s a massive benefit because it gets harder each year – you can have a bunch of new recruits and support members (who can’t participate in rescues) but we have to have higher and higher qualified people on each patrol. Also it gets harder to find people to volunteer, so having the ability to train people in first aid and get them to a level of skill, that helps motivate others to come along and join. And it’s expensive to do, so it’s a really good thing for us to be able to offer people to encourage them to stay and be involved.

Jess Bennett

Lifeguard for 20 years at Ocean Beach Kiwi SLSC, Hawke’s Bay

You’ve been a lifeguard for a long time. What made you get into it?
I started as a Nipper with my family, and loved the surf and the sea. It was really a no-brainer to become a lifeguard. It offered so many opportunities, becoming first aid qualified, gaining leadership skills along the way, and life-long friendships.

What’s the beach like that you work at?
It’s definitely the best beach in Hawke’s Bay – people might debate that! It’s a very long, golden sandy beach, we have some quite gnarly surf and sand bars and rips, so it’s forever changing, as most beaches do. You don’t have much cellphone coverage. 

The club received a $5000 TSB grant. What’s it for?
It’s for first aid training and upskilling our lifeguards. First aid is a critical skill to have as a lifeguard, especially at Ocean Beach, as we’re quite remote in terms of paramedic access. So our skills and training are critical to whether a life is saved.

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