With sizzling temperatures forecast and regional lockdowns finally starting to ease, there’s one place Kiwis will be heading en masse this summer – to the beach.
Keeping everyone safe once they get there is a job that falls to hundreds of paid and volunteer surf lifeguards, many of whom have trained for the role since childhood.
In Surf Lifesaving NZ’s Eastern Region – which spans the Coromandel, Bay of Plenty and Gisborne – there are 1115 volunteer lifeguards based at 19 different surf clubs.
Last season Eastern Region volunteer lifeguards carried out 68,459 volunteer patrol hours. During this time, 138 people who may not have made it home that day were rescued and another 381 people were assisted back to shore. A total of 429,616 preventative actions were carried out to keep the public safe and volunteer lifeguards performed 874 first aid treatments for members of the public.
Multi-Year Grant Approved
Keeping the Eastern Region afloat financially and ensuring they have the resources to train lifeguards is no small feat.
The Bay of Plenty Regional Council and Tauranga City Council help fund the Monday to Friday paid lifeguard service that runs in the Bay of Plenty over the summer school holiday period. But annual fundraising is still needed to fully fund the training, infrastructure and equipment for weekend services provided by volunteer lifeguards from Labour Weekend through until Easter, and the Junior Surf programme (7-14 year-olds) which is essential to provide the next generation of lifeguards.
This year BayTrust has approved a multi-year funding grant for Surf Lifesaving’s Eastern Region which will see $360,000 distributed between all local surf clubs over the next three years ($120,000 per year). It is the first time BayTrust has approved a multi-year grant for the organisation.
Avan Polo, Regional Manager Eastern Region Surf Lifesaving, says the money will cover operational costs such as equipment and building maintenance, and fill whatever other ‘holes’ exist in each club’s budget to support the delivery of the volunteer lifeguards service to the community.
“It will enable the doors to stay open fundamentally,” he explains. “To have a multi-year grant is fantastic because clubs can plan their activities with more surety and confidence. They’re now not thinking ‘what if’ or ‘maybe’. It’s a significant contribution. I’ve had phone conversations with the respective club chairpersons and they’re simply ecstatic.”
Avan says Bay of Plenty Surf clubs will receive funding based on their size and operational outputs.
Extensive Training Available
In the Eastern Region, an impressive 2495 young kids are now involved in the Junior Surf programme, also known as Nippers. From there, young teens can progress into the rookie lifeguard programme where they’re taught fundamental skills before moving onto more extensive lifeguard training in theory and first aid as well as their fitness and capability in the water.
“You can qualify to become a lifeguard at age 14,” Avan says. “There are some phenomenal stories of young teens who have done rescues because they’ve been out playing in the water and they’ve had the tools in their toolbox to stay safe themselves, but also help others. They know what to look for; they’re trained to look at the water and what to observe.”
Once qualified, advanced courses are provided to extend their skills that include marine VHF radio, IRB crewperson, IRB driver, rescue watercraft (jet ski) and how to swim and search in and around rocky areas. “The confidence they have in their abilities through their training is pretty cool to see.
“There’s a huge amount of pride when someone qualifies as a lifeguard, no matter what age they are. When someone is given their red and yellow uniform for the first time, the sense of fulfillment and achievement is phenomenal. They put it on and they stand tall.”
Summer Crowds Expected
This summer, COVID poses an extra layer of challenge for surf lifeguards to contend with. While it’s not possible to enforce vaccine passports at the beach, safety protocol is being developed to keep club members safe and ensure surf events can still go ahead.
“The biggest thing is providing information and guidance for our clubs to be ready and capable. We have been working through how clubs will operate under the new traffic light system and how we can patrol safely,” Polo says.
Surf Lifesaving NZ expects huge crowds will flock to the beach – especially in the Bay of Plenty which has some of the best surf and sand in the country.
“Our big goal is just to make our region stronger and safer, and from a club perspective, provide a positive experience in whatever area people choose to volunteer in or enjoy.”