The Story of Waihi Beach Lifeguard Service.
BY NATALIE LLOYD

Arguably we boast one of the most beautiful coastlines of New Zealand’s North Island, stretching 10km from the north end to Bowentown. Waihī Beach is also recognised for its standout surf lifesaving club; a beacon of community spirit and safety. Over eight decades, Waihī Beach Lifeguard Services has transformed from a group of local water enthusiasts, into a vital institution, dedicated to beach safety. By 2020, this remarkable organisation had reached its 85th year of service, a milestone that reflects its enduring commitment to the community.

Early Years (1935-1960)

The Waihī Surf and Life Saving Club came to life in March 1935, born out of a meeting of community-minded individuals at Keating’s Tea Room. This gathering, led by figures like Mr WM Wallnutt, marked the beginning of a legacy in lifesaving. In its early years, the club not only built its first clubhouse but also twice hosted the New Zealand Surf Lifesaving Championships, in 1949 and 1955, cementing its role in the national surf lifesaving scene.

Modern Era and Professionalism (1985-2023)

Entering the late 20th century, the club embraced professionalism, introducing paid lifeguards to further enhance beach safety. Members, such as Brett Marshall and Grant Gillard, achieved national acclaim, and the club faced and overcame tragedies, which brought the community closer together. Emphasising youth development and women’s participation, the club nurtured future generations of lifesavers. The number of rescues and callouts to southern areas of the beach, saw the expansion of patrolling services and a paid patrol at Bowentown (23 years ago) and Island View (5 years ago), over the peak summer season. The club has embraced the use of jet skis, known as a rescue watercraft, essential for quick response, but also invaluable for patrolling the 75km of coastline for which the club is responsible.

Growth and Expansion (1960-1985)

The 1960s saw the club tackling the challenge of building a new pavilion, a goal achieved in 1971, after a decade of effort. These years were also rich in innovative fundraising and community events, including the memorable 1969 swimathon. The club’s international presence was highlighted in 1971, when it hosted the South Africa versus New Zealand Surf Test, a landmark event in its history.

Legacy and Future

In the present day, the Waihī Beach Lifeguard Services is synonymous with safety and community service. The unwavering commitment of dedicated individuals, coupled with community and sponsor support, has been pivotal to its success. The club’s Junior Surf Programme symbolises the future, promising a continuation of the club’s legacy. As we reflect on the journey of the Waihī Beach Lifeguard Services, we look ahead with optimism to its future endeavours, with such a pivotal role in promoting beach safety and community spirit.

Here’s to the legacy of lifesaving that the club has built – a legacy defined by dedication to safety, service and fostering lifelong community bonds.

Life as a Surf Lifeguard

The role of a surf lifeguard at Waihī Beach and elsewhere is an extraordinary blend of courage, skill and commitment. Every volunteer patrol day, as they don their distinctive red and yellow, these guardians of the sea are keenly aware that their vigilance and actions are crucial for the safety of beachgoers. Their extensive and demanding training, equips them to face the unpredictable ocean, often under challenging conditions.

A lifeguard’s day begins with a patrol team briefing. This is a critical time when they assess the day’s conditions – the weather, the tides and potential risks. Here, they strategise, ensuring everyone is on the same page and the day’s tasks are divvied up. Communication is key, a skill refined through advanced leadership training. Essential to their role is the use of marine radios, a constant during patrols, keeping them connected and alert.

These lifeguards bring more than just basic lifesaving skills to the beach. Senior members are adept in advanced first aid, akin to emergency medical responders. This knowledge is vital in handling everything from minor scrapes to life-threatening situations. Regular training keeps these skills sharp and ready for any emergency.

Critical incident management is another vital aspect of their training. When major incidents occur, these lifeguards become calm commanders of chaos, coordinating with other emergency services, managing resources efficiently and ensuring the best possible outcomes.

Specialisation is a hallmark of Waihī Beach lifeguards. Many are adept at handling inflatable rescue boats (IRB) and rescue watercraft (RWC), essential for swift response in challenging surf, or around our many rocky outcrops. The skills and precision required to navigate these powerful machines are honed through rigorous practice.

Beyond the beach, lifeguards at Waihī Beach are continually expanding their skills. Many pursue further training to become instructors, coaches, Patrol Captains, Committee and Board members. These roles demand an in-depth understanding of surf lifesaving national operating procedures, strong communication skills and the ability to lead and guide others.

The impact of being a lifeguard extends into their personal and professional lives. The skills they acquire – leadership, problem- solving and responsibility – are invaluable, often giving them an edge in job applications and opening doors to educational and career opportunities.

At the heart of their service, is the club’s 24-hour search and rescue operation, a testament to their dedication. Senior lifeguards stand ready, day and night, to respond to emergencies, a symbol of their unwavering commitment to our community.

In essence, a day in the life of a Waihī Beach lifeguard is more than just safeguarding swimmers. It’s about embodying a set of skills and values that not only protect lives, but also enrich their own, making a lasting impact on the community they so diligently serve.

If you are interested in becoming a surf lifeguard or a Patrol Support member (non-swimming), please reach out to us via emailing info@waihībeachlifeguards.co.nz

Please give what you can and help keep our community safe at the beach this summer! If you feel able to make a donation, no matter how big or small, the Surf Club would be extremely grateful – this link will take you directly to their secure donation page on their website, click here.