The unsung heroes of summer

By: Blogger

Sideline Sid
Sports correspondent & historian

Amongst the unsung heroes of summer in the Bay of Plenty and Coromandel are the volunteer lifeguards, who willingly give up their leisure time to patrol the beaches of the region.

With thousands flocking to the surf from Opotiki to Hot Water Beach, the regions beaches are patrolled seven days a week at this time of year, with a mixture of paid and volunteer lifeguards. 

For this writer, it's always interesting to go back into the origins of time to see what we have today, has evolved over the years.

Voluntary surf lifesavers have been on duty in the Bay of Plenty for over a century. 

Historical records tell us a public meeting in Tauranga in 1914 saw a number of swimmers form a group that travelled from Tauranga to Mount Maunganui to patrol the main beach.

Each Sunday the members would journey over to Mount Maunganui by launch and practice their rescue techniques.

The drowning of a Rotorua woman in November 1929, prompted a public meeting at Mount Maunganui.

As a consequence of that meeting held at the Arcadia hall, the Mount Maunganui Surf Lifesaving Club was formed, which was the first recognised surf lifesaving club in the Bay of Plenty.

From humble beginnings in 1929 the club, now known as the Mount Maunganui Lifeguard Service, is a leader in innovation and voluntary service in the country.

Records show that a Te Puke club was established in 1932, followed by Tauranga Girls.

Other Bay of Plenty clubs to come into existence before the Second World War were Opotiki (1933) Whakatane and Thornton (1934) and Waihi and Papamoa (1935).

A population explosion in the early 1950’s saw Whangamata and Omanu joining Mount Maunganui, Opotiki, Whakatane and Waihi in patrolling Bay of Plenty beaches.

Maketu dates back nearly half a century, with the Papamoa club of today celebrating 25 years of patrolling from their Papamoa Domain base, last year.

There is also a surf rescue service at Pukehina.

As the Coromandel became more accessible in the 1960’s and 1970’s, surf lifesaving clubs were established at Pauanui, Whiritoa and Tairua with Hot Water Beach and Onemana being formed during the 1990’s.

The SLSNZ website tells us of the changes in surf rescue in the last century.

“The story of surf lifesaving in New Zealand is one of extraordinary efforts to save people from the unpredictable seas. For 60 years, that meant teams of lifeguard lifting reel and line to the beach. The reel anchored victim and rescuer together. It also anchored itself in the culture of the New Zealand lifeguard.

“A major shift of thinking was needed to free lifesaving to take to the water with fins and neoprene rescue tubes, rubber rescue crafts, motors, jet boats and helicopters in the 1970s. However, the shift revolutionized lifesaving. It made it more professional, effective and shortened rescue times from hours to minutes."

While we live in a very different world to when Mount Maunganui became the first Bay of Plenty Club in 1929, the volunteer commitment to the saving of lives by surf rescue in the Bay of Plenty and Coromandel region has never wavered.