No winter respite for lifesavers

Shaun Smith spends the winter months training and planning the summer months for the Papamoa Surf Life Saving Club.

Surf lifesaving patrols start this Labour Weekend – but can be forgiven for thinking the lifesavers have taken a well-deserved break during winter.

Not so, says Papamoa Beach Surf Lifesaving Club captain Shaun Smith.

“It’s a very busy time, trying to plan, and get everyone through training programs like Inflatable Rescue Boat development and VHF training, the Captain’s Training Course, Instructor’s Course, and First Aid Level One, Two and Three courses – there’s just so much happening.”

And it can be a frustrating process, like when Shaun took 37 candidates to Raglan to do their Driver’s Course. “Ten did the course on the Saturday, but the surf wasn’t big enough on the Sunday, so we weren’t able to put them through it.”

They’ll still go through the course, but this will now stretch during several months, and you get the feeling there’s not a lot of wriggle room when the waves don’t play ball.

“We’ve been training every weekend during winter, and once the summer season kicks off this Labour Weekend there’s pretty much something on every weekend.”

Lifeguarding events, sports events, training events. “We take part in the Taupo Iron Man, the Tauranga Iron Man, those sorts of things, looking after the safety aspects.”

There’s also a lot of administration work. The patrol rosters take weeks of planning – the logistics of rostering 130 to 160 lifeguards to cover six and seven hour shifts over a five-month period would daunt many HR professionals. These dedicated volunteers take it in their stride.

Shaun loves seeing younger people getting involved with the sport. “They probably laugh at me behind my back, but I don’t mind.”

They likely respect, rather than laugh at, their captain. After all, he was named Bay of Plenty Lifeguard of the Year and Club Captain of the Year at the 2016 Surf Lifesaving New Zealand regional awards back on July 23.

“You see them starting as five-year-old nippers, and then they get to 12, 13, 14, and start to become lifeguards, you watch them develop. And that development spills over into other areas of their lives and jobs. You take your CV to a potential employer and if two kids have the same work qualifications, the employer can say, look this kid already has their First Aid Certificate.”

When asked for his top tip for staying safe at the ocean beach over summer, you can hear a touch of exasperation in his voice. “Swim between the flags.” You get the feeling he’s said that before – over, and over, and over.

“I was just talking to my son in England, and they’ve had a huge number of drownings there this summer. They’ve looked at it, and a lot of them have been stupid stuff, things that really shouldn’t have happened.”

Shaun does understand that not everyone will swim between the flags. “If you live at the far end of the beach at Papamoa, you’re not going to go all the way down to the flags. But people need to think about what their limitations are. If it’s huge surf, don’t go out.”

For more safety tips, to check out summer events, or to find out how to become a lifeguard, visit

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