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109 years of surf lifesaving in NZ


This month marks the 109th anniversary of the founding of the first surf lifesaving club in New Zealand to begin patrols, and to keep New Zealanders safe in the water.

New Brighton SLSC in Christchurch held their first meeting in July 1910, closely followed by Lyall Bay Surf Life Saving Club in Wellington, founded in August 1910, as growth in the capital’s south coast suburbs brought more people to the popular swimming beach.

A surf reel – a key piece of equipment used to pull rescuers and the rescued in to the beach by rope, in early surf lifesaving - was imported from Australia to Lyall Bay SLSC, and club members began using it to demonstrate and learn surf lifesaving techniques from August 1910. The club began the country’s first patrols in December that year.

Those two first clubs were among a handful founded throughout New Zealand that year, the start of a new a movement that continued to grow quickly, and in 1932 was to unite under the first national body, the precursor to Surf Life Saving NZ.

Today SLSNZ has 74 clubs from the tip of the North Island, to near Invercargill in Southland, and 4,640 lifeguards.
Volunteer lifeguards are still dedicating their time and efforts to train as quick response teams to help people in trouble on the water, and 700 lives were saved by SLSNZ club members in the latest season (2018/2019 year from July 1 to June 29). With another 1619 people helped to safety from dangerous situations.

Lyall Bay SLSC Life Member Marilyn Moffat says Surf Life Saving NZ has grown because it is such an important service for beach-goers.

“The organisation performs a really vital service and has rescued so many people over the years.

“And it’s actually an exciting activity to be involved in, particularly for young people, and many people stay in it for life – which is the Surf Life Saving motto.

“It’s fun, but you also feel like you’re giving back to the community, it’s a service.”

There have been huge changes in the organisation, but the key activities are the same, she says: lifeguards carry out volunteer patrols, and are vigilant, well-trained and ready to respond in an emergency; and dedicated behind-the-scenes workers work hard to fundraise, organise, and keep clubs running smoothly.

“The reels are not used any more – they were the main tool for rescues till the 1970s - now we have all the motorised craft from IRBs to jet skis that are much faster to get out there to where people need help,” Marilyn says.

“And part of the reason these clubs were founded was as an activity for members to keep fit and active, and that’s still really relevant now.”

Now, the yellow and red uniforms and beach flags of Surf Life Saving New Zealand mark one of the country’s most trusted organisations.

“When I have a look around at our clubs, and around New Zealand, I think it’s very strong, and we’re going to continue to be relevant and needed,” Marilyn says.

“We’ll continue to be there when people need us.”

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