Helping to ensure we’re all happily not drowning but waving, a new generation of lifeguards is learning the ropes.


In the weekends, EVES property manager Ailsa Cowdrey can often be found patrolling Papamoa Beach as a surf lifeguard with her husband Dave and sons Ross, Scott, Jake and Mitch. “We got into it in 2007, when Ross, my eldest, turned 12,” she says. “I started the Rookie Lifeguard programme at Papamoa Surf Life Saving Club.”

The Rookie programme was devised to teach youngsters what they need to know to become great lifeguards. “You can become a full lifeguard at 14 years old, and that’s a lot to take on at a young age, so the Rookie programme was drawn up for 12- and 13-year-olds,” says Ailsa. “We teach them the skills they need, and they get to go out on patrol, too.”

Rookies learn a whole range of skills on the course spanning two to eight weeks (depending on the kids’ competence levels), including basic first aid and CPR, plus how to communicate using the radio, identify rips and choose the best spots on the beach in which to place the flags. Rescues are simulated using red tubes, and the kids workshop what to do if someone puts their hand up in the surf.

Every year, hundreds of children compete in regional Rookie Championships. Clubs all along the coast get involved, including Whangamata, Whiritoa, Waihi Beach, Mt Maunganui, Omanu, Papamoa, Pukehina, Whakatāne and Ohope.

Whereas the Junior Surf programme is a mix of surf sports and lifesaving, the Rookie programme focuses more on the lifeguarding aspect. Ailsa explains that the best lifeguards aren’t just strong swimmers. “In the annual competition, we set up all sorts of situations that the rookies need to read and react to quickly. It could be helping a mother who’s freaking out because she can’t find her child on the beach, or a boogie boarder who’s stuck out in the waves without fins, or someone who’s stepped in the cinders of a fire on the sand.”

It’s hard to believe that something so fundamental to our enjoyment of life on the coast relies on volunteers and donations for its existence. EVES sponsorship manager Allison Stewart says, “It’s a privilege to be able to support organisations in the community that are run by passionate volunteers. The Papamoa Rookie Lifeguard programme ticks all the boxes – enthusiastic young people who are keen to learn from the dedicated adults who coach and facilitate the programme. It’s also great to have them join us to assist with marshalling for the Hot Pink Walk for breast cancer held annually in October.”

12 or 13
Able to swim: 200m in 4.30 minutes.