As the only club on the North Shore, Mairangi Bay Surf Lifesaving Club are preparing for a busy summer. Members of their club actively lifeguard on beaches up and down the East Coast Bays, from Takapuna to Long Bay. The club is also called on to help on the black sand beaches of the west coast, and as far north as Omaha and Mangawhai. “Our lifeguards provided over 7000 hours of volunteer patrol across Auckland last summer,” says club chairman Michael Buck. With the warmer weather arriving, the club is ready and willing to do it all again.

Since its inception in 1954, the club has been a vital part of the North Shore summer, and has contributed to the community in numerous ways. As well as traditional beach patrols, lifeguards are heavily involved in ocean swim events, roaming in IRBs to ensure competitors remain safe. There’s also community outreach with local schools, spending time with children to make sure they know how to keep safe at the beach. “We’re out in the community a lot,” says Sponsorship Manager Grant Davis-Calvert. “We want to keep the community safe, and that’s not just about rescuing people. Ideally, lifeguards prevent rescues, otherwise you’re not doing your job properly. A big part of that is sharing our knowledge and experience with the community before they get to the water.”

Image by Rod Salt
Image by Rod Salt

While lifesaving has always been a core focus, the club is a popular way for locals to stay fit and build water confidence. Sunday mornings, it’s hard to see the sand. The beach literally swarms with children, and the nippers programme is so popular the club is looking at adding more days to accommodate demand. “There are over 600 junior members, so it’s a large undertaking,” says Michael. Volunteer parents and organisers oversee a morning of land-based and water activities, such as beach flags, running races, swimming and boogie board exercises. “At the younger level, it’s more about developmental stages, growing confidence and learning through having fun,” says Grant. “As they get older, there’s still fun involved, but a performance and competitive element starts to come through.”

The club has a storied history at the competitive level. Originally from Mount Maunganui, Grant is well-positioned to comment on Mairangi Bay’s success at national level. “Mairangi is one of the most iconic clubs in the country,” he says. “In terms of senior sports, they’re always amongst the best performers. Many Black Fins (national surf lifesaving team) past and present have come through the club, and there’s currently a few national level coaches and support staff who are members.” He likens Mairangi Bay’s presence at senior level to the Crusaders rugby team, which is so often a breeding ground for All Blacks. “For our young ones, they’re quite spoiled with the knowledge they’re exposed to,” says Grant. “It makes those pathways to the elite level very clear and attainable.”

Mairangi Bay have had a connection with AUT Millennium for many years. Pool training is a vital part of a lifeguard’s preparation for the season. The club runs a year-round swim fitness programme at AUT Millennium, which increases over the winter. With Lifesaving Pool Nationals held in the spring of each year, the club is close to training facilities to prepare over the colder months. “AUT Millennium is a strong and important partner for Mairangi Bay, because the location and convenience is a huge factor,” says Grant. “The overarching mission is about health and wellbeing of Kiwis, and there’s a lot of synergy with us as a club in that message.”

The club is currently looking to redevelop their well-known clubhouse, hoping to create purpose-built spaces for equipment. “We hope to build a clubhouse which will serve the community for at least the next 50 years, and cater to our growing membership,” says Michael. “This project has been underway for a number of years. We’re now looking to begin construction within five years.” The club’s committee are in discussions with Council, and have been exploring food and drink options on site as well, making the clubhouse a real hub in the Bay. Like many volunteer organisations, funding is a challenge for the club. “All charities and non-profits are fighting for the same pot of cash, really,” says Grant. “We want our community to see how valuable all our services are, from lifeguarding, to surf sports, to community outreach, so they support us in helping cement the future of the club. It’s not a cosmetic thing, it’s about making sure the club is safe and operational, and serving members and the public in the best way possible.”

Summer safety message

Both Michael and Grant have strong messages to the public as the weather starts to improve and more people hit the beach. North Shore beaches are generally more calm, but Michael reminds us just because there’s no big waves, that doesn’t mean there’s no danger. “All too often drownings or other marine accidents occur when people overestimate their ability, underestimate the conditions and don’t take precautions such as wearing appropriate swimwear or floatation devices,” he says. “Our advice is know your limits, swim at patrolled beaches between the flags, and engage with lifeguards if you’re unsure.” Grant echoes Michael’s message, and adds, “If you’re swimming alone, tell someone where you’re going and what you’re doing,” he says. “For parents, always supervise your kids in the water, at the very least standing at the water’s edge. We tend to suggest kids aged five and under don’t go out past their knees.”

Get involved

Surf lifesaving is very much a volunteer movement, and almost all of the administrative roles are filled by members or parents with full time jobs. “We simply could not operate our various programmes and services without an immense amount of time from our members,” Michael says. The club are very welcoming towards individuals or families who want to get involved, either as a lifeguard, support member or to start their children in nippers. More information and contact details can be found on their website, as can links to contribute towards the new clubrooms or other lifeguarding activities: www.mairangibayslsc.org.nz

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