Lifeguard of the Year

The New Zealand Lottery Grants Board (NZLGB) Lifeguard of the Year award is the pinnacle of surf lifesaving in New Zealand and highlights the skill, experience and dedication of the lifeguards who give up their time to make our beaches safer.

2023 - Samantha Larson, Kariaotahi Surf Club

During the 2022/2023 season, Samantha demonstrated remarkable dedication and expertise in just about all aspects of surf lifesaving.  She dedicated over 100 hours to club-level patrolling and assumed a pivotal role as the primary facilitator of Kariaotahi Surf Club’s Surf Lifeguard Award programme. She played a crucial role in certifying 12 new surf lifeguards, investing time and effort into training, and enhancing the skills of these candidates while also travelling to other beaches within the region to help with examinations. 


Samantha was also a member of the Membership Development Committee and served as a facilitator for all Surf Life Saving Northern development camps.  Despite her demanding responsibilities, she recognised the importance of upskilling young members.


If that weren’t impressive enough, during the season, Samantha also took charge of organising and leading the Wāhine on Water events throughout the North Island - an event designed to empower and encourage females to become IRB drivers.  She passionately advocates for increasing female representation in IRBs and serves as a fantastic role model, actively participating in IRB racing herself.


The countless hours and unwavering commitment that Samantha has given to the surf community are truly immense, making her an exceptional example of dedication and excellence.


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‘In it for life’ could not be a more accurate depiction of Boyd Harris’s commitment to the Pukehina Surf Rescue Lifeguard Service (SR). Boyd’s 40 plus years of helping others and driving the club to new heights have earned him the NZ Lottery Grants Board Lifeguard of the Year Award, receiving the prestigious award at the Surf Lifesaving New Zealand (SLSNZ) 2022 National Awards of Excellence.

Boyd became interested in surf lifesaving and became a lifeguard ‘over the estuary’ at Maketu when he was a teenager but even before becoming qualified, Boyd showed a knack for getting out there and helping - standing at the shoreline warning young kids off the beach after noticing dangerous surf conditions when he was just 13.

That initiative has not tired, and the local Bay of Plenty legend has driven change throughout all levels of the club, from convincing 60 of his mates to become qualified lifeguards in the early years to encouraging life members to come back to beach patrolling more recently.

“That was pretty cool,” says Boyd.

“We paired the older ones who turned up on the flags with a younger one. The younger ones got to learn a lot from their experience and the older ones were reinvigorated to do more. We went from having just 38 lifeguards to pushing 60 lifeguards in total and increased from 60 to 130 junior surf kids. It was very cool,” says Boyd.

Boyd has always put an emphasis on creating pathways to experiences, education and careers, including a unique collaboration with mental health programme Surfing for Farmers.

“We've bought our own surfboards and wetsuits and all our club members help with coaching plus a couple of surfers from the community got involved so it's a real cool thing.”

“And out of that formed the Pukehina Board Riders Club and we've got 60 kids and 20 adults that come down and use all our gear, and it's just cool to be able to offer that resource and create healthy pathways for the community,” explains Boyd.

Boyd is also part of a multi-million-dollar fund-raising effort to build a new surf club which is testament to Pukehina SR’s growth. The club used to carry out 30-40 rescues a year, now it is only two per year with more guards, patrol hours and increased preventative lifeguarding. Pukehina SR also helps smaller beaches and has the special skills needed for event life guarding. But at the heart of it all is simply Boyd’s passion for helping people while also having a ‘bloody great time’.

I've been involved with a lot of other sports and organisations. Have coached or instructed over 30,000 kids and 8,000 adults in my lifetime, but surf lifesaving is the one that I've really stuck with. If I can take others along for the ride with me, I can teach one instructor and they go and instruct 20 kids or adults and that's awesome,” says Boyd.

“I really enjoy helping young people see the leadership potential there is in surf lifesaving and it’s just good fun.”

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2021 - Phoebe Havill, Onemana SLSC & Whangamatā

Phoebe Havill’s outstanding contribution to lifeguarding has led to her becoming only the second woman to be awarded the valued Lifeguard of the Year title.

Phoebe is a Patrol Captain at Whangamata and Onemana SLSC and a committee member and Club Captain at Onemana SLSC. She has completed 90 hours of volunteer patrolling between both clubs and does regular roams to Pokohino, Octopus Bay, and Donut Island, resulting in some of her rescues. Her striking abilities as a leader have seen her instruct at the Intermediate Guard School held in Waihi and mentor for the National Guard School.

On her patrols, Phoebe encourages a proactive approach, staying at the water’s edge and changing the position of guards monitoring the flags. Along with many club responsibilities, including patrol coordinating, managing rescue equipment and running club refreshers, Phoebe has instructed on a combined Whangamata and Onemana SLA camp. She also built the Onemana club website and currently runs the social media accounts.

Phoebe has instructed IRB crews and drivers at both clubs, in and out of patrol hours, and recently gained her IRB Instructor Award. Her regional contributions include work on the Eastern Region IRB Development group, course facilitating, Patrol Captain workshops and instructing and examining for a range of surf lifesaving positions. Phoebe represents Onemana on the Coromandel Lifesaving Committee and is the Chief Patrol Auditor for the Coromandel.

Phoebe is a member of the Volunteer Strategy Working group and Women in SLS group. She also helped form Wahine on Water, with three others, an inspiring mentoring programme created to encourage women to drive IRBs and take on other challenging roles. Phoebe helped organise Wahine on Water events in Pauanui and has assisted SLSNZ wahine to plan their own events in other parts of the country.


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2020 - Max Jones, Whangamatā SLSC

Max Jones is Whangamata SLSC's club captain, a board member and the Head Regional Guard. He's also contributed 80 hours of patrolling as a volunteer and was involved in more than 30 rescues, including three search and rescue operations.

Max is an active patroller who is regularly “on the flags” and at the water’s edge issuing preventative advice and guidance. He is an instructor at the club and was involved in regional IRB development camps, instructor/examiner briefings, IRB engine maintenance workshops and the Eastern Region IRB Development Review. Max was a top candidate at the National Lifeguard School and is a highly respected leader and mentor at his Whangamata club. He helps with everything from the Labour Weekend muster, to fundraising and after hours rescues. 

Max has a strong and positive presence on social media around lifeguarding and is active in his club’s social and sporting scene. But he is also never far from the water’s edge, having spent eight hours of his final day on patrol on the flags.

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2019 - James Lloyd, Waihi Beach LS

James continues to provide a high level of service and lifeguarding support to Waihi Beach, the region and Surf Life Saving New Zealand. James has been invited to be part of a number of key leadership roles including being an Instructor at National Lifeguard School, the Coromandel Local Lifesaving Committee and Jet Ski team, assisting Surf Life Saving New Zealand to achieve their goals and demonstrate a high standard of lifeguarding. It is these skills that make James the winner of the NZLGB Lifeguard of the Year award.

Not only this year has James been involved in a range of projects and from the list detailed you can’t measure the hours of commitment James made to the organisation. James is on the Waihi Beach Board as Director of Lifeguarding and is embracing the opportunity to support the members and committed to making a difference.

He has formed a very strong 12 member Lifeguarding Sub-committee and together they have achieved a significant number of goals that have resulted in some clever initiatives being introduced. The Club had 103 new or refreshing lifeguards and 24 rookies this season which confirms that the Club is in good health under his portfolio.

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2018 - Todd Cations-Velvin, Fitzroy SLSC

One of the most prestigious awards, NZLGB Lifeguard of the Year was awarded to Todd Velvin from Fitzroy SLSC, who was awarded the respected award for his commitment to his club. He did a total of 72 hours on patrol watching over members of the public while instructing 30 new IRB crewman, 2 IRB drivers, and countless hours mentoring and helping surf lifeguards get their qualifications.

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2017 - Nathan Berry, Levin-Waitarere

Placing a strong emphasis on lifeguard development and growing the capabilities of his fellow club member’s earnt Levin-Waitarere's Nathan Berry the title of Lifeguard of the Year.

The NZ Lottery Grants Board Lifeguard of the Year award is the pinnacle of surf lifesaving in New Zealand and highlights the skill, experience and dedication of the lifeguards who give up their time to make our beaches safer.

The 27-year-old took on numerous roles over the summer season including Club Captain, Patrol Captain and acting as a mentor for developing Patrol Captains. He was an IRB Driver, part of the callout squad and assisted with the delivery and examination of the Surf Lifeguard Award and IRB programme.

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2016 - Christiaan Maarhuis, Waihi Beach

Volunteering over 50 hours on patrol and another 80 hours of event lifeguarding, coupled with a can-do attitude, has won a Hamilton man the honour of Lifeguard of the Year. Christiaan Maarhuis from Waihi Beach Surf Life Saving Club was presented the award at the 2016 Surf Life Saving New Zealand Awards of Excellence.

The NZ Lottery Grants Board Lifeguard of the Year award is the pinnacle of surf lifesaving in New Zealand and highlights the skill, experience and dedication of the lifeguards who give up their time to make our beaches safer.
Christiaan has instructed many lifeguards throughout the season including Inflatable Rescue Boat (IRB) and rescue board training along with being head instructor at the Intermediate Lifeguard School. He also took part in the National Lifeguard School where lifeguards can gain their Advanced Lifeguard Award, the highest award for surf lifesaving in New Zealand, and he was awarded 'top candidate'.

Surf Life Saving New Zealand CEO Paul Dalton says Christiaan's commitment and dedication to his club, region and surf lifesaving, in general, is outstanding. "Despite working full time, with a young family, he never hesitates to step up and lead by example. He is a great role model to the young lifeguards that he is helping to train and they will benefit greatly from his knowledge," he says.

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2015 - David Clarke, Palmerston North

NZ Lottery Grants Board Lifeguard of the Year was awarded to David Clarke from Palmerston North Surf Life Saving Club. The Lifeguard of the Year award is the pinnacle of surf lifesaving and Surf Life Saving New Zealand CEO Paul Dalton says this award highlights the skill, experience and dedication of the men and women who give up their time to make our beaches safer.

David demonstrates many characteristics that make him an exemplary volunteer Surf Lifeguard. He is both Club and Patrol Captain and has been involved in all aspects of the club's activities. Over the past season, he completed over 93 hours of voluntary patrol for Palmerston North SLSC as well as arranging cover of patrols at Foxton and Riversdale Surf Life Saving Clubs. The coverage at Riversdale was late in the season and yet they managed to provide 35 active lifeguard hours.

With a passion for power craft, he also looks after the IRB driver and crew training with an extensive training programme and the majority of the club's active lifeguards have an IRB qualification.

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2014 - Nick Mulcahy, Titahi Bay

NZ Lottery Grants Board Lifeguard of the Year was won by Nick Mulcahy from Titahi Bay SLSC. The Lifeguard of the Year award is the pinnacle of surf lifesaving in New Zealand and highlights the skill, experience and dedication of the men and women who give up their time to make our beaches safer.

As Patrol Captain and Lifesaving Coordinator, Nick has undertaken numerous roles including being responsible for surf lifeguarding and development at Titahi Bay SLSC. He has completed over 75 voluntary hours of service to his club over the past summer as well as 10 hours of service to Riversdale SLSC.

He has worked with every patrol team at Titahi Bay to upskill members, increase specific lifeguarding competencies and improve the delivery of surf lifeguard services. He has also conducted training scenarios with the patrol teams and encouraged them to undertake preventative actions such as educating swimmers and rock fisherman of local dangers.
Nick has also run coastal safety programmes for Titahi Bay community groups, including new migrants in the community, and has actively educated members of the public outside of surf lifeguarding hours (when coaching at the beach) and has actively prevented incidents.

Surf Life Saving New Zealand CEO Paul Dalton says as Lifeguard of the Year, Nick has shown great leadership and has been a great mentor for the lifeguards within his club. "He is a passionate and committed surf lifeguard and is the type of role model we are proud to have within our clubs," he says.

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2013 - Adam Fraser, Fitzroy Surf Life Saving Club

As Lifeguard of the Year, Adam embodies everything it takes to be an exemplary volunteer surf lifeguard. He has commitment, passion and an unswerving dedication to surf lifesaving.

Over the 2012/13 season, Adam attended six Lifeguard Award exams putting though 50 new lifeguards. As Chief IRB Examiner, he also put though eight new IRB drivers and 35 Crewman Awards.

Adam also completed 65 hours of patrol duties supporting his young Patrol Captain. As Vice Club Captain he has supported the Club Captain in providing guidance and support for all Fitzroy lifeguards and patrols, often spending many hours in a support role which goes unlogged.

Adam has been a great role model for the young lifeguards of Fitzroy and Taranaki. He has lead by example and he is passionate about surf lifesaving and it’s this passion that he has passed on to the next generation of lifeguards.

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2012 - Gary Hinds, Hot Water Beach Surf Life Saving Club

Hot Water Beach Surf Life Saving Club chairman Gary Hinds was presented with Lifeguard of the Year. This prestigious award highlights the skill, experience and dedication Gary has given to making his local beach safer. 

Mr Hinds has successfully guided the Hot Water Beach club through its busiest four seasons and managed a beach and club which has undergone huge growth.

Since 2005 membership has increased 180 percent. Patrolling capability, standards and coverage have also increased exponentially. Beach usage has increased three-fold over the previous three seasons, rescues have increased 345 percent and patrolling has been increased by 320 percent.

While most club chairmen are rarely at the coal face of surf lifesaving, he has managed to clock up 342 national lifeguard service hours alongside 142 volunteer patrol hours. He has also clocked up 92 beach education hours working with the local school and qualified 15 new lifeguards he recruited from local schools.

Notably, Gary did all this while running his farm, running his own business and supporting and raising a family. He is viewed as a local super hero by many.

Surf Life Saving New Zealand Chairman Michael Bassett-Foss said “These actions are the expression of our values, and it’s the best of those values we celebrate with our Awards. As Lifeguard of the Year, Gary embodies everything it takes to be an exemplary volunteer Surf Lifeguard. Commitment, passion and unswerving dedication to Surf Life Saving.”

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2011 - Allan Mundy, Omanu Surf Life Saving Club

Allan is recognised as one of our key leaders in Surf Life Saving. His role as the Chief Examiner for the Bay of Plenty and Coromandel region and Chair of the Life Saving Committee is clear evidence of this.

This past season, Allan also trained Lifeguards in CPR, mentored young club instructors, coordinated the club’s emergency after-hours call-out squad and rescue helicopter aquatics squad. Both positions saw Allan taking part in numerous after hours searches and rescues, as well as a tsunami evacuation.

He is a valuable member on patrol, and father figure and mentor to the junior club members. Allan is well known in surf safety in Tauranga and is often quoted in the local papers on surf safety related issues.

Allan is one of the thousands of dedicated volunteers that have made Surf Life Saving what it is today.

During the past century, more than 50,000 people have been rescued from the surf, these are some of the great outcomes of what we do. They’re the outcome of the more than 15,000 lifeguards throughout the country who generously give up their time and work together to save lives. Allan epitomises this; he is truly, ‘In it for Life’.

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2010 - Shaun Smith, Papamoa SLSC

The New Zealand Lottery Grants Board Surf Lifeguard of the Year was awarded to Shaun Smith for his dedication and passion to surf lifesaving during the 2009-2010 season.

While Surf Live Saving has many members who devote a vast amount of their time to the organisation each year, there is just one, who can be awarded the Lifeguard of the Year and Shaun is the deserving recipient.

Shaun joined Papamoa Surf Life Saving Club in 1996 – he has been a club committee member for 10 of those 14 years and more recently held the position of Director of Lifeguarding. He is a tireless member who is involved in many aspects of Surf Life Saving.

Shaun can be seen at the club almost every day – summer and winter, checking conditions, tidying and fixing what is broken. He is on hand for every carnival, taking responsibility for event safety and keeping members safe. He is always on hand for fundraising and team management.

He is a valuable member on patrol, actively involved in training new surf lifeguards, and is a qualified instructor and a mentor to younger members.

Shaun is one of the thousands of dedicated volunteers who have helped shape Surf Life Saving into what it is today. In the last 100 years, more than 50,000 people have been rescued on our beaches. But rescues are just an outcome – they’re the outcome of thousands of volunteers giving up their time and learning new skills. Shaun is the epitome of that; he is ‘In it For Life’.

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2009 - Rob Pidgeon, United North Piha Lifeguard Service

The New Zealand Lottery Grants Board Lifeguard of the Year award was presented to Rob Pidgeon of United North Piha Lifeguard Service.

As a Patrol Captain and Director of Lifesaving for United North Piha Lifeguard Service, Rob Pidgeon is at the forefront of Surf Life Saving.

During his 114 hours of patrol, Rob could often be found on flag duty, training fellow clubbies in IRBs or taking members through their paces in surf swims and rock work at one of New Zealand’s most beautiful, but dangerous West Coast beaches. Not restricting his expertise solely to Auckland’s rugged West Coast, he could also be found assisting other clubs - including Raglan, to help boost patrol numbers when they were in need.

Rob’s hard work, dedication and proven leadership skills are valuable assets that he has applied to his role as Patrol Captain. The responsibility of this position requires extensive environmental knowledge, resourcefulness, equipment management and commands respect from fellow patrol members which Rob has managed to achieve with great aplomb.

His patrol skills are second to none and Rob’s experience and knowledge were utilised to the highest level in January this year when he coordinated the successful rescue and resuscitation of a local West Auckland man. The patient - Ross Melles, a father of four and local artist based in Piha - was caught in a rip and pulled from the water by UNP lifeguards with no pulse. Rob and his patrol team executed ‘textbook CPR’ as Rob modestly puts it – and successfully resuscitated Mr Melles. As we all know without the dedication and expertise of members like Rob – Mr Melles and many others, may very well not be here today.

Rob also coordinated the rescue of a rock fisherman caught on rocks at high tide in testing conditions at North Piha, most likely preventing the drowning of yet another fisherman on Auckland’s West Coast. This rescue won Northern Region Rescue of the Month and went on to win the NZ Rescue of the Month in April 2009. Rob was also involved in two additional Northern Region Rescue of the Month awards in 2009. Not only a high achiever on the patrol front, Rob carried his quest for excellence through to the 2009 Trillian Trust District Patrol Championships in Omaha where his expertise and leadership led the United North Piha Team to victory.

As the Director of Lifesaving for United North Piha, Rob is responsible for activities such as formulating patrol operations, managing a roster system of 85 patrolling members and five active patrols, day to day management of United North Piha SLSC and maintenance control of equipment. Rob also assisted with organising and facilitating club refreshers, IRB and Surf Lifeguard Award instruction.

Last year Rob was selected as the Cathay Pacific High Flyers Community Award recipient and chose to travel to Canada to attend the Royal Lifesaving Society Commonwealth Conference in Canada. The event saw delegates from around the world discuss the future of international lifesaving which has provided invaluable direction and motivation for Rob and his club.

Recognising Rob’s dedication to his Club and the wider activities of Surf Life Saving in his local District, Surf Life Saving Northern Region awarded Rob the 2009 Lifeguard of the Year.

It is Rob’s unassuming leadership and his ability to efficiently organise patrols that have earned him the respect of both younger and older club members of the United North Piha Lifeguard Service and beyond. Rob is a shining example of a member who consistently provides outstanding service above and beyond the call of duty.

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2008 - Debbie Phillips-Morgan - Raglan Surf Life Saving Club

At the 2007 Northern Region Awards of Excellence for Surf Life Saving, Debbie made a vow to herself: “To give Raglan a boost and to ensure that we are at the top, competing equally with the bigger Clubs in the Auckland area.” One year later, we awarded Debbie the NZLGB Lifeguard of the Year.

An invaluable member of the Raglan Surf Life Saving Club, Debbie Phillips-Morgan played an integral role in ensuring the successful and safe operation of Lifeguarding services at one of New Zealand’s busiest and most dangerous beaches. As the Club Captain at Trust Waikato Raglan Surf Life Saving Club, Debbie has proved an effective operational manager, ensuring objectives were met and high standards maintained. With a team of only 22 Lifeguards, a heavy workload was placed on Debbie and the small team of Senior Lifeguards at the Club. With such a small team, consistent quality communication and administration were required to ensure operational standards were met each weekend.

As an active Lifeguard, in the 2007/08 season Debbie completed over 162 hours of patrol at Raglan Beach. This equates to being on patrol for a full day every weekend for the entire patrol season. She also found time to train and qualify nine new Surf Lifeguards, institute Club-based pool swimming training and gain her SLGA Instructors Certificate.

An outstanding ambassador for her Club, Debbie has also been active within the wider Surf Life Saving environment, attending all ten DistrictClub Captain forums throughout the year and administering the District support plan for Raglan Club. This proved highly successful not only for the patrolling needs of the Club, but also in enhancing the development of junior Lifeguards.

Debbie’s inspiration? “The people who are involved with Surf Life Saving are awesome…To be able to put yourself on the line each time you go out into the water even though you don’t know a single person who you may be rescuing always gets the adrenaline run on a high. The support, encouragement and the ability to be a Whanau is what keeps Raglan close to my heart.

In all areas, Debbie has bought a level of commitment and professionalism that has had a major positive influence on other Raglan members and on how they present themselves to the public. Under Debbie’s direction, Raglan achieved second place in the 2007/08 SLSNR Best Patrolled Beach Competition.

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2007 - David Pontin, South Brighton Canterbury

The New Zealand Surf Lifeguard of the Year is awarded to David Pontin for his dedication and passion for lifeguarding during the 2006/2007 season.

David is the chief instructor at the South Brighton club in Christchurch, is a district examiner and patrol inspector and is also a member of the district advisory committee.

Although he totalled more than 60 exceptional hours of patrolling during the last season, this didn’t include the extra hours he took just `popping down’ to the club.

As chief instructor, David set about his duties with professionalism and energy. His attention to detail and awareness of the beach environment was faultless, while his dedication to the safety of the public was unrelenting.

David has rejuvenated the IRB patrols at South Brighton, firstly by obtaining funding for a new hull and motors, then training crews, and ensuring the maintenance of the craft met his own high standards.

He has lifted the overall standard of South Brighton patrols, operating as patrol coordinator, and has established himself as the `go-to’ person whenever there is a question or problem with a patrol.

As district examiner, he ensured those attending exams were properly prepared and put them at ease while attempting the exams to get the best result for themselves, their club and districts.

David also gave up his own time to be involved with an open water swim series run by an outside organisation, ensuring the safety of competitors. He’s spent countless hours on the beach giving advice to swimmers, has passed his examiners’ qualification and kept up to date with the latest in first aid procedures.

South Brighton president Bruce Lomax described David as a mentor to all lifeguards at the club.

“His dedication has encouraged other people to become more involved in lifeguarding,” Bruce explains. “He continues to encourage and train people to achieve high levels in patrol standards and continues to deliver a service to the public that young impressionable lifeguards aspire to.”

Surf Life Saving New Zealand Chief Executive, Geoff Barry, is adamant lifeguards like David Pontin are worth their weight in gold.

“David embodies the very best of the traits found in New Zealand lifeguards; he’s enthusiastic, adaptable and takes real pride in delivering the very best service he can. Through all his activities, he’s remained focussed on Surf Life Saving’s core purpose - preventing the loss of life.”

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2006 - Brent Harvey, Paekakariki SLSC

Brent is a fantastic embodiment of Surf Life Saving New Zealand’s slogan “in it for life.” His commitment to not only continually upskill himself but also impart his knowledge to Paekakariki’s young rookie Lifeguards saw him awarded the NZLGB Lifeguard of the Year Award in September, one of Surf Life Saving New Zealand’s most prestigious awards.

During the season Brent undertook a range of tasks aimed at improving the volunteer lifeguard services provided by the Paekakariki Club. For Brent, it was about improvement across every aspect of the Club, from the first aid treatment facilities to the skills and training of fellow Club members.

Paekakariki Surf Life Saving Club is one of six Surf Life Saving Clubs in the Wellington District. Paekakariki’s strength lies with a dedicated membership and Brent Harvey exemplifies this.

Brent’s skills and knowledge have also made him a valuable voice within the Wellington District. As a member of the Wellington Lifeguard Advisory Committee Brent was instrumental in setting up the mobile patrol operation for inner-city Wellington beaches.

“Brent’s commitment and dedication to surf lifesaving is outstanding,” says Surf Life Saving New Zealand’s CEO. “He is involved in every facet of Surf Life Saving at Club and District level; he is a member who takes great pride in the quality of service he provides to the movement.”

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