Volunteer of the Year

The purpose of the DHL Volunteer of the Year is to recognise an outstanding member who has made a significant volunteer contribution to enhancing surf lifesaving within their local area during their season. 

2023 - Jess Bennett, Ocean Beach Kiwi SLSC

Jess has been managing the Hawke’s Bay Search and Rescue callout squad for years but her work around Cyclone Gabrielle was outstanding.  She proactively planned for the event, weeks in advance, leading the team with authority and respect.


When Cyclone Gabrielle did eventually hit, Jess left her young family to spend weeks at the centre of the major rescue response in Hawke’s Bay.  The Search and Rescue team, consisting of over 30 members and utilising 15 inflatable rescue boats, conducted extensive search and rescue operations under her coordination.  She led this team into uncharted territories but despite being tested in various ways, Jess remained approachable and compassionate. 


As Helen Jackson, Ocean Beach Kiwi SLSC Director of Sport, said, “From all of us to you, Jess, we want to thank you for giving tirelessly, for all that you have done, and all that you do.”

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Harry Mellor has been in the surf competitively since he was just 7 years old, and at 22 he is already a surf lifesaving veteran, mentoring young lifeguards keen to develop their leadership potential.

A lifelong love of the water and his unwavering commitment to helping others has seen Harry win the prestigious DHL Volunteer of the Year Award at Surf Lifesaving New Zealand (SLSNZ) 2022 National Awards of Excellence.

SLSNZ depends on its 4,500+ Surf Lifeguard volunteers across the country to help improve water safety and get people home safely from the beach. Without volunteers like Harry, the national lifesaving service simply wouldn’t run as effectively as it does. Harry exemplifies the power of volunteering, and his dedication to encouraging more young people into SLSNZ has earned him a top spot at this year’s awards.   

A member of Red Beach Surf Lifesaving Club (SLSC), Harry became a qualified lifeguard at 14. His love of the water and the friendships he’s made throughout his years at Red Beach SLSC have driven his interest in lifeguarding, but it was the mentoring he had when he was younger that has shaped his commitment to helping other up-and-coming lifeguards.

Harry has numerous volunteer roles within his local club and regionally, including Head Instructor of Northern Region’s Intermediate Lifeguard School and Head Mentor of Northern Region’s Youth Development Camp, as well as several other strategic roles that encourage young people into surf lifesaving and establish clear pathways to leadership roles.

“I really enjoy running the development courses and teaching the younger ones. I was lucky enough to have great mentors when I was growing up and I wanted to give back myself,” says Harry.

“I wouldn’t have had the opportunities to grow within the club without the support of Dan Short (a clubbie at Mairangi Bay and United North Piha) who mentored me and encouraged me into leadership positions,” explains Harry.

Harry is also studying a Master of Architecture and juggles his studies with paid summer lifeguarding and his volunteering roles. He says the skills he’s learnt from volunteering at the club have been invaluable to his studies and career aspirations.

“I love the water and it’s what gets me out into the surf each day, the skills I’ve learnt and can apply to my studies and everyday life have been an unexpected bonus!” says Harry.

Harry plans to gain experience as a lifeguard in the UK and the US once he completes his studies and encourages everyone to give it a go as you never know what will be around the corner.

“Pursue what you want, try your hand at everything – give it a go, you never know what might come of it!”

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2021 - Joanne Hobson, Sunset Beach Lifeguard Service

With her ongoing dedication and commitment to Surf Lifesaving, Joanne Hobson is well-deserving of the title Volunteer of the Year. Her extensive involvement includes coordination and training responsibilities at local, regional and national levels. She is on the Management Board of Sunset Beach LS and Coordinator of the Sunset Emergency Call Out Squad. In addition, Joanne has a Peer Support role and is part of the Honours and Awards committees for her club, the Northern Region and at a national level.

Joanne’s dedication is evident in her organisation, instruction and mentoring of new lifeguard candidates, from the initial contact to obtaining their award. Joanne has taken on other duties such as a Surf Official Course Facilitator, monitoring first aid qualifications, checking refreshers, and ensuring that the SLSNZ database course entries are correct.

Joanne was Delegate to Surf Lifesaving Northern Region (SLSNR) until the end of March 2020 and co-opted onto the SLSNR Board in December of 2020. She is one of the two board appointed members of the SLSNR Review Steering Group. Her national assignments include taking part in SLSNZ Junior Advisory Group discussions and initial review of the Surf Official Level 1 Training Project.

Between roles as a Chief Instructor, SLSNR Event Administrator, Examiner and Course Facilitator, Joanne has spent nearly every weekend of the season on a beach. Joanne has spent many evenings either attending, preparing for or following up with meetings. Along with her already extensive list of work, Joanne has stood in when coaches at her club were not available and completed 67 hours on active lifeguard patrol. We offer our immense gratitude to Joanne for her outstanding contribution to SLSNZ.

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2020 - Mike Smith, Taylors Mistake SLSC

It is almost impossible to briefly sum up Mike’s contribution to Surf Life Saving as he is active at a club, regional and national level across a range of topics - but in particular health and safety. He’s been on the Taylors Mistake committee for 15 years and is the club’s vice president, and for the past two seasons he's been the club’s Health & Safety Officer - a huge asset to the club and how we approach training, beach set ups and event management. 

Mike also continues to patrol in a support role. At a regional and national level he runs, among many other things, instructor and patrol captains courses and he is heavily involved in surf events as a referee, guard, official and selector - to name just a few of his hats. If there is a job to be done Mike is one of those people who is always first to volunteer. It’s fair to say Mike’s influence within surf can be seen from the junior to senior levels, and from club through to national. He’s an impressive bloke.

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2019 - Rachelle Bright, Whangamatā SLSC

During the 2018/19 season, Rachelle was Whangamata Club Captain. She was a key member of the club to develop their strategic outlook and club values that underpin the surf club. She has helped at a regional level, being on the examining team and taken on new examiners to train. At exams, she runs the theory marking side of the exam and helps others to learn the examining process. She has been on the Local Lifesaving Committee for a number of years, this season taking on Chairperson role. She has implemented new initiatives, particularly around peer support, designing a poster for all clubs. Rachelle works closely with all members in a surf lifesaving context, including junior surf.

With her teaching background, Rachelle has offered guidance with teaching techniques that better enable coaches to develop their pedagogical techniques. Rachelle takes the time to welcome all new members into the club and upholds a well -respected role within the club at all times. She has been and always will be a great advocate for her surf club and surf lifesaving in general.

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2018 - Adam Fraser, Fitzroy SLSC

The highly valued DHL Volunteer of the Year award was won by Adam Fraser from Fitzroy SLSC for his unwavering dedication to surf lifesaving.

As a volunteer, Adam made a valuable contribution to all facets of surf lifesaving; from doing patrols and keeping to the public safe, to being a senior instructor at the National Lifeguarding School, to managing the Taranaki callout squad, and everything in between.

He also became the Chairman of the National Lifesaving Committee and completed multiple New Zealand Search and Rescue qualifications during the past season.

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2017 - Kate Suter, Sumner SLSC

Volunteers are the lifeblood of Surf Life Saving New Zealand and this year's DHL Volunteer of the Year was awarded to Kate Suter from Sumner Surf Life Saving Club.

Over the patrol season, Kate was the club's top instructor. She influenced many members to pursue First Aid and Patrol Captain Awards, was very active as an event lifeguard, examiner and mentor as well as competing and managing IRB racing and encouraging younger members to get involved.

On top of this, she was an active patroller where, as patrol Captain, she coordinated numerous critical incidents including a major search operation. She carried out over 45 hours of patrol while her actual volunteered hours is estimated to be in excess of 200 hours.

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2016 - Owen West, Oreti SLSC

Volunteers are the lifeblood of Surf Life Saving New Zealand and this year's DHL Volunteer of the Year was awarded to Owen West from Oreti Surf Life Saving Club.

Owen was initially a member of Rarangi Surf Life Saving Club where he gained his Surf Lifeguard Award in 2001. He then moved to Invercargill for work a few years ago where he became part of Oreti and is now Club Captain. At the start of the 2014/15 season, the club only had nine lifeguards registered. Taking on numerous roles, Owen has played a big part in rebuilding the club which now has 29 lifeguards.

Last season, he volunteered 37 patrol hours on top of supporting 10 new lifeguards through their Surf Lifeguard Award and assisting members through other qualifications such as First Aid and IRB awards.

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2015 - Paul Carlyon, Otaki SLSC

Volunteers are the lifeblood of our organisation and this year's DHL Volunteer of the Year was awarded to Paul Carlyon from Otaki Surf Life Saving Club.

As chairman, he is involved in every aspect of Otaki Surf Club and as Patrol Captain, he has actively patrolled at the weekends, volunteering a total of 40 hours as well as acting as an instructor at the National Lifeguard Schools in Fitzroy and Whiritoa.

He has also worked hard within his community, visiting the local primary school to encourage surf safety and promote surf lifesaving and he was instrumental in coordinating the BP IRB Click for your Club campaign that saw Otaki win a brand new IRB. Paul's community advocacy and work ethic show his passion for Surf Life Saving.

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2014 - Stephen Johnston, Waimairi SLSC

DHL Volunteer of the Year was awarded to Stephen Johnston of Waimairi SLSC, who is over at the Lifesaving World Championships in France.

Stephen has actively patrolled Waimairi for the last 44 years and the 2014 season was no exception. He sets an exceptionally high standard and not only fulfils his allocated patrol hours, but also patrols and performs rescues and preventative actions whenever he is on the beach.

In his role as a Club Instructor, Stephen is the first point of contact for new lifeguards and every year, he instructs numerous new recruits. He is the chair of the Local Lifeguard Committee and has also offered his services coordinating the lifeguarding of public events.

Mr Dalton says Stephen has selflessly contributed hours to his club and local community and at the start of the year was recognised with a Queen's Service Medal. "He is a great inspiration to aspiring young club members," he says.

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2013 - Mike Tames, Whangamata SLSC

Mike’s contribution to surf lifesaving is difficult to capture in one place. He has readily contributed at club, regional and national levels at the highest quality. For over five years he has sat on his club committees and Board of Directors, Local Life Saving Committee as Chair and the National LAC. Alongside strategic outputs, Mike has been a longstanding Patrol Auditor, Course Facilitator, Regional IRB and SLGA Examiner - all positions which he has held during the 2012/13 season in addition to over 50 volunteer hours of patrol. Further to this, he has headed up the restructure of the Regional Guard level.

At a club level, Mike has run three well attended IRB development weekends. At regional level, he delivered the first 40-hour Local Area Lifeguard Training Academy which was attended by 40 candidates and five trainee instructor candidates- all of whom attained their lifeguard award this season. It should also be said that Mike took annual leave to deliver this, further speaking volumes for his volunteer efforts.

This is but a snapshot of his contributions to surf lifesaving. Mike is one of a kind and is making a positive contribution to every aspect of surf lifesaving as a volunteer.

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2012 - Antony Mason, St Clair SLSC

DHL Volunteer of the Year was awarded to St Clair Surf Life Saving Club chairman Antony Mason who embodies everything it takes to be an exemplary volunteer - commitment, passion and unswerving dedication to Surf Life Saving.

He has done it all from raising sponsorship and managing accounts to washing the club patrol kit every week and being the club bus driver. The St Clair club chairman has been the point of contact for the club, managed day-to-day functions and assisted with club admin, fundraising and sponsorship.

He has had numerous titles from chairman of the local sport committee, club lifeguard convenor, local selector and an Inflatable Rescue Boat (IRB) instructor, helping three drivers pass. Assisting in the role of lifeguard convenor, he has managed patrols, run club refreshers and organised club events.

He has also been a team manager for the likes of Surf Nationals and Surf League and has been a coach and team manager for the IRB team.

Mr Mason has clocked up 41 hours of patrols, attended Southern Region chairs meetings, been an event guard at local competitions and quite importantly, he assisted with Otago’s return to Surf League. 

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2011 - Craig Todd, Sumner SLSC

Craig is the Chairperson. Not just a chairperson but a person who all members look up to with the utmost respect!  He is a highly valued, and a trusted member of the Sumner Surf Life Saving Club.  He is a friend to all, but when a decision or discipline is needed he is skilled at negotiating a fair and beneficial outcome.   He demonstrates excellent leadership alongside all age groups. He excels in his use of interpersonal skills.  Prior to the season Craig delegated and facilitated the Sumner SLSC strategic plan and managed funding applications within the funding subcommittee.  He managed some very difficult financial decisions with the building development and club funds.

Craig has given a great deal of his time to the building development and actively worked with the builder, electrician and others to ensure the quality of the building was maintained.  He volunteered for Jandal Day, sold meat raffles with his best mate Murray Johnson every Friday night and quietly worked with tradespeople to get the best deals for the building development.

Craig actively volunteers at the club on patrol days, attends and supports the IRB Teams and Surf Sport Teams, as well as being a judge at local carnivals. A Sumner SLSC clubbie mentions - He weaves us together!

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2010 - Pru Casey, Warrington SLSC

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2009 - Seth McPhee, Brighton SLSC (Dunedin)

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2008 - Neale Ames - Otaki SLSC

Neale Ames has been involved in surf life saving for over 47 years and has a proud history of dedicated to service to all areas of the movement, most notable as a Surf Official and administrator. The role of a Surf Official is often a thankless task but Neale has willingly committed his time and energy over the years to officiate at club, district, regional and national level.

He is currently the President, Chair and Treasurer of Otaki SLSC, and also the Chair of Surf Life Saving Western Districts. He also acts as a mentor to club coaches, competitors and patrol members, and attended the Peer Support Training programme. Neale was also made a Life Member of SLSNZ in 1997. That award recognised the contribution Neale had made to SLS at his Club, in his District and in SLSNZ.

In the 2007 / 2008 season, Neale contributed an immense amount of quality time at his Club – Otaki and to Surf Life Saving Western Districts. The list of roles, all requiring a significant contribution, at Club and District level represents the reason SLSNZ introduced the award of Volunteer of the Year. It provides us with an opportunity to recognise the true meaning of volunteer commitment.




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2007 - Scott Weatherall, Otago SLSC

When you read through Scott Weatherall’s list of volunteer activities, it’s remarkable to discover he actually does have a fulltime job, working for St Johns as a Regional Development Manager. Scott immersed himself in all aspects of maritime safety and lifeguarding. He is the president of Dunedin’s Brighton Club, is the patrol captain and leads the fundraising drive at the club, helping to raise more than $15,000. He also managed more than 30 hours of voluntary patrols during the 2006 / 2007 season.

At district level, Scott is on Surf Lifesaving Otago’s board of directors, is the lifesaving advisory committee convener, the district lifeguard examiner and the district patrol inspector. He’s also an IRB call-out squad member and spent more than 45 hours on the water at a range of events, as an event lifeguard. At national level, he’s on the Lifesaving Advisory Committee, was a leader in implementing the Critical Incident Support programme nationally and serves on framework review and junior surf manual committees.

And just in case he gets bored with all his tremendous surf lifesaving work, Scott is also involved in the Dunedin Marine Search and Rescue service.  Among the dozen or so call-outs he was involved in was the Kotuku mutton-birding boat sinking in Foveaux Strait, where spent more than 24 hours searching for survivors with the Lion Foundation Rescue Helicopter.

Scott is an enthusiastic and passionate member of Brighton, never failing to promote the club to the public and community, and is an inspiration to fellow club members.

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2006 - Nicole Evans, Rarangi SLSC

Nicole Evans, a primary school teacher at the local Tuamarina School, was the lifeblood of the Rarangi Club in the 2005/2006 season. She performed over 70 hours of volunteer patrol – giving most weekends of the summer to patrol the beach.

As well as patrolling, Nicole took on a vast number of duties and responsibilities over the summer. She revitalised the Club leading the development of a sound plan firstly, then following through with the commitment to ensure the Club delivered an effective lifeguarding service.

Nicole not only set up a Junior Surf programme but ensured the Club had a new group of Lifeguards on board for the season, with nine candidates gaining their Lifeguard Award. Determined to ensure these new members had every opportunity to enjoy their membership, Nicole took a group of

Rarangi members to the South Island Under 14 Champs, the first time Rarangi had competed for 10 years.

Nicole epitomises the volunteer of Surf Life Saving, giving so much of their own time back. It is members like Nicole who ensure our organisation is such a successful and essential part of New Zealand communities.

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