One of the proudest moments in Mount Maunganui's storied history was the formation of the nippers movement in New Zealand, right here, in 1968. They're celebrating that milestone on November 4, paying tribute to some of the incredible pioneers that helped get things going.
It started over a few beers with some mates in Mount Maunganui, many of them wharfies with young families.
One of the crew - Bob Mitchell - mentioned he’d been back to his native Australia earlier in the year and he’d spotted his old surf club North Cronulla running something called a ‘nippers’ programme for young kids, teaching them water skills.
Great idea, they all enthused, and on September 20, 1968, the first nippers club in New Zealand was born.
That year was momentous for a few reasons; the first US Open tennis tournament was played and won by Arthur Ashe, the first Boing 747 was unveiled and the American space programme ramped up, ahead of the moon landing a year later.
Back then, Mount Maunganui was a quiet little seaside town, accessible from Tauranga by ferry or a long drive around the harbour and estuaries across the newly-opened Maungatapu Bridge.
John Burn, then working for Mount Stevedores, and his wife Fay were particularly taken with the nippers concept, with young boys just venturing into the water.
“Fay was always keen for the kids to learn to swim and be involved in the water - she was a pretty keen swimmer - so the nippers was a great opportunity,” John recalls.
The first club meeting - held on November 2 1968 - attracted 41 boys, with Mitchell as president and Burn secretary. By the start of the 1970-71 season, it had swelled to more than 100 members, with girls officially joining in 1975 and the programme officially affiliated to the Mount Maunganui Lifeguard Service in 1982.
Initial activities included pillow fights, tug-o-wars, musical flags, sack races and surfo-planes, while the first subscriptions cost 50 cents, plus $2.10 for togs.
Mount’s innovation was quickly picked up by other clubs; the likes of Whakatane, Waimarama and Piha were quick to write to Burn asking for information on how to set up the programme, with an Auckland Nippers’ Championship held in 1970.
Bob Mitchell died in an accident on the wharf in 1978 but his legacy continued to thrive; in 1991, the first Kiwi Nippers festival was held in Mount Maunganui, with more than 1000 juniors competing from around New Zealand. It proved the precursor to the successful Oceans Athletes event.
John and Fay Burn and Mitchell’s widow Shirley Goodman were on hand recently for a One News story on the nippers anniversary, joined by young Levon Pugh, who is the grandson of original nipper, the late life member Peter ‘Mussils’ Lloyd.
They’ll be back at the official 50th celebrations on November 4 too - coinciding with the start of the junior surf season - we welcome all new and old members to join us from 3 - 5pm at the Mount Main Beach for some fun games and of course cake to mark the occasion.
Burn, for one, believes the nippers movement has been a winner.
“I guess you’ve got to say it’s achieved its purpose over those years. It’s provided a pathway through to senior surf lifesaving and provided a good bit of water sense and water safety.”
As we kick off a new patrol season in our temporary portacom, we’re taking a bit of a trip back in time, to when the Mount Maunganui Lifeguard Service was first established in 1928.
Back then, the clubhouse was remarkably similar to this portacom - a two-room railway hut dragged onto the site in the dunes!
Patrol 1 is set to lead the charge this Saturday and Sunday, with Patrol 5 overseeing the Monday volunteer duties.
Patrols start at 11am on Saturday and 10am on Sunday and Monday, with a 4pm finish depending on the weather and crowds on the beach