A much needed brand-new Inflatable Rescue Boat (IRB) has been gifted by BP to New Zealand’s newest surf life saving club, the Ngāti Porou SLSC, which patrols the remote Onepoto Beach in Hicks Bay, and is on a mission to strengthen its community’s cultural identity, water safety and historical links to the ocean.
According to Ngāti Porou tradition Paikea the whale rider was arguably the first original surf lifeguard to arrive on the East Coast. His legacy lives on through the work Ngāti Porou Surf Life Saving does, club founder and coordinator Peter Boyd says.
The club was founded about five years ago, because of a need generated by a strong resurgence in waka ama, as well as the popularity of fishing, surfing, boating and swimming.
Water Safety NZ statistics (link below) show Maori are represented disproportionately highly in national drowning figures, especially Maori men and children, and those taking part in water-based activities, such as collecting kaimoana, boating, fishing and swimming.
“So we needed to look at how to keep everyone in our community safe, and new ways to get that message across,” Boyd says.
“We needed to review our culture around the moana. And with Maori it’s always about the collective, it’s not about the individual. If everyone’s working together everyone succeeds, and that’s like surf lifesaving, you’ve got to be part of the collective for it to succeed and for it to develop.
“We see surf lifesaving as one of the means of reviving that cultural perspective around the sea, particularly the safety of it.”
The club’s lifeguards also safeguard many visitors to their waters. Each year the East Coast sees an influx of people for New Year’s Eve celebrations, including about 30,000 people going to the Rhythm and Vines music festival. Boyd says this means an influx of people swimming, surfing and boating, who aren’t familiar with local conditions - a big challenge for small surf lifesaving clubs.
Last summer Boyd and his nephews pulled four festival-goers out of a rip, and a nephew used a surfboard to save another, who was drowning.
The IRB was presented to the club on Tuesday April 16 by BP New Zealand Managing Director Debi Boffa. It was a special one-off donation, on top of the company’s commitment to gift one IRB to the national organisation each year.
Boyd says the IRB is a “crucial tool” for the club to help people at risk in the water, but raising funds from the tiny community to buy one would have been a massive obstacle.
“Forty percent of rescues in New Zealand are done with the IRBs, and on the coast here we’re so isolated. So we needed it for the community, so that everybody can feel safe out on the water,” he says.
“Thank you to BP for the gift, for the koha - now we can concentrate on recruiting and training IRB drivers.”
BP has supported SLSNZ since 1968. In the last 51 years, more than 55,000 lives have been saved by SLSNZ with more than 22,000 rescues supported by IRBs.
“We know how vital IRBs are to any surf club’s operations,” Debi Boffa said.
“Ngāti Porou SLSC provides an amazing service, fully supported by the community, and it made our decision to donate this IRB an easy one. We know it will further allow the Ngāti Porou SLSC to focus on what they do best – keeping us all safe at the beach.”
The club has 25 members, from 14 to 66 years old, and helps patrol nearly 200km of East Coast/Tairawhiti coastline, along with neighbouring clubs in the district, Gisborne and Tolaga Bay.
Several local teachers at the kura kaupapa are club members, who will be helping crew the IRB throughout the winter. Two of the teachers are being trained on becoming IRB instructors themselves, and lifeguarding skills are being incorporated into the school curriculum so their students will also learn good kaupapa.
“Despite fewer people in the water over winter, it is the key time for surf lifesaving clubs to train as the surf is rougher and more challenging, truly testing the new and current lifeguards – and in Ngāti Porou’s case, their IRB,” says club captain Peter Boyd.
“We hugely appreciate BP providing us with such a vital tool. Over winter the district runs IRB training, and now we’ll be able to take part in that, which is fantastic.
“We’ll also be able to do our own training with it and support other community groups and events as needed. Ultimately it is for the community, not just the club, and it will make a huge difference.”
BP and Surf Life Saving New Zealand have what is believed to be one of the longest unbroken corporate partnerships in New Zealand. In addition to an annual donation to Surf Life Saving New Zealand BP also recognises the skills of surf lifeguards with BP gift cards for clubs in the BP Rescue of the Month and BP Rescue of the Year awards.
BP also supports a BP Leaders for Life programme which provides lifeguards with a variety of important skills including conflict resolution and leadership skills that can be taken back and applied to their communities and clubs.
Maori drowning figures:
Ngati Porou SLSC members, with club captain Peter Boyd and BP New Zealand Managing Director Debi Boffa, at the presentation of the IRB on Tuesday.
For more information, please contact:
Peter Boyd, Ngati Porou Surf Life Saving Club captain, 027 436 1343 firstname.lastname@example.org
Adam Wooler, SLSNZ chief operations manager, 021 500 279 Adam.email@example.com
For BP: Joanne Jalfon (Porter Novelli), 027 274 6344 JoanneJ@porternovelli.kiwi