Camaraderie and adrenaline keeps Top Candidate coming back

Friday, 13 December 2019

Getting accepted into Surf Life Saving New Zealand’s National Lifeguard School had been on Max Jones’ bucket list for a few years.

The diligent 21-year-old kept working to meet the pool swim time requirements until he qualified and was selected to attend this year’s school.

During the intense three-day school, 19 candidates worked to attain their Advanced Lifeguard Award – the highest Surf Life Saving award available in New Zealand.

Not only did Max reach his goal of attending the school and gaining the award, he also came away with the 2019 “top candidate” title.

The school was held at Fitzroy Surf Life Saving Club from December 6 to 8 and Max says he’s “pretty stoked” to have taken out the honour.

Candidates, instructors and mentors at National Lifeguard School 2019.

He has spent six years as a volunteer Surf Lifeguard, first at Waihi Beach Life Guard Service, and now at Whangamata Surf Life Saving Club.

The Auckland resident says his parents have a bach at Waihi and encouraged him to join Junior Surf when he was young. It wasn’t until he saw an IRB go past and rescue someone that he thought it was something he’d like to get involved with.

Max qualified as a volunteer Surf Lifeguard in 2014 and spent the last four summer seasons working as a Regional Guard, and is about to start his second year as Head Lifeguard at Whangamata.

“It quickly became my passion. Something had me coming back, week after week and eventually year after year. Whether it was the camaraderie I felt with others within the organisation, the adrenaline rush of performing a rescue or just receiving the occasional ‘thank you’ when I was between the flags. Whatever it was, I was hooked.”

Max has held a number of roles within his clubs and the Eastern Region, and says he’s had some great opportunities from saving lives through to learning about governance and leadership.

“I’ve dealt with some really difficult stuff, but I’ve also been able to experience the feeling of reuniting a loved one with their family when they thought they may never see each other again.

“Joining this organisation was the best thing that I have ever done. I really enjoy it and I get a lot of satisfaction from it. It’s been a pretty cool journey with surf, and it’s not over. ‘In it for life’ is my motto too,” he says.

“I want to help and give back, I want to sit on national committees, get involved with mentoring and continue with examining and instructing.”

Max, who has been accepted as a Police recruit and will attend Police College in Porirua next year, also volunteered for St John Ambulance for two years.

His first season at Whangamata beach included an “intense” rescue involving four children who went swimming just as Max and his fellow volunteers were packing up for the day.

Max says someone came racing up to the club to say that the children were stuck in a rip.

“I looked out and saw that there was no time to get an IRB set up – they were drowning.”

Max grabbed a rescue board and headed out, followed by two other lifeguards with rescue boards.

When Max got out to the four children, one of them was holding up his younger brother who had taken on a lot of water.

Max took hold of the boy that was being held up and waited with the children until the two other volunteers reached them and they got everyone back to shore.

“If we hadn’t got there in time he would have drowned, and probably his brother that was holding him up. It was intense. It was a matter of minutes [before they would have drowned].”

National Member Education Manager Brad O’Leary says during National Lifeguard School the candidates are constantly observed and evaluated by staff and instructors as they search for the top candidate.

The title recognises the individual who consistently demonstrates the attributes of an advanced Surf Lifeguard. Leadership, team work, diligence, tenacity, knowledge, lifeguarding skills and physical ability are all equally weighted in the consideration.

Head Instructor Seth McPhee says this year’s intake was one of the strongest groups he had seen for many years – if not the strongest across his involvement with the school – so it was always going to be tough to pick an individual for the top honour.

Seth says Max earnt the top equal score in the theory test and commended him for “excelling” in the IRB (inflatable rescue boat) and rock rescue, exits and entries.

He also says Max was well prepared and showed a “thirst for knowledge”, asking questions and challenging ideas and policies.

Max says in his six years as a volunteer, he’s put countless hours into Surf Life Saving New Zealand, both between the flags and behind the scenes.

“However I can safely say, what I have gotten out of this organisation is tenfold whatever I’ve put in. From leadership and interpersonal skills and learning about governance, to the physical improvements for my health and hands on skills I have gained, right down to the friends that I have made for life.”

Max was one of seven candidates from Surf Life Saving New Zealand’s Eastern Region who attended the school – all thanks to scholarships from Zespri covering all the costs involved with attending.

Chris Emmett is the Regional Manager for the Eastern Region and says Zespri’s support is incredibly valuable.

“It makes so much of a difference to our volunteer Surf Lifeguards. It enables us to keep our training top notch,” Chris says.

National Lifeguard School candidates and leaders from the Eastern Region.



For more information, please contact:

Melanie Louden

Media and Communications Manager

Surf Life Saving NZ

021 757 433