Kiwi lifeguards heading off for patrol on California beaches

Monday, 24 June 2019

Piha Surf Life Saving Club lifeguards, who are heading to Huntington Beach, California, on a lifeguard exchange.

A contingent of Kiwi lifeguards heading to California’s Huntington Beach will spend time learning about lifesaving in America, and bring back some top tips from their U.S. counterparts.

A lifeguard education exchange between Huntington Beach and New Zealand has been running since 1992.

In its current form, every three years Tairua SLSC (Surf Life Saving Club) and Piha SLSC lifeguards head to California for two weeks of experience with the Huntington Beach lifeguards. And a group of Huntington lifeguards are hosted by the Kiwi clubs in return.

During their stay with the California surf lifesaving club the Kiwi lifeguards will be shown around the City of Huntington Beach Lifeguard Headquarters, learn about its operations, local conditions, and the challenges lifeguards face. They also join in training, and will ‘shadow’ Huntington lifeguards on the job.

The Kiwis began training for the trip about 18 months ago.

“In Huntington they are dealing with thousands of people on the beach each day – the sheer numbers is a big difference, and they don’t have flagged areas like we do,” says Tairua Surf Life Saving Club Captain Matt Kerr.

In New Zealand our surf lifeguards begin training toward their qualifications from a younger age than in America, and most volunteer part-time around other commitments. In California, the lifeguards are full-time professionals, and the instructors for the children’s programme are often teachers working in their summer break.

“There’s new things that come out of it, new lifeguarding skills that our lifeguards see over there,” Kerr says.

As well as experiencing and learning different ways of lifeguarding, the team also develops a fantastic skill set by becoming independent, responsible ambassadors for SLSNZ. And the learning goes both ways, with the Huntington Beach contingent picking up new ideas in New Zealand, he says.

“We expose the Californians to how we operate and keep our beaches safe using flagged areas and different rescue tools such as the IRB (inflatable rescue boats).”

Kerr has been on every exchange from Tairua since 2005, first as a young lifeguard, and then since as either coach or team manager.

“I learned a whole bunch of stuff around teamwork, leadership, setting goals, being invested in what I was doing. There’s a huge growth process for our guards in the build-up to the exchange, before they even head off. And you make life-long friends there, and connect with people.”

Piha SLSC team manager Brad Laloli also says the trip has a big impact on the young Kiwis that take part.

The Piha contingent have fundraised together for half of the funds needed for the trip, which has been hard work but a satisfying project to reach the end of, he says.

“The exchange is an invaluable tool, and it’s really about leadership. They come back with increased confidence and life-experience. They learn a new way of lifeguarding, they see a different professionalism.

“And when they come back we see them go on to do more on the beach, and more in the club – and they stay with the club, in that age group - 18 to 24 year olds, where people are going away to university or work and it’s hard to keep them. They become our young coaches.”

The Kiwi contingent includes lifeguards from 14 to 18 years old, and is about 45 people, including team managers. They leave for Huntington Beach on Sunday 7 July.



File photos for Surf Life Saving NZ can be found here.

For more information, please contact:
Matt Kerr, Tairua Surf Life Saving Club Captain,
021 2601180,

Brad Laloli, Piha Surf Life Saving Club Huntington exchange team manager,
027 600 2202,

Surf Life Saving NZ media and communications
Phone: 021 636 647; Email: