From teenage recruit to SLSNZ president

Thursday, 14 November 2019

Marilyn, far right, and the Wellington Ladies Surf Life Saving Club team on patrol at Lyall Bay during the summer of circa 1972-1973.


Marilyn Moffatt’s first interaction with surf lifesaving came about by accident in 1971, when she was 14 years old.

Forty-eight years later she has become the second female President of Surf Life Saving New Zealand.

Marilyn clearly remembers the day she was sitting at Lyall Bay beach drying off after a swim when Jo Newport, a Surf Lifeguard from the Wellington Ladies Surf Life Saving Club, broke off from the group she was marching in and approached her.

“She said to me, ‘You look like you could swim. Would you like to join the surf club?' I said ‘what’s a surf club?’.

“I was only at the beach that day with my younger sister because my mother had told us to 'get out of the house' and to take my sister with me, so we caught a bus from Newtown to Lyall Bay.

“Who knew that would completely change my life?”

Not only did Marilyn join the surf lifesaving movement, but so did her parents, two brothers and sister, starting what would become a long affinity with the Lyall Bay Surf Life Saving Club.

The love affair with surf lifesaving continued when she started her own family – her husband and children have all been involved over the years.

Marilyn says it’s been easy for her to stay involved with the movement for so long.

“Everyone is passionate about what they do. It’s very satisfying being part of an organisation that makes a real difference and saves people's lives and I hope I have contributed to that.”

When Marilyn joined Wellington Ladies, there weren't many members at the time so everyone was on the club committee – even she was, as a 14-year-old.

“The people at the time running the Wellington District were very supportive, and I was encouraged at a young age to be involved at the local and national level. I didn't realise until much later that I was seen as a leader and people would come to me for my advice or ask me to do something.”

Always the type to get involved, and help out when needed, Marilyn has gone on to hold a number of positions at club, regional and national level, and put her name forward for the role of President after being approached to apply.

Marilyn says she waited a few years because she was very much involved in club projects, but “this year I decided the timing was right for me and that it was about time that another female took on the role”.

The first female President was Carol Quirk, a close friend of Marilyn’s who held the role from 1992 to 1994.

“I see [being the second female President] as an honour,” Marilyn says. “What I’m most honoured about is to be following in Carol’s footsteps.”

She says Carol was a strong pioneer when it came to women in the Surf Lifesaving movement.

Photo, left: Marilyn's mother Jessie Coates turned 90 three years ago. All four of Jessie's children and 12 grandchildren attended - most have been involved in surf life saving. Marilyn's mother, who passed away earlier this year, was a great supporter and would have been proud of her as President. Photo, middle: Marilyn pictured with her family in 2013 - Hamish, left, Lauren, Cameron, husband Kelvin, and Kelsey.


Marilyn took office on September 21, 2019 and says she is looking forward to making a difference at a national level.

“One of the critical roles of the President is to be the voice of the membership to the organisation, and I would like to get to know the clubs and members across New Zealand to find out what their views and issues are.

“I would also like to be a role model for our female members so they can start looking at their pathway of leadership from club to national level.

“I want our members to feel proud that I am representing them.”

Marilyn says much has changed since the first patrols at Lyall Bay in 1910, but “ultimately, the reason why people become lifeguards or compete hasn't changed fundamentally during my 48 years”.

She says things like climate change, sustainability, financial security, changing demographics, how people live their lives, and technology are all external factors that Surf Life Saving New Zealand, like all organisations, need to understand and manage.

She says Surf Life Saving New Zealand is in good hands.

“I have been impressed and heartened to see the BP Leaders for Life programme where our young people are discussing these issues and coming up with solutions.”



For more information contact: 

Melanie Louden

Media and Communications Manager

Surf Life Saving NZ 

021 757 433