Wahine on Water dream evolves and earns innovation award

Wednesday, 16 October 2019

Encouraging and supporting females to be great leaders is the goal of a Surf Life Saving NZ initiative that is spreading across the country, earning its creators a national award.

The Wahine on Water movement is the brain child of Phoebe Havill, Julia Conway, Philip Pirie, and Paul Hardy. They were presented with the DHL Innovation of the Year title at the Surf Life Saving New Zealand 2019 Awards of Excellence in September.

Research showed there was a big difference in the number of male and female IRB (Inflatable Rescue Boats) drivers across the organisation, and that while 50 per cent of New Zealand’s Surf Lifeguards are female, only 28 per cent of IRB drivers are female.

This research prompted the four young adults into action.

“We sent out a survey and the general theme of the results was that females were intimidated by IRBs, felt they weren’t encouraged to get involved in IRB training, felt there was a lack of female role models and also a lack of training opportunities,” Phoebe says.

The Wahine on Water movement was developed as a way of pairing less experienced female lifeguards with experienced female IRB mentors.

Participants take part in activities and drills such as reversing trailers, engine maintenance, patient pickups and patient care, as well as driving skills.

Paul says Wahine on Water is about providing tailored, judgement free, and inclusive training to female IRB crew and drivers.

Six Wahine on Water days have now been held across the country.

“But we don't want to stop there,” Phoebe says. “We would like to continue to roll these days out across the country and for them to become a regular event in regional calendars, with club members running them at their own clubs with our support if they need it.”

Phoebe says they have already seen an increase in the number of females signing up to other IRB trainings and surf courses in the Eastern Region, and this is something they hope to see happening nationwide.

She says it is “awesome” to watch their programme move around the country.

“It’s very cool to see something our group first started talking about in Papamoa last year, make its way all the way down to Christchurch and be such a success.

“People we haven’t even met before are reaching out to us to congratulate us, offer their support and offer their clubs as venues for the next training days,” Phoebe says.

Julia says the response has been “amazing”.

“It’s so much fun being a part of these days. Knowing that other females can go to these days and feel included and inspired is really rewarding.”

Phoebe, 21, (Onemana Surf Life Saving Club), Julia, 22, (Mount Maunganui Lifeguard Service), Philip, 28, (Mount Maunganui Lifeguard Service) and Paul, 21, (a former member of Piha Surf Life Saving Club) first met at the 2018/2019 BP Leaders for Life programme run by Surf Life Saving NZ.

All four of them say the programme was instrumental in them developing Wahine on Water, as well as their own leadership skills.

“It was a great personal learning journey,” Paul says. “I connected with fellow Surf Lifeguards from around the country, which gave us a chance to see the big picture of Surf Life Saving in New Zealand. It was a great experience overall and I would highly recommend anyone who is keen to apply.”

Phoebe says BP Leaders for Life helped her further develop a wide range of skills that she had already picked up through other aspects of surf lifesaving, including confidence, public speaking, problem solving, leadership and organisational skills.

Philip, who now lives in London, says the leadership programme was a great opportunity for him to learn about governance and the running of a successful surf lifesaving club, as well as network with people from around the country who are “equally as passionate” about surf lifesaving.

Receiving the DHL Innovation of the Year award was “a pretty special feeling”, Phoebe says.

“It’s a huge credit to everyone that has supported us and backed our movement. There has been so much work behind the scenes by the four of us, staff and other volunteers, so it’s great to see everyone’s efforts recognised.

“It’s also great to see Surf Life Saving New Zealand recognising this issue as something that we should look to make a change around, and having them supporting us in trying to facilitate that change is pretty cool,” Phoebe says.

Paul, who now lives in Australia, says it has been “amazing to see this dream evolve”.

“I think it’s fantastic that it has been recognised as a real issue and one that should be talked about and worked on,” he says.

Julia says the team put so much work into Wahine on Water, along with many others throughout the organisation, and having that acknowledged is encouraging.

“We always knew that this project wasn’t just going to ‘stop’ when our BP Leaders for Life course finished, and after winning the DHL Innovation of the Year award it’s given us even more confidence and support.

“The more people who know about it, the higher the attendance rates and the more confident and competent females we will have in IRBs.”

Julia says they are hopeful that Wahine on Water will lead to more female instructors, mentors, advanced lifeguards and leaders throughout Surf Life Saving NZ.

“We’re pretty excited for the future of women in surf life saving."



For more information contact:

Melanie Louden 

Media and Communications Manager

Surf Life Saving New Zealand

021 757 433