Ordinary Kiwis: Max Jones - Patrolling on and off the Beach

Friday, 11 December 2020


Dec 11, 2020

Fifteen-year-old Max Jones was swimming at the family bach in Waihi one summer’s day when a Surf Lifesaving IRB flew past and performed a rescue in front of his eyes.

He went down to the club the next day and joined.

Fast-forward seven years and Max is Whangamatā SLSC's club captain and a veteran of more than 30 rescues, including three search and rescue operations. He won Lifeguard of the Year at the 2020 SLSNZ Awards of Excellence and acts as a mentor and instructor for younger Surf Lifeguards. He’s also a recently qualified police officer.

The beach at Whangamatā is one of Aotearoa’s most famous, with a left hand break that attracts surfers from around the world. But as Max will tell you, conditions along the six-kilometer slice of coastline can change with little warning. During peak season, Whangamatā Surf Lifeguards will often conduct multiple rescues in a single day. In the space of one week at the end of last season alone, Max and his club members saved 15 lives.

“Whangamatā can be a really tame beach, but it can also change quickly, especially when the tides are shifting. People get caught in rips, but we also end up rescuing a lot of people who took their Bookabach kayak or SUP out to Donut Island (Whenuakura) and can’t get back again.”

One rescue that stands out in Max’s mind took place last summer, on a day when the swell was so spectacular that more than 100 surfers were lined up in the waves. Max was patrolling on a jet ski when he spotted a surfer trying frantically to swim back to shore. Her leg rope had snapped and she’d been separated from her board. As Max came closer, he could see that the waves were crashing over her, pushing her down as the current pulled her backwards. She was rapidly losing energy and he knew he didn’t have much time.

“I was able to get in between waves and grab her. She was too weak at that point to even hold onto the jet ski. I was just in the right place at the right time – I don’t think she would have survived many more waves crashing over her.”

On another occasion, Max was in the midst of training inflatable rescue boat drivers when the crew noticed a group of children caught in a rip. He quickly swapped places with the trainee and they raced to load all five kids into the IRB before whisking them back to shore, shaken but unharmed. The crew’s sense of relief, however, was short-lived.

“The moment we got to shore we heard shouting, and I had to turn right around and rescue someone who had fallen off their paddle board.”

Max credits his love of surf lifesaving, and the connections he’s made within the movement, for guiding him to his chosen career path. He says he gets the same excitement out of patrolling as a police officer that he gets from patrolling the beach as a Volunteer Surf Lifeguard.

“The truth is I couldn’t have become a police officer if not for Surf Lifesaving and the connections I made there…I enjoyed my time helping people so much that it was a natural career shift.”


For more information, please contact:

Mackenzie Koppel
Surf Life Saving NZ Media & Communications Manager
021 757 433