Rookie programme develops relationships and Surf Lifeguards

Thursday, 13 February 2020

Ella Higgins, pictured front row centre, is the Rookie Lifeguard Programme coordinator at Waihi Beach Lifeguard Services.

Ella Higgins says Surf Life Saving NZ’s Rookie Lifeguard Programme shaped her into the Lifeguard she has become.

The rookie programme prepares junior surf members for being a Surf Lifeguard and helps 12-14 year olds develop strong ties with senior members of their club.

Ella is the coordinator of the Rookie Lifeguard Programme at Waihi Beach Lifeguard Services where there are 25-30 rookies at any one time.

The programme runs over two seasons and rookies must complete a set number of patrol hours and a workbook that covers a variety of modules from the role of a surf lifeguard and patrolling, to signals, flags and radio operations, and first aid and emergency care.

They are supported by qualified Surf Lifeguards who help them complete their workbook and provide support during the programme.

Ella says the Waihi Beach club, which is part of Surf Life Saving NZ’s Eastern Region is lucky enough to have a mentor for every rookie.

“These kids are very self-motivated and are already competing well in surf sport.”

The 18-year-old says teenagers who have been through the Junior Surf Programme and the rookie programme tend to be “more positive and involved in their club” than Surf Lifeguards who haven’t.

“It’s about making that connection between junior surf and having someone to lean on. It helps people stay within the club.”

Ella has been involved in surf lifesaving since she was five years old when she joined the Junior Surf Programme. She started the rookie course when she was 12 and won The Harrison Mundy Memorial Scholarship Award in 2016 which is presented to Eastern Region’s top rookie.

“I loved the rookie programme.”

Ella, who was head girl at Cambridge High School last year, says she developed a special bond with her mentor, Lucy Scown.

“She’s like a big sister to me now. She developed me into a very good lifeguard. She became a friend as well.”

Ella has been a Surf Lifeguard since she was 14 and has been coordinating the rookie programme for three years. This year she is overseeing Bree McCowatt and Rian Butler who are helping with these duties.

Bree McCowatt and Rian Butler are playing a part in the coordination of the Rookie Lifeguard Programme
at Waihi Beach Lifeguard Services.

The role involves looking after the mentors, coordinating the rookie patrols and running the Lifeguard training programmes.

Rosie Swain, 13, is among those currently on the Rookie Lifeguard Programme under Ella’s watch. She joined the Waihi Beach club when she was 6 years old.

Rosie Swain, 13, is in her second season on the Rookie Lifeguard Programme at Waihi Beach. 

“I joined junior surf because my parents thought it would be good to learn about water safety and since we had just moved to Waihi Beach it was a great way to make friends, who enjoy the beach just as much as I do.”

Rosie says the club encourages all 12 and 13-year-old members to join the rookie program.

“So I decided to take the first step into becoming a lifeguard. I did this because my brother and friends are rookies, or have been rookies and are now lifeguards.”

The teenager, who is in her second year of the rookie programme, turns 14 in August and hopes to become a volunteer Surf Lifeguard soon after.

“I like hanging out with my friends I’ve made at junior surf, facing my fears, accomplishing my goals, overcoming challenges and competing with my friends.

“I enjoy being on patrol, watching and learning from all the lifeguards around me. I also like practising first aid, doing radio checks and performing basic life support procedures on manikins.

“A number of lifeguards have [mentored] me this season. They have all taught me different aspects of lifeguarding.”

This is Rosie’s second season competing in the rookie challenge team event. Last year her team placed third.

“I’ve also competed in Oceans (the national Under 14 Surf Life Saving sport event) and in March it will be my fourth and last Oceans.”

Rosie’s mum Fiona says Ella has been a great mentor.

“She has taught Rosie a lot about rookie/lifeguard skills and given her confidence – especially last season. Ella was amazing when our son was one of her rookies. He’s now in his second season as a Surf Lifeguard.”

For more information about joining the Rookie Lifeguard Programme click here.



For more information, please contact: 
Melanie Louden
Media and Communications Manager
Surf Life Saving New Zealand
021 757 433