“Take pride in what you do” – Surf lifesaving matriarch

Friday, 5 June 2020

When Carol Quirk QSM qualified as a Surf Lifeguard “things were a lot less professional”.

“I patrolled in a bikini and a beanie, there were no courses to attend to advance your knowledge once you had your initial qualification and no real health and safety concerns.

“We didn’t have IRBs, we patrolled with a line and reel and patrolled from the beach with no tower or shade.”

Times have certainly changed and Carol has seen many aspects of those changes – she is known as a “surf lifesaving matriarch” and a strong pioneer when it comes to women in the Surf Lifesaving movement.

Carol joined Paekakariki Surf Lifeguards in 1968 at the age of 18, and received her 50 Year Badge at Surf Life Saving NZ’s Awards of Excellence in 2019.

Carol receiving her 50 Year Badge at Surf Life Saving New Zealand's Awards of Excellence 2019.

“The NZ Nationals were on at Titahi Bay in February 1968 and I went over to watch with my family. My father met up with a man he went to college with who was from Paekakariki and he suggested I go over to the club in the coming summer, which I did.”

Almost from the start Carol was on the Paekakariki management committee and a delegate to Wellington.

By 1976, Carol was living in Wellington, so when Lyall Bay (a men’s club) amalgamated with Wellington Ladies (a women’s club) she transferred to Lyall Bay Surf Life Saving Club.

The Wellington District actively encouraged women to participate in events, be on committees and “had great mentors”.

Carol was a member of the New Zealand women's team that travelled to the UK in 1982.

Carol, now 70 years old, was very active in the world of lifesaving sport. She competed in the first women’s board race in 1970, the first women’s ironman in 1975 and the first women’s boat race in 1983 (a race with men’s crews and the Australian men’s team).

“Wellington introduced the first women’s inter-districts competition; we had a Wellington tour to Australia with women at a time when women weren’t allowed to become active members of Australian clubs.”

Carol is still competing in masters competitions – she attended the TSB Nationals Surf Life Saving Championships 2020 where she competed in 5 events.

Her sporting highlights have been a national title in the 6 man event in 1994 at her home beach Lyall Bay, and wins in the World Masters boat in 1991 and then in 2017 with the same crew.

A rescue she remembers well, was when she was at home overlooking Lyall Bay and a windsurfer who was going out to sea on a northerly offshore wind was spotted.

“While some of the boys who were at our place at the time raced down to the club to take a canoe out (before IRBs), I ran down the road and down the hill (about 1km) and swam out from the rocks and hauled him in.”

Carol has gone on to hold a number of roles at club, regional and national level which included coaching and team management positions, she was the first female Club Captain and, later, first female chair of a mixed Surf Life Saving club in New Zealand.

Carol, left, competes in the 6 man team event at Lyall Bay.

She was also the first woman on the Surf Life Saving NZ management committee.

“I was approached to be Deputy President and said I was happy to do it as long as I wasn’t considered a token female.”

She held the deputy post from 1990-1992 and was appointed the first female NZ President from 1992-1994.

“I was delighted to be chosen. The President is an important bridge between the Board and the clubs and is there to help sort out any problems and keep the movement on an even keel.

“There were some difficult issues to deal with during my time but we got through.

“The election of a woman showed that women could get to the top, though sadly we still have had no women Chairs but the gender balance is much better than it was.”

Carol says the abilities of women as lifeguards, competitors and administrators “is amazing these days and at the highest level”.

“They show prowess well beyond the levels when I was at my prime and I am excited to see some of the innovations such as Wahine on Water.”

Carol, in blue, competing at the TSB Nationals Surf Lifesaving Championships 2018. 

Carol has some advice for women involved in Surf Life Saving.

“Work out what opportunities there are, get a mentor, seek to develop your capabilities and don’t hold back. Marilyn Moffatt is a great President and anyone can just go and talk to her.”

Carol says last year, 15-year-old Loredana Unsworth from Lyall Bay, thought it was unfair not to have an Under 16 ironwoman at the TSB Nationals so gathered her arguments and took them to Surf Life Saving NZ.

“She got the result she desired through cogently pointing out the facts and persevering.”

Carol says she lives by a few simple mantras.

“There’s no I in team. Take pride in what you do, help others along the way and you’re in it for life!”


Melanie Louden
Surf Life Saving NZ
Media and Communications Manager
021 757 433