Mum, Surf Lifeguard, Coach, SLSNZ Staff Member - Sonia Really is “In It For Life”

Friday, 8 May 2020

Surf Life Saving New Zealand is full of amazing volunteers. People who dedicate their personal and holiday time to their club and their community. They give up their evenings and weekends to not only patrol the beaches, but train, study, coach, carry out maintenance on rescue equipment and help out at their club throughout the year.

Among them are brave and dedicated wāhine (women) who combine their Surf Life Saving duties with work and family commitments. . .

Sonia Keepa lives a “really full life” and she wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I thrive on it,” she says.

Sonia is wife to Cody, mother-of-three to Jack, 16, Charlie, 12, and Zoe, 7, volunteer Surf Lifeguard at Wainui Surf Life Saving Club in Gisborne, a lifesaving sport athlete, and a Surf Life Saving New Zealand staff member.

At her club she is a committee member, Head of Junior Surf, Junior Coach, Patrol Captain and an instructor. At a regional level, Sonia is an examiner on the Junior Sport Committee, and is a Regional Guard Supervisor. She definitely lives and breathes Surf Lifesaving – and so does her family.

“The great thing is I’m actively involved in something that my children are also passionate about. When we’re all out in the surf together – that’s something special.

“I am absolutely grateful for the amazing support network I have with my husband and his parents, also the children helping out with chores at home, the little things that need doing to allow us to get out the door and into what we love.”

Sonia, pictured with her husband Cody and children Jack, Charlie and Zoe. 

Because of COVID-19 Alert Level 4 and 3 things have been much quieter for the Keepa family.

“We’ve been spending time together creating new routines far removed from the usual busy rush of life – evening walks along the beach, movie nights, cooking meals together and much like everyone – too much baking.”

Keeping fit during lockdown has involved home workouts, running, yoga and she’s added in meditation and relaxation.

“Staying out of the ocean during the first four weeks of lockdown was really hard, and I can’t wait to get back to the pool and ski paddling on the river before it gets too cold.”

Sonia works in Surf Life Saving NZ’s Eastern Region as the Club Development Officer for Gisborne/Tairawhiti and says keeping up with her roles within her club, region and the organisation during lockdown has meant changing what she does to online platforms.

“I feel I’ve had more meetings than ever before. I have been involved in a lot of team meetings to review and strategize. Forward planning for the coming season is well underway.”

Sonia is the Club Development Officer for Gisborne/Tairawhiti in Surf Life Saving NZ’s Eastern Region. 

Sonia began her “Surf Lifesaving journey” at Midway Surf Life Saving Club where she received her Bronze Medallion in 1987 at the age of 15.

She took a break from Surf Lifesaving during her university years and while she was establishing her career, but once she had children it is was a priority to get back to the surf lifesaving club starting as a parent helper at Nippers.

“We are an ocean loving family and are fortunate enough to live at Wainui Beach in Gisborne so it was important that the children become involved with Nippers to learn beach and surf safe skills and water confidence.

“I am a Patrol Captain and along with my 16-year-old son, Jack, we do volunteer patrols on the weekends during summer. It’s pretty cool to be on patrol with your child, train alongside them and watch their development from a parental point of view, but also with a coaches hat on.”

Sonia is a patrol captain at Wainui Surf Life Saving Club.

One of Sonia’s highlights was attending Surf Life Saving New Zealand’s prestigious National Lifeguard School in 2019 where she gained her Advanced Lifeguard Award – the highest qualification available to lifeguards in New Zealand.

“There are a lot of prerequisites and a high level of fitness that needs to be reached to meet the selection criteria before you can even submit an application. Then there is the selection process itself where I was up against much younger candidates.

“I had it in my sights and each year worked on obtaining the required awards.

“National Lifeguard School is amazing! It’s such an experience to spend a weekend locked in with likeminded people from all over New Zealand.

“I definitely grew in confidence and skill level across the board not just as a Surf Lifeguard but in so many more ways. It’s an experience I encourage all Surf Lifeguards to aim for.”

Sonia gained her Advanced Lifeguard Award at Surf Life Saving New Zealand's National Lifeguard School in 2019. 

Between 2017 and 2019, Sonia has been recognised at Surf Life Saving New Zealand’s Gisborne Awards of Excellence as Volunteer of the Year, Beach Ed Instructor of the Year, Emerging Coach of the Year, Masters Female Sports Person of the Year and Volunteer Lifeguard of the Year.

When it comes to  lifesaving sport Sonia says one of her greatest achievements was “actually deciding post having children that I could still do it, to make the time to train and have the confidence to get on the start line and give it a go”.

Sonia says she had a great time competing at the 2020 TSB New Zealand Surf Life Saving Championships, held just before lockdown, where she placed first in the beach sprint and board race and second in the beach flag and surf race events in her age group.

“Being a coach and knowing what your athletes are going through by actually putting yourself on the line keeps all the associated emotions fresh and I can help my squad problem solve through the anxiety, nerves and what to expect during a race. We have an ‘anything’s possible’ and ‘I’ll give it a go’ philosophy in our squad.”

Sonia and Debbie Hutchings, from Waikanae Surf Life Saving Club, at the 2019 TSB New Zealand Surf Life Saving Championships.

Sonia says there are a number of “amazing women who are really strong and knowledgeable” across all areas of Surf Life Saving New Zealand.

“I’m so inspired by our lifesaving sport athletes with their level of commitment to training, fortitude, resilience and adaptability to the harsh nature of lifesaving sports.

“Likewise the young girls who really step outside their comfort zones and give things a go, paddling out into set waves and making it round the course, then stepping up race after race is pretty amazing.”

Sonia says within the organisation there are many women who have a wealth of knowledge and experience from whom she draws “inspiration, support, guidance and motivation from”.

She has simple advice to young women within the Surf Lifesaving movement.

“Anything is achievable if you set your mind to it. I’m very much a ‘how can we make that happen?’ person, so if there is a course, award, event, or skill that you are interested in, I encourage girls to go for it.”

Known for always being on the go and having something up her sleeve, Sonia says finding the balance with everything she does is something she keeps an eye on.

“Self-development is something I’m always working on. I’d like the opportunity to spend some time with other coaches, attend workshops, to develop my skillset further in that respect as I absolutely love coaching – whether it’s my junior squad or instructing the Surf Lifeguard Award.

“I would also like to really start developing more females within Surf Lifesaving pathways and provide them with support and opportunities for training and experiences. Watch this space!”

Sonia, pictured with fellow Wainui Surf Life Saving Club members Renee Wikaire and Louis Birkhead. 



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