bp Leaders for Life legacy sees more women surf lifesavers ruling the waves on IRBs

Friday, 10 December 2021

bp’s incredible 53-year support for Surf Life Saving New Zealand (SLSNZ) has helped create the groundbreaking Wāhine on Water IRB programme, which is hosting its last sessions in readiness for the summer season.

The programme, which aims to get more women surf life savers crewing and driving Inflatable Rescue Boats (IRBs), evolved out of the Leaders for Life programme, which is sponsored by bp, which also donates IRBs to surf lifesaving clubs all around the country.

So far this year, Wāhine on Water has conducted eight events across the country and on Thursday, 9 December, Lifeguard of the Year and Instructor of the Year Phoebe Havill will host a session at the Taylors Mistake Surf Life Saving Club in Christchurch.

Once the final Wāhine on Water for this year takes place at Warrington Surf Life Saving Club in Otago on 11 December, about 400 women and girls will have participated in 2021.

The aim of the programme is to get more female lifeguards trained up to crew and drive IRBs. Currently half of surf lifeguards are female and they make up 49% of lifeguards qualifying as crew members, yet they make up only 28% of IRB drivers.

Club development officer Phoebe Havill was instrumental in setting up Wāhine on Water three years ago. As part of a bp Leaders for Life project, she and three young volunteers explored ways to get more female lifeguards onto IRBs. Their programme encourages surf lifesaving women of all ages to get hands-on and learn to drive, crew and maintain IRBs.

Bp New Zealand Head of Country Matt Elliott says: “As New Zealand opens up again for summer, our beaches are going to be very busy this season. We’re delighted to be taking our long partnership with Surf Life Saving New Zealand into another cracker Kiwi summer.

“As well as helping develop leadership skills with Leaders for Life and Wāhine on Water going from strength to strength, we have another IRB donation coming up, and we have an in-store campaign running to raise additional funds for the surf lifesaving community.”

The IRBs play a vital role in rescues that need immediate attention or face extremely dangerous conditions and, so far, have assisted in saving more than 22,000 lives in rescues around the country.

bp also provides each club with $500 worth of fuel for the boats; backs the Rescue of the Month and Year awards; runs the Leaders for Life programme from which Wāhine on Water evolved; and helps fundraise via service station sales. This summer, for example, a portion of the proceeds from participating water bottles, hats, jandals, cupcakes and ice creams sold between November 22 and January 11, will be donated to Surf Life Saving NZ.

“Our involvement with SLSNZ is believed to be the longest-running corporate partnership in New Zealand. Surf lifeguards save hundreds of people on our beaches every year and the service they provide is completely free. For generations, they’ve had our backs during long, hot Kiwis summers, and we’re enormously proud to be able to return the favour and help support the amazing job they do,” says Matt Elliott.

SLSNZ CEO Paul Dalton says bp’s support is invaluable to the organisation. “They’ve been an extraordinary long-term loyal partner to our organisation and we’re delighted that their support of bp Leaders for Life has enabled a project like Wāhine on Water to get off the ground. We are also very grateful that bp’s latest summer retail fundraising campaign highlights our community partnership and allows Kiwis to support our organisation by buying particular products in store.”
Phoebe Havill says: “Wāhine on Water pairs less experienced lifeguards with an experienced female IRB mentor, and the events give women an opportunity to expand their boat experience in a supportive, relaxed and fun environment.”
“There was a significant lack of females with IRB qualifications which are crucial to gain senior lifeguarding certifications. There are four levels to the IRB process – crew, driver, instructor and examiner – and some girls and women felt quite intimidated in that IRB space so we set out to change that, and Wāhine on Water was born.”

Phoebe (23) has been involved with SLSNZ since she was 5-years-old, and became a qualified lifeguard by the time she was 14. Since then, she has been making waves in the SLSNZ community and, this year, was only the second woman to receive the Lifeguard of the Year award.