Ordinary Kiwis: Greg Wilson - When the Siren Calls

Tuesday, 12 January 2021


Jan 12, 2021

“The best aspect of lifeguarding is the stories told at the end of the day in the club house. The waves are always bigger than they actually were, the swims and wipe-outs always harder and the laughs last the longest. I reckon this isn’t just a Piha phenomenon but something that goes on at every club in the country.”

Greg Wilson joined Surf Life Saving for the surf boat races, but he stayed for the rescues. He’s been an active member of Piha SLSC for more than twenty years.

“Initially, I wasn’t really into the actual lifeguarding side of the moment. I loved the competition and the comradery that comes with the sport. But it wasn’t long before I developed a genuine passion for lifeguarding. It’s a pretty awesome experience the first time you drag someone in trouble out of the water.”

In his day job, Wilson’s a Police Sergeant with the Waitematā District. He works on the front line and believes policing is an almost natural career progression from surf lifesaving.

“Policing is a job that has a lot of parallels to surf. You get to work with a team of like-minded people all working alongside each other doing the right thing.”

He says the thrill of a high-stakes rescue is “hard to beat,” but that when you lifeguard at a beach as dynamic as Piha, not all stories have a happy ending.

“For the sad ones, it’s the knowledge that we gave someone a fighting chance at survival where without us they would have had no chance at all.”

“I vividly recall watching a father and mother screaming and clawing at the sand in the knowledge their child had drowned and was lost somewhere in the sea in front on them. It’s scenes like this that I’ll remember forever and that bring everything home in terms of why we do what we do.”

Wilson uses the word “we” a lot when talking about surf lifesaving. This is intentional. He says the one thing many rescues have in common is that they involve a dedicated, skilled and passionate team.

“There’s always someone else there, or on their way, that’s got your back. Over the years there have been some standout rescues, both good and bad. There are the big, adrenalin-pumping jobs where you get to coordinate a team of rescuers, or work directly with the rescue helicopter, negotiate your inflatable rescue boat or swim through surf to effect a rescue.”

There are even rescues that make Wilson laugh.

“We had a late-night rescue once where a bunch of visiting American surfing instructors had decided to spend an evening drinking on the beach, followed by a skinny dip in the surf. Despite all being very strong swimmers, a few managed to get in trouble and ended up stuck on the rocks in front of the Lion. We got there and had to negotiate the night-time rescue of a couple of extremely embarrassed, stark-naked Americans.”

On that note, Wilson has some advice for anyone planning a trip to Piha.

“Piha is not a beach you can get away with underestimating. You can’t always swim here like you might at other beaches. To my mind, the standard advice has always been the best: Swim at patrolled beaches and swim between the flags. No flags? Then don’t swim.”

“Other advice is more of a personal gripe: Lifeguards in the flagged areas aren’t a babysitting service. If you’re bringing young kids to the beach, it’s your responsibility to know where they are and keep them in arms’ reach. Please don’t dump young kids unattended in the flagged area.”

Speaking of kids, Wilson’s keep him pretty busy too. They’re coming up through Junior Surf and are, by all accounts, “absolutely loving it”.

“I have no doubt they will be patrolling Piha Beach as well one day. I guess this is a great example of what it means to be ‘in it for life’.”


For more information, please contact:

Mackenzie Koppel
Media and Communications Manager
Surf Life Saving New Zealand
021 757 433