Ordinary Kiwis: Hannah Williams, The Dolphin Chaser

Wednesday, 3 March 2021


Mar 3, 2021

Hannah Williams is Masters in Marine Science student at The University of Otago, as well as a volunteer Surf Lifeguard at Dunedin’s St Clair Surf Life Saving Club. This profile is part of the Surf Life Saving New Zealand (SLSNZ) “Ordinary Kiwis Doing Extraordinary Things” series, which aims to celebrate the diverse men and women who donate their time, energy and skills to saving lives on our nation’s beaches.

Hannah Williams is the kind of person you’d want beside you in an emergency. The 22 year-old exudes calm, competent energy – and, as her fellow Surf Lifeguards will confirm, she has the skillset to back it up.

As the top candidate at this summer’s National Lifeguard School, Williams’ fitness and surf lifesaving capabilities were summed up by her instructors as “fricken’ amazing.”

“My dad was a Surf Lifeguard back in South Africa and I joined as a nipper at Mangawhai Heads Volunteer Lifeguard Service when I was four,” says Williams. “I absolutely love everything about Surf Lifesaving. I started out because of sport and competed for ages; I love the comradery and the fact that you can’t always have one person who’s ‘the best’ because so much depends on the wave action and the conditions.”

The Auckland native then took up Surf Lifeguarding as a 14-year-old, and quickly fell in love with that too.

“I’ve done paid lifeguarding for seven years. This summer, I was at Piha and on January 1st we had the craziest day – there were four rescues happening at once, the beach was closed down halfway through the day because conditions were too dangerous, and there were more than 1,000 people on the beach. I was Head Lifeguard and it was one of the coolest days of lifeguarding I’ve ever experienced, just putting my skills to the test.”

Williams maintains a secondary membership at Mangawhai VLS, but is now a primary member at St Clair SLSC in Dunedin. Naturally, perhaps, her focus here is on the water too; she’s studying towards a Masters in Marine Science.

“My project at the moment is around the conservation of Hector’s dolphins. I get to go out on a boat and do research. Every Hector’s dolphin has unique markings, including colour patterns and scars from fights and boat propellers and so-on…We take photos of the dolphins and identify them by their markings, rather than by physically tagging them. When I finish studying, I’m really keen to dedicate my career to conserving native species.”

At St Clair, Williams volunteers as both a Surf Lifeguard and an Assistant Coach for surf sports. She says there are differences in culture across clubs and across regions, but stresses that there are “so many” reasons for people – especially women – to join Surf Lifesaving.

“It’s an empowering place to be a woman. I had a lot of female role models early on, especially in surf sport. One thing I would say to a young person who’s thinking about joining Surf Life Saving is that you will meet the most incredible people. I’ve never met a group of human beings who are more courageous, more caring and more willing to put their lives on the line for others.”


For more information, please contact:

Mackenzie Koppel

Media and Communications Manager

Surf Life Saving New Zealand

021 757 433