Ordinary Kiwis: John Tuia, Laying the Foundations for Safer Beaches

Tuesday, 23 March 2021

Press Release

March 23, 2021

John Tuia is a rugby player and apprentice builder, as well as a volunteer Surf Lifeguard at Wellington’s Maranui 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

It was John Tuia’s nan who got him into Surf Lifesaving. He was 14 and they were on one of their traditional Sunday afternoon drives along Wellington’s Lyall Bay Beach.

“We came across a Senior Carnival and popped down for a look. I ended up signing up with Maranui Surf Life Saving Club on the spot.”

The apprentice builder, now 23, is a Senior Lifeguard and IRB Instructor at the club.

“I have a good number of younger guns who are doing the course – it’s always great to see them having fun and being motivated to learn,” he says.

When he’s not on patrol, you’ll find Tuia on building sites…or the rugby field. He plays for Oriental Rongotai Football Club (which counts Ma'a Nonu and the Savea brothers as former players).

“Originally, my plan was to join the navy when I finished school – but I wanted to pursue professional rugby and I wouldn’t have had the flexibility to do that if I was in the navy. Building was a good option because there’s a great future in it, and it also allows me to focus on other’s not so great for injury recovery though!”

Tuia is still pursuing a professional rugby career, but says he enjoys the hands-on aspect of building.

“I’m an apprentice builder now and I love the hands-on work. It’s just like any other job in that it has its ups and downs, but it’s the friendships that you find in the industry that make it worthwhile. It’s the friendly banter and the laughter.”

Tuia, who arrived in New Zealand with his family from Samoa at age eight, is passionate about raising beach safety awareness within Pasifika communities – and with good reason. Figures pulled from Surf Life Saving New Zealand’s National Beach & Coastal Safety Report, published this week, show Pasifika Kiwis are the most likely ethnic group to die from drowning on our beaches and coastlines.

In fact, Pasifika people are 3x more likely to fatally drown in coastal environments than New Zealand Europeans – and men are most at risk. All 50 Pasifika fatal drowning victims in the last 10 years were male.

Last December, Tuia was interviewed by TVNZ’s Tagata Pasifika programme in the wake of the “Save the Males” campaign. This week, he spoke with Radio Pacific’s Sela Jane Hopgood in light of information above. He says he believes a key issue impacting Pasifika drowning rates in New Zealand is the lack of swimming lessons available to people living in the Pacific Islands, as well recent migrants being used to calmer waters in their home countries.

Back here in New Zealand, Tuia still recalls his first rescue. It took place while he was on patrol far from home, up at Northland’s Waipu Cove, and he was just 16 years’ old.

“It was 2014 and I was still a rookie guard. A woman screamed out to us that she and her daughter were getting sucked out by a rip, so I jumped on a board and brought them back to safety. That was the first time I’d ever felt that sort of adrenaline and it was awesome.”

“Something that I love about Surf Lifesaving is the culture. We all have something in common and it’s an easy path to building friendships all around the country! Ever since I joined, I’ve enjoyed the friendships I’ve made along the way.

Wellington isn’t known for its beachy lifestyle, but Tuia reckons his local beach has one big thing going for it: it’s got two great Surf Life Saving clubs to keep you safe!

“We share Lyall Bay beach with Lyall Bay SLSC, so I guess the one thing that we want visitors to know is that you will always be safe with two clubs on patrol...Oh, and bring your wetsuit. The water down here definitely isn’t Samoan temperature!”


For more information, please contact:


Mackenzie Koppel

Media and Communications Manager

Surf Life Saving New Zealand

021 757 433