Ordinary Kiwis: Family connection brought former lifeguard Conan back into clubbie-life

Friday, 10 June 2022

Conan Willis is a senior property underwriter for an insurance company, as well as a volunteer Surf Lifeguard at Orewa Surf Life Saving Club. This profile is part of the Surf Life Saving New Zealand “Ordinary Kiwis Doing Extraordinary Things” series, which celebrates the diverse men and women who donate their time, energy and skills to saving lives on our nation’s beaches.

Conan’s Surf Lifesaving journey has come full circle now that his sons are involved in the movement. Conan did Nippers and competed as a junior at Red Beach SLSC. He then moved to Orewa where he did his Lifeguard qualifications and was a volunteer Lifeguard until he was around 19 years old. He has found himself immersed in the clubbie world once again, taking on a multitude of roles including Instructor, sitting on the Lifeguarding Committee, helping with Junior Surf and actively Patrolling.

Conan explains, “I actually first qualified [as a Lifeguard] and did it for a while and then left. And when the kids came back into Junior Surf, I got convinced I should probably refresh and get all that done again. So, I've been back in for about seven years.”

One of Conan’s sons, Flynn, is 15 and the other, Kalan, is 12. Glen enjoyed taking part in Junior Surf and he received his Surf Lifeguard Award last summer. This was a proud moment for his father Conan, especially as he was the instructor for the course. Conan’s nerves were tested through this process, “There were times when I was going ‘oh, please pass!’ It was a bit nail-biting, to tell the truth.’” While Kalin isn’t quite as keen on the competitive side of Junior Surf as his older brother, he enjoys taking part with his friends and Conan is hopeful that he will become a Lifeguard too, one day.

Conan patrolling with his son Flynn

The strong family aspect of club life and patrolling is something that Conan values, “The patrol we’re on is very much family-orientated. We, we just turn up [for patrol] and the wives will come down and put up the pop-ups and it's just a big family gathering for most of the day. You sit around talking to friends and it becomes one big family.”

“I like the fact that the family is fully welcome and everyone's doing their little bits and pieces. A lot of my son's friends are there and we've met a lot of the people we know through there.”

Outside of his cub commitments, Conan is a senior property underwriter for an insurance company. While there might not be obvious similarities between his day job and what he does as a volunteer Lifeguard, Conan says both are essentially about removing or reducing risk, “Whether you’re doing health and safety or patrolling on a beach through to if I'm looking at a building and thinking ‘you’ve got a big stack of wood there and someone going welding right beside it’. Yeah, It's very similar in that sort of aspect, with the risk analysis always ongoing.”

Another parallel between Conan’s professional life and Lifeguarding is his desire to develop new skills, “Earlier on in my career was I was always striving to learn, then being a lifeguard if you tick off something every couple of years, all of a sudden, you've ticked off a hell of a lot.” Conan continues to learn to this day and is currently working to get his Inflatable Rescue Boat driver's instructor Award. He also enjoys enabling others, “I like passing on the knowledge that I've learned, whether that be through coaching or as a Rookie coordinator role to pass on lifeguarding skills. I see them as valuable skills.”

With the family connection strong, Conan intends to stay involved with Orewa SLSC for a while yet, before he steps back to relax.