From Sibling Rivalry to Team Unity - Brother and Sister Named in Black Fins Team

Wednesday, 5 July 2023

Being named in the Black Fins, New Zealand’s National Surf Life Saving team, is the stuff of dreams for many Surf Lifeguards.


When the announcement came through that 20-year-old Molly Shivnan had secured her spot to compete at the International Surf Rescue Challenge (ISRC) in Texas, all those hours of training had paid off.


“It’s so exciting!  I’m honoured and super stoked.”


However, this team naming was extra special for Molly, as alongside her name was her younger brother, 19-year-old, Gus.


“We were talking about it a few weeks before selection came out, and we both really wanted to make the team.  So when we found out, we called each other, and it was unreal.”


For Molly, this marked her second time making the Black Fins, having competed at the Lifesaving World Championships in Italy last year.  However, for Gus, it was his first time being named in the team.


“It was really exciting,” he says.  “To be honest, I didn’t really expect to be named so to get that email was awesome.  And with Molly as well...  Being on the same team, trying to achieve the same goal, it’s pretty cool.”


Molly and Gus are the oldest of four siblings, and grew up in Mount Maunganui, where white sand beaches stretch as far as the eye can see. 


Reminiscing about their childhood, Molly recalls, “We’ve always been drawn to the water and as kids we would always be down at the beach… Me and Gus would often have competitions with dad body surfing.”


While their parents didn’t have a strong connection to Surf Life Saving, ensuring their kids safety in and around the ocean was crucial, leading them to become involved with Omanu Beach Surf Life Saving Club. 


Molly fondly remembers, “The club has always been a big part of summer time as we’d be at the beach all morning and afternoon.  There’s an awesome squad down there, it’s a great family atmosphere and we’re all really close.”


Gus reflects, “We’ve been at the club since we were in the under-fives so we’ve gone up through the club and it’s such a good environment there.”


After learning essential beach safety skills, competing in Lifesaving Sport soon became a natural progression for the Shivnan family.


Laughing, Molly remarks, “With four siblings, it’s always a competition!”


Gus joins in, saying, “We have two younger brothers so I can’t let them win anything!  Whether it’s backyard cricket, basketball, anywhere-everything becomes a competition!”


“But it’s fun,” Molly adds.  “Always fun.  And I’ve learned a lot from being a part of a big family.  Being one of four, you have to work out how to do things yourself and have that independence.  But you’re also a team player.  You’re always working together.”


Although they spent their childhood side by side, living by the sea, Molly and Gus now find themselves separated by the Tasman Sea.


Molly is currently in her third year studying physiotherapy at Otago University.  “It’s a full on degree, but it’s awesome to be able to study full time and train as well.”


Meanwhile, Gus is living in Australia, studying engineering at Griffith University on the Gold Coast.  “I mainly moved over for the swimming training as the opportunities and programmes are just a little bit more developed over there at the moment.”


The two are looking forward to being reunited in Texas when they compete at the ISRC in September.  It’s the biggest international ocean and beach competition in the world, outside of the Lifesaving World Championships. 


Held every two years, the event serves as a platform to test the skills and expertise of surf lifeguards, and this year athletes will be coming from New Zealand, Australia, Canada, Japan, South Africa and the USA.


Watching from the sidelines will be Molly and Gus’s parents, who booked flights to Texas as soon as they heard the news.  Molly reflects, “It’s pretty special for them to have us both competing.”


As the older sibling, has Molly offered any advice to her younger brother ahead of the competition?  “No, not yet!” Molly giggles.  “But he’ll be getting some soon!” 


But Gus isn’t sure he’ll pay much notice.  “I don’t think any wisdom she offers will help me,” he teases. 


It seems that, regardless of the circumstances, a touch of sibling rivalry will always be present.