Meet Karen: The Surf Lifesaving Mum, Manager, & Volunteer

Thursday, 22 June 2023

If you think you’re busy, wait until you hear about Karen Simpson-Warren.  The mother of four is a force to be reckoned with in the world of Surf Life Saving, as she balances her volunteer work with a busy professional and personal life.


Karen’s volunteer journey started 18 years ago, when she joined the Paekākāriki Surf Lifeguards as Club Secretary.  Reflecting on her first few days, Karen said, “When I started, I had no background in Surf Lifesaving.  I didn’t even know what an inflatable rescue boat was!  I was asked by a friend to help out and it was interesting to be thrown in there cold, as Club Secretary.  I quickly got to know how it all worked and learnt by osmosis… sucking up information like a sponge”.


Over the years, Karen’s Surf Life Saving involvement grew with her family.  Her husband, Matt, currently serves as the Chair of the Paekākāriki Surf Lifeguards, and all four of their children - Cameron, Sarah, Jamie, and Ben – have served as volunteer Surf Lifeguards at Paekākāriki. 


Karen said it’s great to have all the family involved, especially her kids. “I wholeheartedly believe in volunteering and the positive impact it has on our youth.  It teaches them to look outwards and when you can start to look outside of yourself you get a sense of purpose.  It also teaches kids to give back to the community without expecting something in return.” 


While her kids and husband could be found in the water volunteering, Karen prefers to seek opportunities in other areas, and it’s this versatility that she loves about Surf Lifesaving.   “I may not be a Surf Lifeguard, but I love being involved in the club.  I love the beach, the environment, and the community.  I think everyone can contribute something in their own way.”


Recently, Karen has dedicated her efforts to fundraising for the construction of the new Paekākāriki club.  For the past 10 years, she has served on the building committee, and in the last three years, she’s led the fundraising committee.  Her ability to connect with people and her dogged determination has helped the club secure vital funds.


“Last year, I gave up being secretary so I could focus entirely on fundraising for the new building which is a massive job.  But it’s been really rewarding and we are making great progress, helped immensely by the local council who became our cornerstone funder.”


Maintaining a delicate balance between these commitments and her professional and personal life, Karen’s days are undoubtedly busy.  Alongside her husband, she co-owns a rental management business and serves as Event Manager for Canoe Racing New Zealand.  Additionally, both Karen and Matt volunteer as Officials for the International Canoe Federation, which sees them travel to international events.  Karen is also President of her netball club and on the local Centre Board.

When asked how she fits it all in she said, “My sisters think I’m crazy!  But it’s often said that if you want something done, ask a busy person.  You just make it work.  Matt and I sit together at night with our laptops on our knees doing our volunteer work, or catching up with our day job, and that’s how we fit it in. We’re both heavily involved in volunteering and we both believe in it.  Without each other’s support it would be difficult, but we bounce off each other and fully support each other.”


The work they undertake is integral, especially in regards to the Paekākāriki club. She said, “It’s a community asset, and one of the great things about rebuilding the club is you hear all these heart-warming stories – people who got married there and had their birthdays there.  The club holds significant connections to the community outside of Surf Lifesaving.”  She adds, “It’s also great to see the pride the locals have in our lifeguards and the service we provide. They feel a sense of ownership of us.”


And that’s why, she said, volunteering is an incredibly rewarding thing to do.  “Although you are giving a lot, you do get a lot back.  You have a profound sense of belonging to something greater than yourself, and I think it’s better for us, as people, to be doing things in our community, instead of just sitting back and letting things happen.”


Karen has no intentions of slowing down anytime soon.  With her family rooted in Raumati, just metres away from the beach, she remains committed to Surf Life Saving and the invaluable lessons that volunteering has given to her and her family.


To learn more about SLSNZ, its surf lifesaving services, and how you can become a volunteer, visit  


If you’d like to donate to Paekākāriki Surf Lifeguards click here.