Meet Mark: A Lifelong Commitment to Surf Life Saving in New Zealand

Wednesday, 21 June 2023

Surf Life Saving New Zealand’s slogan, “In It For Life,” couldn’t be truer for Mark McCarthny, a stalwart of Auckland’s Ōrewa Surf Life Saving Club (SLSC).


Mark’s volunteering journey began in 1972, after being born into a family deeply passionate about Surf Lifesaving.  He fondly remembers, “I’ve been going around to surf events since I was born.  My father was heavily involved, and was a Life Member of Surf Life Saving New Zealand (SLSNZ).  He was originally part of Waihi SLSC and then he joined Piha SLSC.  I joined there too, before moving Ōrewa.”


Today, on the brink of receiving his 50-year service badge, Mark’s dedication and commitment shine through.  Despite the passing of time, he remains an active patrol captain, examiner for Surf Life Saving Northern Region, a skilled inflatable rescue boat (IRB) operator, and a member of Ōrewa’s Search and Rescue squad.  He also serves on Ōrewa SLSC’s sports committee and coaches three surf boat crews: Open Men’s, Open Women’s, and U23 Women’s.


Over the years, Mark’s found immense satisfaction in volunteering, particularly when it comes to rescuing people. “You never want anyone to get hurt, so it’s incredibly rewarding helping people.  I’ve also found that the skills I’ve learnt doing surf lifesaving have helped people away from the beach.  We have to constantly be upgrading our first aid which is handy in everyday life situations.” 


He’s also had some memorable moments in sport.  “I’ve represented New Zealand twice, most notably with the Piha men’s surf boat crew in 1985 when we beat Australia, which was incredibly satisfying!  I also won a gold medal with my son and nephew at the TSB New Zealand Surf Lifesaving Championships in 2020.  That was really special for me.”


However, it’s his connection with the younger generation that Mark treasures the most.  Despite being 67 years old, he enjoys the opportunity to interact with people of all ages. “You know, here I am, sitting next to people who are 50 years younger than me.  But we are all equal and we are all in the team together. It’s great that I have that connection.  It keeps me young.”


It also keeps him in touch with the local community.  His wife, who has always supported his volunteering, laughs, “You should try going to the supermarket with him!”  With his background as a former teacher and his longstanding involvement with the Ōrewa SLSC, it’s safe to say that Mark knows most people in the community.


He said, “It’s neat to be able to be part of a wider community, and the good thing about Surf Life Saving is that families get involved.  Someone in the family will start and then everyone else follows - The kids will get into Junior Surf, and then the parents get involved and then they become a part of the Surf Lifesaving family.”


And that’s what’s happened with his own family.  Both his children, Chris and Katherine, have competed in surf lifesaving events and worked as Surf Lifeguards.  Now, with a nine-month-old grandson, Mark envisions a future for him within Surf Life Saving, ensuring the family tradition continues.


“Being involved in Surf Life Saving is so beneficial for kids.  A lot in our community have done really well following their time with Surf Life Saving and that’s why I would tell anyone thinking about volunteering to absolutely get involved.  The good thing about Surf Life Saving is there are so many different areas that you can get into.”


As for himself, Mark hopes he’ll remain involved in some form or another, for a wee while yet. “The Surf Life Saving slogan ‘In It For Life’… it really is.  I plan on being involved for as long as I can, even if it’s just on the beach taking photos or something.  I like to think I’ll be able to be a part of it, somehow.”


Preserving his connection with the movement that has shaped his life and will undoubtedly shape his family’s future, for years to come.


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