Surf Life Saving New Zealand Empowers Women with its Biggest Ever Wāhine on Water Event

Tuesday, 6 June 2023

Surf Life Saving New Zealand is gearing up for its largest-ever Wāhine on Water event, set to take place this Sunday, 11 June. 


An incredible 70 participants will gather at Waihi Beach for this inflatable rescue boat (IRB) development day, specially designed for female surf lifeguards.


Dominic Sutton, SLSNZ Coromandel Club Development Officer, said, “It’s great to see so much enthusiasm around this course.  The uptake for this particular event at Waihi Beach has been incredible, and surpassed anything we’ve had before.  It really does show how much demand there is.”


Wāhine on Water was first conceived in 2019 by surf lifeguards Julia Conway, Phoebe Havill, Phil Pirie, and Paul Hardy, as part of the mentoring programme, bp Leaders for Life.  During that time, statistics unveiled a significant gender imbalance, with only 28% of IRB drivers being female, despite women making up half of the surf lifeguard population.


Phoebe Havill, one of the event’s co-founders, said, “A lot of people are a bit intimidated by the IRBs.  They can go pretty fast, and it can be pretty scary out there in the big waves.  Males tend to be more eager to jump in and go for it, while females often hesitate.  So, we wanted to show everyone that they were quite capable.  By having female instructors leading the way, it meant the girls could see them getting out there and see that they can too.”


Wāhine on Water empowers female surf lifeguards to overcome barriers and master the fast-paced, high revving IRBs.  Participants learn the art of reading the surf, navigating the boat skilfully, and executing rescues under challenging conditions. 


Wāhine on Water has gained momentum since its establishment, hosting 27 events across the country and attracting approximately 1,000 attendees.  The upcoming event at Waihi Beach promises to be an unforgettable experience, with 20 instructors guiding a record 70 participants through various training exercises and workshops.


Candidates will be coming from all around the North Island including, Hot Water Beach, Maketū, Mount Maunganui, Omanu, Onemana, Ōpōtiki, Pāpāmoa, Pāuanui, Pukehina, Raglan, Red Beach, Tairua, United North Piha, Waihi Beach, Waimārama, Whangamatā and Whiritoa


Matt Elliott, bp Head of Country NZ, said, “It’s exciting to see Wāhine on Water, a concept developed at bp Leaders for Life, come to reality and be so widely adopted.  Congratulations to Phoebe, Julia, Phil and Paul on their remarkable achievement.  The positive impact and engagement from clubs and Surf Lifeguards is immense as it upskills and empowers female Surf Lifeguards.  We know that it will make a difference for all beachgoers when the busy summer season hits.”


Wāhine on Water – Coromandel and Bay of Plenty, will take place at Waihi Beach on 11 June, 2023 from 10am.


For Further Information, Please Contact

Dominic Sutton – SLSNZ Coromandel Club Development Officer

021 190 1727



About Surf Life Saving New Zealand (SLSNZ)
SLSNZ represents 74 Surf Lifesaving clubs with 18,000+ members, including more than 4,500 volunteer surf lifeguards. Our surf lifeguards patrol over 90 locations each summer, saving hundreds of lives each year, and ensuring thousands return home safe after a day at the beach. Our volunteer search and rescue squads provide emergency call-out rescue services throughout the year across Aotearoa.  We do all this as a charity and rely on the generosity of the public, commercial partners, foundations and trusts for donations and financial contributions.