New data reveals Surfing Community’s Heroic Efforts in Saving Lives on New Zealand Beaches

Wednesday, 31 May 2023

New data has highlighted the crucial role surfer’s play in conducting bystander rescues.  This research, the first of its kind in New Zealand, brings to light an astonishing reality that has remained unspoken and unreported until now.


The study, which engaged a total of 418 surfers, sheds light on rescuer and victim demographics.  The findings demonstrate this group of surfers collectively save an average of 48 lives each year, with a staggering 1,274 rescues conducted in total.


The data was compiled over a year and a half by researcher Jamie Mead, in collaboration with Auckland University of Technology, Surfing New Zealand and Surf Life Saving New Zealand (SLSNZ).  He said, “We’ve long been aware of the significant number of bystander rescues carried out by surfers, but the lack of solid data has made it challenging to support this claim.  It’s important to note that this research also represents only a fraction of the surfing community.”


The number of surfers who partook in this study, represents only a small percentage of surfers in New Zealand.  These figures suggest the impact surfers are making on drowning prevention is immeasurable and there is immense potential for the wider New Zealand surfing community.


Ben Kennings, Surfing New Zealand Chief Executive, said this ground-breaking data supports what has already been collated worldwide.  He said, “With help from SLSNZ we’ve been rolling out a course called Surfers Rescue 24/7 which was first developed in New South Wales, Australia.  It equips surfers with vital rescue techniques and essential CPR skills, giving them the tools to help people who may find themselves in trouble in the water.”


Sonia Keepa, SLSNZ Eastern Region Sport Manager and experienced surfer, has conducted a number of these courses and trained other instructors.  She said, “Through this course we’re able to empower the surfing community by giving them the necessary skills and knowledge to respond effectively in emergency situations while prioritising their own safety.


“With the valuable insights provided by Jamie’s data, our aim is to expand our reach and connect with an even broader community of surfers.  By empowering them, we can work towards our shared goal of getting everyone home, safe and sound, after a day at the beach.”



Results obtained from 418 surfers from across NZ:

  • 1274 rescues were reported by this group.
  • Almost half (49.5%) had 21 years surfing experience or more and 84.9% self-rated as advanced to professional in ability.
  • Statistically there was a strong association between surfers conducting rescues at their home break, as opposed to other locations.
  • An average of 3 rescues were conducted by each respondent, regardless of gender, suggesting women are conducting just as many rescues as men.
  • 83.7% of rescues occurred in the absence of lifeguards. Either at unpatrolled locations or outside patrolled times.
  • Males represented 71% of victims rescued during the respondent’s most recent rescue.
  • Surfers rescued strangers 91.4% of the time.
  • Respondents were asked if they thought they had saved the person’s life. Almost half, 46.4% (n=194) believed they had, while 38.5% (n=161) did not know and 15.1% (n=63) did not believe they had. When these statistics are applied to the total number of recent rescues (n=638), this suggests 296 lives and an additional 245 possible lives may have been saved by this group of surfers through the rescues they conducted. When summarised economically it is a cost of over 1 billion dollars. The current estimated value of a human life in New Zealand is $4.42M (Ministry of Transport, 2020) x 296 lives saved = $1,308,320,000.
  • The sample population save 48.4 lives per year and only represents 0.28% of the NZ surf population.


For More Information Please Contact:


Jamie Mead - Researcher

021 882 249


Ben Kennings - Surfing New Zealand Chief Executive

021 227 8732


Sonia Keepa - SLSNZ Eastern Region Sport Manager

021 928 310