Gisborne’s Chris Dawson Makes Debut as Black Fins Captain

Tuesday, 31 October 2023

Gisborne may be in a rush to see in a new day - the first place in New Zealand to see the sun - but it’s renowned for its laid-back vibe.


Its resident and one of the country’s top surf lifesaving athletes, Chris Dawson, is no different.


Gizzy, as he affectionately calls it, is where he was born and raised, and it’s where he currently calls home.


“I was based in Auckland, but I had a great opportunity pop up in Gisborne that I couldn’t turn down and I’ve always enjoyed the rural lifestyle.”


When I call him, he’s taking a break from work as a quantity surveyor for his family’s business ‘Dawson Building’.


“How’s it working with family?”  I ask.


“It has its moment,” he laughs. “But it’s good! Both my parents are very supportive, and I wouldn’t be where I am without them.”


You see, being in Surf Life Saving New Zealand’s (SLSNZ) High Performance squad requires a certain amount of dedication and commitment, whether it’s training in the gym or pool or competing on the world stage.


“You know, dad moans and groans about me traveling around the world for surf,” he teases, “but I know he wouldn’t have it any other way.  He genuinely loves the sport.”


At the end of this month, Chris will be taking leave once again to head to Warendorf for the International German Cup, a two-day pool rescue competition.  But this competition will be a little different; for the first time Chris will be taking on the role of captain.


“It all came to me as a bit of a surprise, to be honest.  I was having a meeting with Steve Kent and Andy McMillan and the two of them were waffling on.  Then they started mentioning that Gizzy has had some good Black Fins captains over the years.”


Chris started putting two and two together, and before he knew it, he was being asked whether he would like to join that prestigious list.


“I got a bit tingly and a bit sweaty.  It’s something I’d dreamed about as a young kid.  It all comes back to Gizzy and having so many Surf Life Saving legends around me.  They’re all awesome, and they’ve all been captains, so it’s something I’ve always wanted to do; I’ve always wanted this opportunity.


Gisborne appears to be a breeding ground for a long list of SLSNZ high performance current and former legends such as Cory Hutchings, Laura Quilter, Cory Taylor, and Olivia Corrin.


As Chris rightly points out, it’s not surprising because water is one of the region’s favourite playgrounds.


“In Gizzy, you’re so close to the water. You go to the beach, and there are kids running around in speedos, and you think ‘that looks like fun,’ and it just progresses from there.”


However, he confesses he was a “late bloomer” when it came to surf lifesaving.


“I was a bit of a rugby kid growing up, and I only started swimming because I thought it would help with my fitness.”


It was at the pool that his life changed course.  “Cory Taylor came up to me and said, ‘have you tried surf lifesaving? You should give it a go.’ And I thought, ‘yeah, alright,’ and that was that.  I’ve never looked back since.”


And neither has Cory.  The pair went to Australia together to train, they’ve competed in the Black Fins numerous times, and will soon both have led the team. 


“It’s pretty special to both be competing at such a high level.  Because we’ve known each for so long, we also know how we both operate, and it’s nice to have a supportive guy, like Cory, standing next to me that I can talk to.”


And Chris hopes support is what he’ll be able to offer as Black Fins captain.


“Well, hopefully I’ll be a winning one!” he laughs before adding, “I want to be supportive and encouraging.  I also want to have some fun.  At the end of the day, you want to remember the trip and remember how much fun you had.  It’s a stressful and nervous time, especially for the young ones, but if we can turn that around, and have fun, maybe that’ll be the carrot for them to carry on doing surf lifesaving for another 10 years.”


That’s what happened to Chris.  He’s been competing as a Black Fin since 2010.


“It’s definitely been a wee while!  The amount of people involved over those 13 years, I’ve learned a lot, and it’s been great having those people around me.  If you didn’t have that support, I can see how people could throw in the towel and think ‘nah bugger it’.  But that’s the cool thing with Surf Life Saving, we try to create a family environment.  The Surf Life Saving motto ‘In it for life’, as corny as it sounds, it’s true, and I wouldn’t be in this position without having the support of the Surf Life Saving family.”


Chris is excited about heading to the International German Cup.


“The Cup holds a special place in my heart as it’s my fifth one.  I’m nervous as hell about going away, but as soon as I put on that fern, I know it’ll bring out the passion pretty quickly.  We’ve also got a great team line-up – a mix of youth and experience.  We’ve got some good things to give, so I’m hoping we can rip into it!”


He says he’s having a great build up to the competition.


“One thing I’ve been trying to figure out is that balance.  Being 30, you’re a bit wiser with your training; you just know what your body needs, and I think I’m doing a good job of that at the moment.  I haven’t enjoyed the sport and training this much for a long time.”


It might just be his laid-back nature, but you get the sense Chris has never been better.  He’s back home in his beloved Gisborne with what appears to be a work/life balance many would envy, and a glass-half-full attitude.  Oh, and he’s also Black Fins captain now, joining an impressive and growing list of ‘Gizzy’ legends.


International German Cup

When:  23 – 25 November 2023

Team leaves New Zealand on 16 November 2023

Where:  Warendorf, Germany


Black Fins:

Chris Dawson – Midway SLSC (Captain)

Madison Kidd – Whangamatā SLSC

Zoe Crawford – Mairangi Bay SLSC

Molly Shivnan – Omanu SLSC

Talitha McEwan – Mount Maunganui Lifeguard Service

Fergus Eadie – Mairangi Bay SLSC

Louis Clark – Taylors Mistake SLSC

Sam Brown – Mairangi Bay SLSC


Support Team:

Steve Kent – Campaign/Team Lead

Andy McMillan – Pool Rescue Coach

Tom Lowe – Assistant Coach/Technical Analyst

Kayla Botha – Physiotherapist