New Zealand’s Surf Lifeguards Honoured at 2023 SLSNZ National Awards of Excellence

Sunday, 24 September 2023

Surf Life Saving New Zealand (SLSNZ) is thrilled to announce the winners of its 2023 National Awards of Excellence.


Volunteers from around the country gathered at Te Papa in Wellington on 23 September for the awards, which recognised recipients in the areas of lifesaving, sport, and education.


Steve Fisher, SLSNZ CEO, said, “The awards are always a highlight in the SLSNZ calendar.  It serves not only as an opportunity to acknowledge those who have gone above and beyond, but it’s also a great chance for us to all to come together and take stock of the important work we do before the next season begins.”


This year, Jess Bennett from Ocean Beach Kiwi Surf Life Saving Club (SLSC) in Hawke’s Bay won DHL Volunteer of the Year


Bennett has been managing the Hawke’s Bay Search and Rescue (SAR) callout squad for years, but her work around Cyclone Gabrielle was outstanding.  She proactively planned for the event weeks in advance, leading the team with authority and respect.


When Cyclone Gabrielle did eventually hit, Bennett left her young family to spend weeks at the centre of the major rescue response in Hawke’s Bay.  The SAR team, consisting of over 30 members and utilising 15 inflatable rescue boats (IRBs), conducted extensive SAR operations under her coordination.  She led this team into uncharted territories but, despite being tested in various ways, Bennett remained approachable and compassionate. 


Helen Jackson, Ocean Beach Kiwi SLSC Director of Sport, said, “From all of us to you, Jess, we want to thank you for giving tirelessly, for all that you have done, and all that you do.”


Samantha Larson from Kariaotahi Surf Club won Lifeguard of the Year


During the 2022/2023 season, Larson demonstrated remarkable dedication and expertise in just about all aspects of surf lifesaving.  She dedicated over 100 hours to club-level patrolling and assumed a pivotal role as the primary facilitator of Kariaotahi Surf Club’s Surf Lifeguard Award programme.


Larson was also a member of the Membership Development Committee and served as a facilitator for all Surf Life Saving Northern development camps. 


During the season, Samantha also took charge of organising and leading the Wāhine on Water events throughout the North Island - an event designed to empower and encourage females to become IRB drivers.  She passionately advocates for increasing female representation in IRBs and serves as a fantastic role model, actively participating in IRB racing herself.


Tara Coe, Kariaotahi Surf Club Head of Lifesaving, said, “The hours Samantha has given to surf this season has been immense.  She definitely deserves the Lifeguard of the Year award.” 


The National Awards of Excellence is an annual event, with finalists selected from winners of the regional Awards of Excellence held earlier in the year.


Fisher said, “The 2022/2023 season was incredibly busy, and I’d like to thank all of our members for the time they dedicated.  A lot of work goes into keeping beachgoers safe, whether it’s training surf lifeguards or organising sport events that help hone their skills.  It’s all important, and it doesn’t go unnoticed. The spirit and generosity of SLSNZ volunteers are something I am hugely grateful for.”



Full List of Winners:


Coach of the Year - John Bryant, Mt Maunganui

International Performance of the Year - Danielle McKenzie, Mairangi Bay and Cory Taylor, Midway

Instructor of the Year - Poppy Crouch, Omanu

Volunteer of the Year - Jess Bennett, Ocean Beach Kiwi

Official of the Year - Bruce Matheson, Omanu

Lifeguard of the Year – Samantha Larson, Kariaotahi

Patrol Support Officer of the Year - Wade Meads, Maketu

Rescue of the Year - Hawke’s Bay Search and Rescue Squad


SLSNZ Distinguished Service Awards

Matthew Bradley, St Clair

Boyd Harris, Pukehina

Joanne Hobson, Sunset Beach

Benny Larsen, Ōrewa

Bruce Matheson, Omanu

Sheryl McLay, Mt Maunganui

Spencer Raymond, Pauanui

Dion Williams, Wainui


SLSNZ Life Membership

John Chapman, Ōrewa

Bruce Matheson, Omanu

Sheryl McLay, Mt Maunganui

Ross Merrett, Papamoa

Dr Kevin Moran ONZM, Muriwai

Michelle Newton, Red Beach

Mike Smith, Taylors Mistake

Mark Weatherall, Omanu


50 Year Badges

Peter Brown, Piha

Ricky Butt, Muriwai

Warren Edwards, Sunset Beach

Peter Housiaux QSM, Ōtaki

Shelley Kerr, Mt Maunganui

Alan Kindred, Muriwai

Mark McCarthny, Ōrewa

Kevin Moran, Muriwai

George Thomson, Piha

Terry Wyllie, Sunset Beach


SLSNZ Service Awards

Rebecca Aburn, Brighton

Tania Ahrens, Ruakākā

Greg Akroyd, Mt Maunganui

Mike Brown, Mairangi Bay

Kate Bryce, Sumner

Stu Bryce, New Brighton

Robynne Cabusao, Omanu

Chase Cahalane, Omanu

Brady Campbell, Mairangi Bay

Grace Campbell, Mairangi Bay

Niam Chronican, St Clair

Eric Clearwater, Waikanae

Jon Copeland, Ōrewa

Jayd Cosmatos, Nelson

Kirsty Cullen, New Brighton

Wayne Faasega, Warrington

Mark Familton, Warrington

Andrew Forsythe, Ruakākā

Jeffery Foster, St Clair

Zac Franich, Ōrewa

Steve Glue, Waimairi

Glenn Gowthorpe DSD, Muriwai

Debi Hocart, Ōpōtiki

Guy Hornblow, Kariaotahi

Ashleigh Hurring, Fitzroy

Samantha Larson, Kariaotahi

Stu Lowth, Pukehina

Graeme Lundie, Ōtaki

Kath Manning, Waipu Cove

Tim Manning, Waipu Cove

Bruce Matheson, Omanu

Ivan McCabe, Waipu Cove

Adam McKernan, Ruakākā

Ben McKernan, Ruakākā

Rebecca McNaughton, Warrington

Kevin Morrison, Mairangi Bay

Dennis Mundy, Omanu

Christine Nairn, Pukehina

Simon Oldham, Omanu

Ian Rae, Taylors Mistake

Troy Reed, Spencer Park

Rodney Richards, Waikanae

Caitlin Ruddle, Waimairi

Kim Saunders, Ōpōtiki

Rick Schreuder, Kariaotahi

Mark Senior, Sunset Beach

Nigel Sorenson, Muriwai

Brittany Spencer, Nelson

Kathryn Stewart, Papamoa

Luke Stockman, Muriwai

Angela Stolwerk, Waipu Cove

Rick Stolwerk, Waipu Cove

Callum Sutherland, Brighton

Philippa Taylor, Ruakākā

Samuel Todd, St Clair

Nevan Trotter, Brighton

Dirk van der Woerd, Muriwai

Garry van Leeuwen, Waimairi

James Wellacott, Spencer Park

Daniel Williams, Wainui

Ossian Woods, St Clair


London Trophy - Wanganui

(Given to the club with the most Surf Lifeguard Awards gained, proportional to the club’s size)


Gudsell Cup – Mairangi Bay

(Given to the club with the highest total number of Surf Lifeguard Awards gained – this is the qualification to become a surf lifeguard)