Mangawhai Heads Volunteer Lifeguards


With over 1,000 people flocking to their patch of beach at a time during the height of summer, the Mangawhai Heads Volunteer Lifeguards are kept on their toes.

When the club formed in 1963, a borrowed reel, a small group of volunteers and a tin shed was adequate. The reel was subsequently replaced with rescue boats and the tin shed became a modern club house hosting over 150 members. But still that isn’t enough.

That’s because Mangawhai and surrounding areas have experienced huge growth over recent years and, as Mangawhai Heads Volunteer Lifeguard Service Inc (MHVLS) veteran and local surfer Tony Baker says: "Pretty much any day there is a wave and the sun is out, the beach is heaving". 

“We have a really strong surfing community in Mangawhai so, whenever there is a good swell, the beach is usually 70 per cent local surfers. But most of the time it’s a mixture of both locals and visitors on the beach.”

MHVLS members include over 50 active life guards and over 100 junior surf kids and families ranging from the age of seven – to 80-plus. At 14, members are eligible to train to become active lifeguards and are taught water confidence and other skills.

The active lifeguards work an average 2,000 hours per season at Mangawhai Heads, conducting up to 100 rescues, first aids and searches per season and up to six after-hours search and rescues per year. And, although some of the rescues involve locals, Mr Baker says, most are visitors who get caught out.

“A majority of our rescues are boat-related. Generally, boats that have flipped on the Mangawhai Bar or search and rescue call-outs. Most of the “between the flags” incidents are first-aid related. Often we are just helping someone back to shore or moving them back to the safe swimming area on the beach.”  

Members have also been involved in a number of award-winning rescues, including dramatic search and rescues at sea.

“People should never turn their back on the ocean or take its amazing power and energy for granted. A lot of our rescues involve people who are oblivious to the dangers in the sea, often late in the day. We are often fishing people off the rocks because they didn’t know that the tide comes in, and rescuing people who have launched their boat at the boat ramp and headed out for a day’s fishing without checking, and usually not wearing a life jacket.

“Other key things to consider are, if they are surfing or paddling with a board, to have a leash, and be aware of other people in the water. Added to this the old ‘slip, slop, slap’, as we deal with many people who are suffering from heat exhaustion.”

While most people who’ve been rescued are in shock, they are often a mix of embarrassment and gratitude. However, a challenge surf lifesaving clubs face is the expectation that you will always be there.

“The future of surf lifesaving is uncertain due to lack of funding. And, closer to home, the sheer volume of people visiting our beaches hasn’t matched our club’s membership growth. We are constantly trying to recruit new members and trying to secure funding so we can continue to operate and deliver the same services we have since 1963."

“We are so lucky to have such an amazing club right on the beach and be able to give back to our local community by providing lifesaving and education services.”
021 907066

Bianca Howlett