Naomi, who has been involved in surf lifesaving since she was 13, has always loved the energy and vibrancy of the job. Not yet old enough to gain any qualifications when she first joined the surf club, she was put into the Rookie Lifeguard Programme, which was where she discovered her passion.
“I had some really great mentors who took lifeguarding very seriously, so it only seemed right for me to follow in their wake,” she says.
At 14, Naomi gained her general lifeguard award, which required some really in-depth training, before moving up the ranks, away from the Rookie Programme and into the certified world of lifesaving.
Stephanie Wessing, aged 18, took a different route to becoming a lifesaver, starting when she was five and training as a volunteer surf lifeguard before deciding to switch to poolside lifesaving at Pioneer Recreation and Sports Centre in Christchurch. “This can be a great part-time option – I really love the job and we always have a lot of fun,” she says.
After spending eight seasons as a voluntary lifeguard, Naomi now has a position as a professional lifeguard, spending a few months in New Zealand for the summer before heading over to the southern shores of England during our winter season. At the Sumner Surf Life Saving Club, Naomi is paid for six weeks, at 40 to 45 hours per week, and also spends around 10 hours a month volunteering. In comparison, England has a 30-week lifesaving season.
Staying on top of her game is vital, with training every Wednesday morning to upgrade her skills and keep up her fitness.
Naomi explains: “It’s a very different type of fitness being a lifeguard. You have to do lots of short bursts of really high intensity fitness and it’s quite quick recovery.”
Being a strong swimmer and keeping as fit as you can cannot be emphasised enough, says Naomi. “Even if you might be better in another area, fitness test training is such a massive thing for a surf job.”
Naomi’s favourite part of being a lifeguard is the first aid. “The really intense training in England kickstarted my love for anything gory,” she says, “and certainly helped when I had to face an intoxicated man whose whole cheek was cut so deeply that you could see his teeth.”
However, one of her most exciting memories to date was a high-profile rescue in England.
“We arrived to this catamaran that was sinking well offshore and these two guys were clinging to it, both hypothermic,” says Naomi.
“It was just one of the coolest things I think I’ve ever done – like something out of a movie. We were speeding across the ocean on a jet ski and racing a lifeboat to save a sinking ship. It was crazy.”
To anyone wishing to become involved with surf lifesaving, Naomi, also an instructor at times, advises: “Get a good layer of volunteer hours under your belt before you try and step up to be a professional. You need to have a good level of seriousness when it’s needed and also fun, because you work as a team.”