‘Lifeguards in training’ ready for Surf Life Saving’s biggest youth sport event of the year
Over 850 young athletes are set to tackle Surf Life Saving New Zealand’s (SLSNZ) premier Under-14 event next weekend at Mount Maunganui, making it one of the biggest sporting events on the SLSNZ calendar.
Dubbed Oceans 19, the event has drawn in hundreds of entries from around New Zealand for the youth event, which aims to teach kids important surf safety skills through sport with the aim of them all becoming qualified surf lifeguards.
“These kids are our lifeguards in training. They are working up the fitness and skills to be a fully qualified [surf] lifeguard at 14 years old, and this event brings them all together in a fun, safe, competitive environment,” explained Matt Warren, Oceans 19 event manager.
“It’s the one opportunity a year for them [athletes] to get together, compete against their mates, and for many – make new friends. And what better place to do that than at the beach,” he continued.
The 857 athletes are travelling from as far south as Dunedin and from as far north as Ruakaka (Whangarei) while athletes from Christchurch, Taranaki, Hawkes Bay and Wellington are also set to make the trip.
Rebecca Auburn, team manager of the southern-most team from Brighton (Dunedin) says their biggest challenge, funnily enough, will be dealing with the warmer water.
“Our biggest problem is keeping the kids cool when we go to Oceans. It’s funny but its true!” she laughs. “The kids were competing at the South Island Championships last weekend and the water was around 13 degrees and they had to wear wetsuits, so coming north will probably be an exciting change for them.”
While the Brighton team only has three athletes heading north, they’ve been blown away by the support from their fellow clubs, especially the Christchurch clubs who have made it possible.
“The Christchurch teams have been amazing. We were struggling to figure out a way to get all our boards and gear up to Tauranga, and the Christchurch teams stepped in and helped us by organising our gear to go up with theirs in a container. I really love the community that surf is, and this is no better example of that sense of community,” she added.
A total of four Dunedin clubs will be represented at the national event, who also share the container, while Christchurch is also well represented with six of their eight local clubs also making the trek across the strait to Tauranga.
Last year’s champions, Mount Maunganui, are no doubt keen to replicate their result and hold onto the Oceans title. However, Lyall Bay of Wellington weren’t far behind them in the quest for the title, so will undoubtedly be pushing hard this year to try and claim the crown.
“Mount Maunganui have a really strong sport programme, so they will definitely be the ones to watch,” said Warren. “However, a lot of clubs around the country have spent a lot of time preparing for this so we’re sure the Mount [Maunganui] team will be pushed the entire weekend. It’s definitely shaping up to be one of the most exciting events yet.”
The youngest athletes are only 10 years old, and train for months leading up to the event, learning many vital skills in the surf and on the beach. Over the past year, there have been a few stories shared of these youngsters, often called ‘Nippers’, already saving lives at their local clubs.
Take, for example, 13-year-old Ian Pugh who saved a man from a potentially life threatening situation at the same beach these athletes will compete at – Mount Maunganui’s Main Beach. Pugh had just finished a surf lifesaving training session when he noticed someone in trouble and rushed to his aid, and thus, saving his first life. Pugh will be competing at this event alongside hundreds of other up-and-coming surf lifeguards.
Thanks to the support of Tauranga City Council, Oceans 19 kicks off on Thursday 7 March at 9.00am on Mount Maunganui’s Main Beach, before continuing on Friday and Saturday and wrapping up on Sunday 10 March, with a prizegiving on the beach near the clubrooms.