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Wahine Patrols to transform North Island beaches in celebration of International Women’s Day

Some North Island beaches will have a different look this weekend as surf lifeguards celebrate International Women’s Day with Wāhine Patrols.

Held annually on 8 March, International Women’s Day has been officially recognised since 1977. It celebrates women’s achievements, raises awareness about discrimination, and urges people to take action to drive gender parity.

To mark the occasion this year, Mount Maunganui Lifeguard Service, Omanu Beach Surf Life Saving Club (SLSC), and Whakatāne SLSC will have all-female crews lifeguarding on Saturday, 9 March.

Catriona Manning, who will be the Patrol Captain at Whakatāne Surf Life Saving Club during its Wāhine Patrol, said, “We think this is a fantastic initiative, and the whole team is really excited about it. We have quite a lot of females in our club, so it wasn’t hard to get enough women to make up the patrol. There’ll also be a wide range of ages as well, from 14 to 60 years old.”

Females make up 49 percent of Surf Life Saving New Zealand’s (SLSNZ) 17,000 membership, and they hold diverse positions in the movement.

Manning said, “As a club we’ve always been very proactive about upskilling women. This season more females have gained their Surf Lifeguard Award and that’s the case quite often. We’ve found that the females don’t necessarily compete in surf lifesaving sport but they’re keen surf lifeguards and they excel at things like first aid and in Inflatable Rescue Boats (IRBs).”

However, IRBs is an area historically dominated by males. In 2019, statistics revealed a significant gender imbalance with only 28% of IRB drivers being female, despite women making up half of the surf lifeguard population.

To address this, a group of surf lifeguards established Wāhine on Water – an IRB development day designed for females.

Phoebe Havill, one of the programme’s co-founders, said, “IRB’s can be quite intimidating, but we wanted to show women that they’re more than capable of operating the engine and driving it. Wāhine on Water offers a safe and friendly environment for women to learn, grow, and build a supportive community within the movement, where women can mentor and help others.”

The initiative has worked as currently 35% of IRB drivers are female.

Havill said, “Last year at Waihi Beach, we held our largest-ever Wāhine on Water event with 70 participants. It was amazing to see so much enthusiasm around the course, and it just shows how much demand there is. We’re expecting this to continue as more women gain their IRB driver’s license.”

The programme was developed during bp Leaders for Life, SLSNZ’s leadership development programme for current and emerging club leaders aged 20 – 35 years. In the most recent intake, an encouraging shift was evident, with 13 out of the 16 participants being female.

Belinda Slement, SLSNZ National Education Manager, said, “Over the past two years, we’ve witnessed a notable increase in females putting their hands up to participate. The Wāhine on Water programme has acted as a catalyst, igniting a sense of confidence among many women in the movement, encouraging them to get involved.”

Slement highlighted the positive impact on the entire organisation, “Females have not only demonstrated their ability to match their male counterparts, but they have also brought a unique set of skills to the forefront which is hugely beneficial to the movement. I’m confident this trend will only improve as more women step forward both on and off the beach.”

And beachgoers along the North Island’s East Coast will witness this change first hand this weekend, as Wāhine Patrols keep watch.


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