It is official!
I made it! I am officially a New Zealand surf lifeguard! After completing a 400 meter pool swim in under 9 minutes, a theory test, CPR and first aid, a run-swim-run, a tube rescue and numerous hours of training, I am qualified to save your life.
Now you might ask: why, if you intend to leave New Zealand within a month or two, did you go through all the trouble of becoming a qualified lifeguard?
I had absolutely no intention of becoming a surf lifeguard when I met the Whangarei Heads crew out at Ocean Beach... I just wanted to surf. But after seeing how the club functions - the sense of community, responsibility and respect that comes along with being a lifeguard here - I was convinced. Also, I really wanted to feel like I have accomplished something after being in New Zealand for 5 months, and not only does having the qualification look good on a resume (resumes - ha!) but there are also opportunities within the program to learn more and progress. Plus, the uniforms are sweet as.
Surf Lifesaving New Zealand (SLSNZ) is a really cool program. All lifeguard patrols in New Zealand are based on volunteer service. Many kids begin training when they are 7 or 8 years old in junior surf, becoming comfortable with the dynamic coastlines of New Zealand. By the time they are 14 they can become legitimate lifeguards and by 16 can become paid guards during the summer season. One can become a step down from a paramedic through entirely free classes with SLSNZ.
It is pretty amazing to see how mature young teenagers can act when given serious responsibilities. We have 16 year olds patrolling the beach, driving the ATV (and well, I might add!), manning the IRB's, performing first aid, and not acting like total nut jobs when they stay over night at the surf clubs. It is almost as if with more freedom they act more like their parents would want them to. Interesting.
As 14 year olds can qualify for their lifeguard award, I took the test with about 35 of them this morning, although the age range was from 14 to about 40. It would have been extremely embarrassing if I had failed while kids 10 years younger than me passed. This does not mean they did not pass me physically - in the run-swim-run I was near the back of the pack, but was so happy to complete it in the required amount of time I did not care. Really, the conditions to complete the exam were perfect, with sunny skies and small surf all day. And Mom and Dad were there with all the rest of the moms and dads cheering us on.
Now I am planning my next move. It looks like the surf might be good on the west coast this coming week so I might take a little trip over there. Speaking of surfing, have you heard of couchsurfing.org? It is a pretty cool website that connects travelers all over the world with locals and one another. Last week we hosted a German guy aboard Rutea who was pretty stoked to spend the night on a boat. In the morning I took him out to Sandy Bay and we got some really fun waves. Then he went on his way. You know, just gotta keep things interesting.
Until the next interesting story... swim between the flags.