Surf Lifesaving New Zealand National Championships come to town

Sideline Sid
Sports correspondent & historian

Parking will be at an absolute premium anywhere near the Mount Main Beach this weekend, when the Surf Lifesaving New Zealand National Championships come to town.

Up to 1500 surf athletes from the length and breadth of New Zealand, and a myriad of officials and supporters, will head for the sands of the main beach at the Mount to take part in and witness the non-stop pulsating action from early Friday morning to Sunday afternoon.

The hundreds of thousands of dollars of surf sport equipment is a far cry from the early competition over 100 years ago.

The first Surf Lifesaving National competition was held at Napier in 1915, under the auspices of the Royal Lifesaving Society.

In 1932, the New Zealand Surf Lifesaving Association was established with the first SLSNZ Nationals held at Foxton Beach in 1933.

The first NZSLS Nationals were probably remembered for all the wrong reasons, with the competition eventually abandoned due to tumultuous surf.

Early competition was based around the belt and reel, which was the rescue equipment of the day.

R&R (rescue and resuscitation) competition with the reel saw the participants march in military precision, with the slightness step out of time or wrong movement attracting loss of points.

The objective of R&R competition was to retrieve one member of the team who swam out as the patient, with the rescuer attached to the reel by belt and rope. The other members of the team paying out and bringing in the line.

Up until the sixties and seventies, the most prestigious prize at each National Championships was the Six-Man Nelson Shield. It was first presented at the inaugural Royal Life championships in Napier.

From the initial R&R competition, other events evolved such as belt and individual and teams surf races.

The climax of the earlier championship carnivals was the March-Past where club teams in their brightly coloured uniforms and wearing their club caps, carried their flag and reel past the assembled crowd.

It is with some bewilderment to this writer, that New Zealand Surf Lifesaving history shows that the National Championships have been held at such obscure surf venues as Greymouth, Wanganui and Napier and the lake-flat beaches at Takapuna and Milford.

What surprises the writer is that it wasn’t until 1980, that the first SLSNZ National Championships were held at Mount Maunganui.

The Nationals had visited Waihi Beach as early as 1949 and were held at Ohope Beach in Whakatane during 1972.

Today, the Mount Maunganui Lifeguard Service is the powerhouse of surf sport competition in the country.

It wasn’t until 1971, that the “Mounties” won their first National title when the Under 18 Men’s R&R team won Gold at the Waimairi Nationals.

The Mount Maunganui Under 18 Men’s canoe team had Gold Medal success in 1975, with the first Open Men’s title coming in the Open Men’s Tube Rescue, at the 1978 National Carnival at Waipu Cove.

Omanu and Papamoa Surf Club competitors, have also been in intense training in recent months and can be expected to haul in their fair share of championship titles and medals.

Seeya at the main beach at the Mount over the weekend.


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