'We were told they know better' - Lifeguards deal with foul-mouthed swimmers

2:28 pm on 31 December 2023
Surf Life Saving lifeguards test out a rescue boat at Muriwai Beach, Auckland.

Surf Life Saving lifeguards test out a rescue boat at Muriwai Beach, Auckland. Photo: RNZ / Kim Baker Wilson

Surf lifeguards patrolling a beach on the southwest coast of Auckland say they're being verbally abused while they try to keep swimmers safe.

The crowds had been swelling at Karioitahi beach since Christmas Day, but so had the abuse, said patrol captain Taylor Harvey.

In two separate instances on Saturday alone, his team warned swimmers they were in a dangerous spot - but were told to "f*** off", he said.

"[We were told] they know better, and that they'd been swimming there already, and that we don't know what we're talking about, pretty much."

But the spot was clearly risky - two separate groups later got into trouble there, and two people were taken to hospital, Harvey said.

"The first group was warned about where they were, and that it was dangerous, and that person was rescued and brought back to the clubhouse, and then taken away by an ambulance.

"After patrol, we also had another group jump in the exact same place.

"They were able to get themselves back to shore, but they were also very unwell, and one of them had to go to hospital as well."

The abuse was making lifeguards rethink their choice to volunteer and help the public, Harvey said.

"If you're getting this flak from just people that you're trying to keep safe, it's very hard to keep on coming back day after day, week after week."

And the Karioitahi club was already struggling for numbers, he said.

"It's quite a worrying thing that with the growing population we have, that we might not be able to keep up with that."

Harvey had a simple message for swimmers.

"When the flags are up, we want you guys in the water, if the flags are down, we want you to stay out.

"It's just the safest thing, if you want to go home to your families every day, you listen to the lifeguards and you do what we tell you to, pretty much."

While it was not uncommon for surf lifeguards at Kariaotahi beach to deal with verbal abuse, it was not a nationwide issue, Surf Life Saving New Zealand northern region general manager Zac Franich said.

"Most beachgoers really appreciate the hard work SLSNZ's 4500 volunteer surf lifeguards do. Every year they patrol over 90 beaches, from Northland to Southland, making sure everyone gets back home safely to their friends and whānau."

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