Lifesaving: Bay's best set to make waves

By Peter White

The superior quality in coaching and young athletes coming through the ranks at Bay of Plenty surf life saving clubs is clearly evident in the makeup of the New Zealand under-20 team which is to contest the 2012 Lifesaving World Championships (Rescue 2012) in Adelaide early next month.

Natalie Peat, Ben Johnstone (Papamoa), Karina Radley, Sam Shergold (Mt Maunganui) and Dannielle O'Connor (Omanu) are all in the 12-strong New Zealand team set to contest the inaugural title at under-20 level.

There would have been one more but for a stress fracture injury leaving Papamoa's champion beach sprinter Kodi Harman on the sidelines for 12 weeks.

Rescue 2012 is held every two years and attracts entrants from 40 countries.

New Zealand has won the event only once in 1998 but over the last three biannual events have continued to close the gap with the world champion Australians and were close to knocking them off two years ago.

For Papamoa club members Peat and Johnstone training for next month's world event has taken over most of their free time outside of their school studies.

They have worked under their highly regarded coach Kurt Wilson, who is also assistant coach for the New Zealand under-20 team, since they were 10-year-old nippers in his programme.

Johnstone at 16 is the youngest in the New Zealand team but the Mount College Year 11 student is confident. "It's wicked,especially to be my age and going to the world champs as most of the others will be pushing 18 or 19.

"I am doing quite a few swim races, most of the manikin stuff, and I am doing ironman on the beach which is one of my favourite and strongest events.

"I guess training is the key for my success. We train 14 times a week most of the year and I guess that just brings it all together." Johnston has dreams of joining the professional Ironman circuit based in Australia and would one day like to emulate his inspiration Zane Holmes, the only man in history to win all major ironman titles.

"It is something I would like to do and is kind of the career I want to take, and I also want to be a coach as well, so if that gets me to Aussie then that's great."

Peat is no stranger to international competition, representing two New Zealand under-23 teams last year, but the 18-year-old from Te Puke College rates the Rescue 2012 as easily the pinnacle of her career so far.

"This is massive and is such a great opportunity as it is the first year they have had the under-20 division, which is really exciting," she said.

"I am a crossover athlete so I pretty much have to do everything.

"Swimming is definitely a strength of mine and has been since I was a little kid and that is how I got into surf."

The New Zealand under-20 team is not going over to Adelaide to get experience or be competitive. Peat says there is only one objective.

"We want to win the worlds as a team and it is definitely realistic. That is why we are going."

When Peat and Johnstone are not training, they give up what's left of their free time every day after school to help coach the next generation of Papamoa surf lifesavers.

It is not common for elite teenage athletes to give back so readily to their sport but surf lifesaving must be one of the least selfish sports imaginable. The skills they show at carnivals like Rescue 2012 are the same skills they use to save lives at the beach over the summer.

"We love coaching the kids and that's why we do the whole sport," Johnstone said. "It is our environment we like to be in, our happy zone, and definitely that thing of giving back is a big part of it.

"We learn the skills and then we want to be able to pass them down."

Peat says what she loves most about the sport is the combination of competing and life guard work.

"Most weekends in summer we are down there helping out the community, because they support us so much with funding and stuff, so it is really good to be able to give back. That is why it is such an awesome sport."

The second round of the surf life saving spring carnival takes place at the main Mount Maunganui beach on Saturday from 9.30am to 11.30am. New Zealand under-20 reps Natalie Peat, Sam Johnstone, Karina Radley and Sam Shergold will be competing.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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