Surf lifesaving: Courting success as lifesaver

By Peter White


Swapping a squash racquet and a potential international career, for a seat in a surf boat and patrolling Omanu Beach, is one of the more unusual changes for a young sportsman to make.

But that is what James Cooper has done and the 18-year-old has no regrets as he starts another voluntary shift ensuring the hundreds of nippers learning to swim are safe on a typically hot summer's morning at Omanu Beach.

Cooper has enjoyed plenty of success as a squash player, and last year he went to the World Squash Championships in Qatar as part of the Under-19 New Zealand team.

Before that he was preparing in Malaysia during the school holidays in his final year at Aquinas College, where he recorded a rare yoyo fitness test score of 22.7 - as close as you will get to completing the daunting shuttle runs that all athletes dread.

But a few months later he is patrolling the beach and part of the Omanu Under-19 surf boat crew with Fraser Kirk, James Martin and George Cortesi that won the second round of the national surf boat series in Whangamata last week.

So what caused this dramatic change in sporting lifestyle for Cooper?

"They had a crew last year from our school and two of them left to go overseas so they had two spots available and fortunately I got to fill one of them," he said.

"I have only been rowing a couple of months but it is going well. I am second bow in the boat, which is not at the back but one in, and I also run in to the finish line sometimes if our bow person falls out.

"Doing this with mates is fun and we are doing really well. We have another round coming up in the New Zealand boat series this weekend in Waihi. Hopefully we will get to win again because we missed the first one in Wellington, and took out the second one in Whangamata, so if we can finish on top we would be really happy leading into the nationals which are in March at Mount Maunganui."

To be eligible to compete in a surf boat Cooper and his teammates have to do voluntary surf patrols of 20 hours a week minimum, but he and the rest of the guards along the Bay of Plenty coast always put in extra hours to help out their clubs.

"I enjoy it, and love coming to the Omanu Club. It is not a hard task at all, but when you are competing it is nice to have that adrenalin flowing. I am a very competitive person," Cooper said.

"My dad gives me a bit of stick about wearing the Speedos but he is enjoying it because he had never seen surf boats before and he came to the Whangamata comp and said he loved it. He thought it was a pretty full on sport, pretty ruthless, and is keen for me to do whatever I want to do."

Cooper has not given up totally on playing squash but he is not sure if it will be competitively.

"I started playing squash when I was 13 and my dad Carl used to play, so from there I had a knack for it and I enjoyed it, so I thought I would give it a good go. Last year I got to the world championships in Qatar.

"I still have my last year in juniors this year but I am heading off to Auckland University so will have to see how that fits in with my studies."

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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