The railways and surf lifesaving don't normally have much to do with each other. In fact they're pretty much mutually exclusive. But to talk of the history of the Paekakariki Surf Lifeguards, one has to look at the Paekākāriki township as a whole. Rosalie Willis looks into the history of the award-winning club and how it all began.
Very much a railway town, the origins of the Paekākāriki Railway Station date back to 1886 with the town becoming one of the busiest stations outside the main urban centres, with Paekākāriki and nearby Queen Elizabeth Park a popular destination for weekend trips.
Centred around the railway, the community was soon home to the Railways Rugby Club, Railways Cricket Club and the Railways Social Hall with the surf club established in 1913.
It all started in the aftermath of the drowning of railway worker Walter Pengelly on February 18, 1913.
Three New Zealand Railways employees were fishing off the coast of Paekākāriki but when returning to shore their small boat capsized in a heavy swell.
Pengelly, the stronger of the swimmers gave up his place and attempted to swim back to shore while fellow railway workers formed a rescue party from the shore.
In a feat of heroism and great stamina railway worker John Sanderson swam to the upturned boat and one at a time returned with the two men, however Pengelly did not make it, with his body washing ashore two days later.
Following his death fellow railway employees rallied and decided unanimously at a meeting on March 2 to form a surf club.
Thus, what is now known as the Paekākāriki Surf Lifeguards was established.
Paekākāriki Railway Station - heart of the community
From then until now money and membership have been the constant Achilles' heel of the club, however great results at competition and a community spirit has kept the fire alive.
"Paekākāriki Surf Lifeguards is a family orientated club," said life member Dale Wills.
"It's iconic. It's part of the makeup of this community. It's been around since 1913 - not much else has been around that long, not even the tennis club, and it's still going strong."
In 1921 the club entered their first competition of sorts, competing as a team at the Ōtaki Carnival.
During wartime members began joining the New Zealand Armed Forces until it became a club only in name, with so many active members serving in the armed forces.
However, history was made with the first women's team formed and all members gaining their Royal Life Saving bronze medallion in 1942.
The start of the 1950s was hard for the club with a lack of members after the war.
Nonetheless it quickly regrouped and took out its first national title in 1955 at the Waihi National Championships in the canoe race.
The 1970s were the golden years for the club at competitions with many national titles won and women competing for the first time during the 1970/71 season.
Growing in number and confidence, it was at the 1974 AGM that the concept of Paekākāriki seeking allocation for hosting of a national championship was canvassed.
With an informal vote 33-0 in favour of hosting, the preparations began with the support of the whole community.
Excited about being part of hosting one of the biggest sporting events in Kāpiti, groups and individuals from all around Kāpiti were involved including Paekākāriki School, Pukerua Bay/Paekākāriki Lions Club and the Kapiti Borough Council.
Pressure was also on the club to perform well, with members training hard.
It was the women who came out on top, taking out gold in the Women's 6 Place R & R, Women's 4 Place R & R and Women's Beltman along with a silver in the Junior Taplin Relay.
"There's been periods where we've been successful competition-wise but competition stuff is a means to an end really," Dale said.
"It's to keep the interest, to keep the skills up.
"It's there to help develop your skills so that when there's someone out there that needs help, you can go out and rescue them on your surf ski or IRB.
"It's all about honing those skills in training."
Paekākāriki hosted another national championship in 1983, the same year its patrol operation was changed for good with the introduction of an Inflatable Rescue Boat (IRB).
Introduced by Bill Cheesman who had undertaken IRB training in 1982, Bill believed this was the ideal solution to 'mobility problems' the club faced with its long beach to patrol.
Getting some protection from Kāpiti Island, a north-westerly can bring up dangerous surf across the whole beach bringing with it undertows that can cause havoc.
"We're primarily here to provide a service, to make sure we've got a safe beach," Dale said.
"We have a few rescues a year and are here to provide a service to the community."
Celebrating its centenary in 2013 the club has been a nursery for developing young talent, the most recent of which are New Zealand kayakers Kayla and Kurtis Imrie.
"We're not just concentrated on Paekākāriki, we've got a wide membership based all around the coast.
"There's lots of history, there's dynasties and third generation families that all make the club what it is."
With the clubhouse in the coastal erosion zone, the club is in the process of creating plans for a new club house, working with Greater Wellington Regional Council to create plans for the new building to be behind the current one, further back from the beach.
The club has also received many awards with this year's success recognised at the recent Capital Coast Surf Life Saving Awards of Excellence.
Awards included the prestigious volunteer of the year award which went to the clubs director of lifeguarding Amy Spiekerman along with a host of other awards.
The club's Ben Strombom also took out U19 Lifeguard of the Year and Teri Anderson was awarded Surf Official of the Year and a distinguished service award.
Amy also received a service award, and life membership awards were given to Ben Flynn and Matt Warren with the club winning club of the year.