My happy place is Bethells Beach. You can get away from it all - get away from working and from the pressures of life. I'm from Britain and you had to be really brave to go into the water there - even in summer it's freezing. Swimming is something you just don't do.

When I moved to New Zealand, I had no idea what to expect from the west coast beaches. I had no idea even what a rip was. Muriwai was the first big beach I went to. I swam as far as I could out the back and was told off by the lifeguards for being stupid.

In 2005 my wife, Marie, and I turned up to the Bethells Beach Surf Lifesaving Club with our son, Phil. I wanted to make sure he and my daughter, Emma, were really aware of the dangers of surf. I hadn't been to Bethells before and I was blown away. The scenery was fantastic and the club was really friendly.

I started doing parent help with the juniors, picking up on what the kids were being taught, and I'm now president. I've seen a lot of the lifeguards come through, from 7 and 8-year-olds to doing para-medicine and leading patrols. Seeing that is really satisfying. I don't know any other organisation where you can have 17, 18 and 19-year-olds doing work like this - doing major rescues, running patrols, recovering bodies, leading courses and influencing younger people.


My son was 15 when he carried out CPR on a fisherman. He was at the beach teaching a group of kids when a fishing boat turned over. The guy had stopped breathing, and Phil brought him back.

One day last summer we did four rescues in 90 minutes, just after we'd packed up the patrol - a stroke victim, two near-drownings and a guy found face-down in the water. We were all tired after a day's patrolling but when you're doing that sort of thing it doesn't matter - the adrenalin kicks in.

Of the nine crew members involved, five were under 19. That's what amazes me - everyone does their bit, no matter how young they are. They're great kids to work with - no whinging, no moaning, just straight into it. Surf lifesaving breeds a certain kind of character.

At Bethells, you never know what might happen next. You can be thrown instantly into a major rescue or, when you're off duty, you can really get away from everything and go off and find your own place. You can't get bored with the scenery. I just love the ruggedness and the wildness of it.

- as told to Bronwyn Sell