Labour weekend marked the start of the season for surf lifesaving clubs all over the country.

At Whangamata, the flags went out for the first time and even the wintry weather couldn't deter young holidaymakers. "We are in Whangamata and we were at a surf club and we were doing fun activities," Katie Hagen said.

Katie's one of about 60 other children learning about water safety as part of the Whangamata Surf Club's "Little Nippers" junior water skills programme.

The nippers programme is where 15-year-old Ben Goffin first took an interest in becoming a lifeguard ten years ago.


"You start off as a nipper, then you become a cadet, then you move onto rookies which is the last step before being a lifeguard," Ben says.

Ben officially became a lifeguard at 14 and says being a volunteer is rewarding, and a lot of fun.

"You meet a lot of people on the beach and they just thank you for it," he says.

But there's no question it's a big responsibility, making sure swimmers stay safe on our beaches.

Nineteen-year-old Max Jones is one of the Patrol Captains at the Whangamata Surf Club and says the Labour weekend opened the season with a few minor rescues, including helping two kayakers back to shore after they flipped their boat.

But it's not always easy. Jones says swimmers commonly overestimate their ability and underestimate the risk when heading out for a swim in the ocean.

"When swimmers get to the beach they think all is well and good and they can just hop in the water and know what they're doing. But a lot of people don't have that base level ability - whether it be fitness or swimming ability, and they do get themselves into trouble," Jones says.

He says people often assume if they can swim in a pool they can swim in the sea.

"It's just a totally different experience, with the rip current you've got a whole big volume of water moving out to sea very quickly and even the strongest swimmers struggle to swim against rips."

Educating the next generation about the risks and the rewards of the ocean can help give parents peace of mind and is the aim of the Nippers programme which is all about getting children around water.

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