Former dual rugby league international Mark Bourneville will find himself in an unfamiliar position at the World Masters Games in April. He will be rowing rather than sweeping.

Bourneville, aged 53, has won a record 21 New Zealand surf boat titles as the sweeper for Piha Surf Life Saving Club crews.

But in reuniting with his old team-mates for the Games in Auckland, Bourneville has to use his age and "jump back into the boat" to make the 180-plus category after combining the years.

He is linking up with Craig Knox, Bruce O'Brien and Andy Lamont, with his brother Chris Lamont returning from overseas and sweeping in the surf boat races at Takapuna Beach. The sweeper stands at the back and steers the boat, while making rowing calls.


"There are a lot of Piha years packed into that boat," says Bourneville. "I'm in the seat pulling the oar at the Masters.

"It's a bit annoying, as I'd do a far better job at sweeping. I like being the talker, rather than the listener and doer."

It's all in a jocular manner and the Piha crew will be going all out to win a medal in the 180-199 category at the Games.

"We will be getting out on the water and doing rows - at Takapuna, Westhaven and Piha, when the waves are suitable. Craig and Bruce have taken up cycling to be fit.

"We know what we need to do. We are not doing the Games for the hell of it - we want to be winners again," says Bourneville.

He was the sweeper with Knox and O'Brien, when they won national surf boat titles in 2010 and 2011.

"I got them a couple of titles and they walked off into the sunset. Chris [Lamont] has been overseas for 12-13 years and I took over the sweeping role at Piha when he disappeared," says Bourneville.

Sweep Mark Bourneville leads the Piha A crew in the men's open section at the 2014 Whangamata Surf Boat Spectacular. Photo/Christine Cornege
Sweep Mark Bourneville leads the Piha A crew in the men's open section at the 2014 Whangamata Surf Boat Spectacular. Photo/Christine Cornege

Bourneville, Knox and O'Brien were together when they won the world surf rowing championships in Biarritz, France, in 2008 and the Masters 140 title in Adelaide in 2012.

Bourneville, father of four and living in Oratia, has remained super competitive. He helped Piha become the first club to win five surf boat gold medals at the national championships in 2013 and a year later, Piha A became the first crew to win eight New Zealand men's open titles in five successive years.

With Bourneville sweeping, the records didn't stop there. In 2014, the Piha under-23 men's crew with twin sons Ludovik and Cedric aboard, became the first to win five national titles in that division. The same year, Piha became the first club to win four of the six divisional national surf boat series titles - men's and women's open, under-23 men and under-19 women.

Bourneville is competing at the national surf lifesaving championships in Christchurch in mid-March and wanting "to pick up another handful of titles". His family will be alongside him - Ludovik and Cedric are in the men's teams, and daughter Audrey is rowing in the women's under-23 crew.

"Audrey is the only one who hasn't won a national title. I'm training quite hard and I want to do it for her this year," says Bourneville, who retired from rugby league in 1994.

Bourneville was a hard-running, no-nonsense winger for the Mt Albert Lions - winning the Fox Memorial Shield five times in six years under coach Mike McClennan - and he was selected for Auckland and the New Zealand Kiwis in 1985-86.

He toured England and France in 1985, playing 13 games and meeting wife Nathalie in Paris. He would have toured Australia and Papua New Guinea in 1986, but "popped a knee cartilage" just before the team left.

He had had brief spells with Leigh, Swinton and St Helens in England, and in 1989, he decided to play in France and "learn more about the French culture". After one season with Villeneuve, Bourneville joined AS Saint Esteve, winning five premiership and Challenge Cup titles.

Through his great-grandfather and wife, Bourneville gained French national status and was selected to play against the Kiwis in 1993. He became the only dual international rugby league player for New Zealand and France.

Sadly, Bourneville broke his arm, not for the first time, in that test match at Carcassonne. It was déjà vu.

He was selected for the French tour of Australia and Fiji in 1994, and had returned playing for Saint Esteve.

He got the call about his selection in the morning and in the afternoon re-broke his arm. It was his last game of rugby league. "I was 31 and called it a day."

Throughout his playing career, Bourneville had 16 general anaesthetic leg operations, broke his arm four times and still wears a plate in his jaw that was broken during a premier match in England.

A born-and-bred "Westie", Bourneville returned to Auckland and his beloved Piha Beach in 1994.

"I rowed for Piha in the early 1980s and always liked the surf boats, but my summers were taken up with [rugby league] contracts in Europe.

"Now I had the time to teach the kids to understand the beach and its rips."