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Need for speed has surf life savers hooked

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

Brie Downey and Emma Hildesley have a message for females considering the sport of IRB (inflatable rescue boat) racing.

Don’t be afraid, just get out there and do it.

Brie and Emma, both 20, are members of the Red Beach Surf Life Saving Club and say IRB racing is "harder than it looks", but it’s worth it.

The pair are the club’s first female crew in 10 years and have only competed in one event so far. But they are hooked and have three more events coming up in the next three months.

The first is the BP North Island IRB Championships being held at Paekakariki Beach on February 15 and 16.

It will feature 174 individual athletes, who will form 60 crews from 14 Surf Life Saving clubs throughout the North Island. Nineteen of those crews will be made up of the 72 females who have signed up for the event.

The two day weekend will be overseen by 40 volunteers and will feature 26 fast paced, action-packed races including single rescue, assembly rescue, mass rescue, tube rescue and team rescue categories.

IRB racing replicates the skills needed in real life rescues. The athletes taking part are all active surf lifeguards, who patrol for their clubs and are ready to save lives.

IRBs are used in training, to carry out preventative actions, and are used in about 80 per cent of rescues.

Brie has been a volunteer Surf Lifeguard for six years and says living near the beach and following in the footsteps of her older brothers led to her getting involved.

While she has competed in ski and board competitions in the past, she hadn’t given IRB racing much thought until her partner started taking part.

She said the fact the IRBs go so fast (yes, she is a bit of an adrenalin junkie) and that not many girls take part appealed to her.

"People think of engines and boats and think it’s only for males. Unfortunately it is a male dominated part of surf clubs, but hopefully we can show that girls can do this."

Brie, who qualified as an IRB driver just last season, says training for IRB racing involves practising with the boat, as well as personal weight and fitness training.

Her advice to females considering the sport, and those who have never given it a thought, is to give it a go.

She says going fast is "super fun" and "just because there is an engine don’t be afraid".

"I wish I got into it sooner."

When Brie and Emma compete Brie is the driver and Emma is the crew member.

Emma joined Surf Life Saving as a five-year-old, became a volunteer Surf Lifeguard at the age of 14 and qualified as an IRB driver at the age of 16, where she was the only female driver from her club on the course.

She says she’s always loved Surf Life Saving and had a passion for it.

"It’s made me the person I am today."

Emma says being an IRB driver is really fun, says loves the adrenalin rush and the speed.

"You get hooked on it."

During competitions Emma’s role as crew person involves her playing a larger part in getting the boat into the water, and pulling the "patient" into the IRB.

She says an important part of the role is also knowing your driver and "staying calm and steady so that the driver stays calm and steady".

Her advice for other females in Surf Life Saving is simple.

"IRBs can be daunting. But it’s about pushing past that fear to try something new. Don’t let the boys intimidate you. You can be just as good and just as strong."

Surf Life Saving New Zealand Sport Manager for the Central Region Richard Whinham says the number of women competing in IRB racing has increased over the past three years.

He says Wahine on Water played a part in last year’s increase. The programme started in 2019 and Richard believes it had an impact.

Wahine on Water was developed by four participants of the BP Leaders For Life programme after a survey revealed the general theme that females were intimidated by IRBs.

The programme pairs less experienced female lifeguards with experienced female IRB mentors. They take part in activities and drills such as reversing trailers, engine maintenance, patient pickups and patient care, as well as driving skills.

Richard expects the programme will continue to influence the number of females taking on the role of IRB driver while they are on patrol, and entering IRB competitions.

The BP North Island IRB Championships will include the trials for the NZ IRB Team, affectionately known as the Black Props. This is the first step in determining the male and female crews who will represent New Zealand at the 2020 Lifesaving World Championships to be held in Riccione, Italy in September.

Scott Bicknell is the BP North Island IRB Championships Event Manager and says New Zealand’s IRB drivers are well known for their racing skills, so the weekend will showcase some top technical abilities and be spectacular viewing.

The BP North Island IRB Championships are the first National IRB event for the year. Members of the public are welcome to attend from 9am on February 15 and 8am on February 16.

The BP South Island IRB Championships are scheduled for March 21 at Dunedin’s Waikouaiti Beach, followed by the National IRB Championships on April 4 and 5, Ruakaka Beach, Northland.

Clubs attending

Bethells Beach Surf Life Saving Patrol

East End Surf Life Saving Club

Kariaotahi Surf Life Saving Club

Mairangi Bay Surf Life Saving Club

New Plymouth Old Boys Surf Life Saving Club

Opunake Surf Life Saving Club

Paekakariki Surf Lifeguards

Pauanui Surf Life Saving Club

Piha Surf Life Saving Club

Red Beach Surf Life Saving Club

Sunset Beach Lifeguard Service

Waikanae Surf Life Saving Club

Waimarama Surf Life Saving Club

Westshore Surf Life Saving Club

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