Surf Life Saving New Zealand (SLSNZ) has today issued a statement in response to an incident that occurred at Tay Street in Mount Maunganui at approximately 3pm on Tuesday 17 January in which surf lifeguards were verbally abused by an unknown man.
In the incident, two surf lifeguards received verbal abuse by a man who has not been identified. The incident began when a female surf lifeguard noticed a man wave at her.
The man was standing at the water’s edge between the flags, and did not appear to be in any difficulty. The surf lifeguard scanned the water, figuring that he may have been referring to another swimmer, but she could not spot anyone who appeared to be in difficulty.
The man waved again and became agitated, pointing at someone ostensibly floating happily on their back behind the breakers and within the flagged area. The surf lifeguard had been monitoring this person, and figured this was the person the man was referring to. She determined to utilise a rescue board to paddle out and check on the welfare of the swimmer.
As she ran past the man in the shallows, the man began verbally abusing her.
Once the surf lifeguard reached the woman she indicated that she felt she may have swum out beyond a depth that was comfortable for her, and accepted an offer to be returned to shore on the rescue board.
Once the surf lifeguard had returned the woman to shore, the man continued his abuse. This brought the surf lifeguard to tears, and she returned to the Tay Street patrol tower.
The man followed the surf lifeguard to the tower, continuing to hurl foul language and verbal abuse at her. Once she reached the tower, another surf lifeguard intervened in an attempt to deescalate the situation. The man then turned his attention to this surf lifeguard, and grabbed him forcefully before passing members of the public intervened and pulled the man away.
At this point the man and the woman left.
Surf lifeguards have since spoken with Police, and the surf lifeguards involved are being offered support and have been provided with positive reinforcement.
SLSNZ Eastern Region Lifesaving Manager, Chaz Gibbons-Campbell says that no level of abuse is acceptable to surf lifeguards who are simply trying to perform their duty.
“Most of our surf lifeguards are volunteers, who give up their own time to keep our coastlines safe. Any level of abuse directed towards our surf lifeguards, whether they are paid guards or volunteers, is completely unacceptable,” he says. “We have zero tolerance for such behaviour.”
“We have considered the circumstances of this incident and determined that the surf lifeguard in question did absolutely nothing wrong. They were actively monitoring the flagged area, and there was no one who appeared to be in any difficulty as the woman was showing no signs of distress or fatigue.
“We want to remind the public that, if they do find themselves in difficulty in the water and surf lifeguards are around, the best thing they can do to signal for assistance is raise their arm and call for help. Surf lifeguards will respond immediately to someone signalling that they are in difficulty.”