Senior Lifeguard George Sims at Riversdale Beach. PHOTO/ELISA VORSTER


While people are cooling off in the water at Riversdale Beach each summer, Junior club surf lifesaving Captain George Sims is patrolling the area to keep them all safe.

Mr Sims had been coming to Riversdale Beach since he was a kid where he started out in the Nippers programme and worked his way up to senior lifeguard.

“I got involved with the surf club when I was a kid and was given a manual and a workbook and I would come down each day to work on it.”

At the age of 14, he passed his lifeguard exam which included a series of physical tests and a theory test.

The first part of the physical test entailed swimming 400 metres in a pool in under nine minutes.

The next part was at the beach where he had to run 200 metres followed by a 200 metre swim and then repeat.

He then had to demonstrate a tow and release in which another lifeguard acted as an unconscious patient at the beach and he had to swim out to them to physically tow them back to shore using only fins and a tube.

After he had done all this, he was able to become a volunteer lifeguard.

“Once you sit your exam, you keep doing more training and upskilling. You can only get better from there.”

Now in his seventh year as a lifeguard at Riversdale, Mr Sims knew the beach like the back of his hand.

Yesterday was a typical day for him – at 7.30am, he led the group of lifeguards in a training session, where they usually go for a swim or practice some drills together.

Then at 9am, Mr Sims set up the flags ready for the day’s patrol.

This was arguably the most important part of his day, as the flags directed swimmers to the area of the sea safest to swim in, which is overseen by the lifeguards.

Due to the high winds yesterday, the waves looked strong enough to challenge even the most skilled swimmer and it was impossible to the untrained eye to spot a rip.

“On a day like this it’s not very safe to swim so we put the flags up in an area where we can keep an eye on people.”

Even on a cold morning like yesterday, Mr Sims was kept busy as the Nippers programme still went ahead.

The kids were taught about water safety and bravely ran into the freezing cold water under his supervision.

“We try to prevent things before they happen. A lot of incidents are outside of the flags where we can’t see. We do a lot of talking to people and warning them about what’s out there.”

Mr Sims had recently completed a Bachelor of Science majoring in geography at University of Canterbury but said he kept coming back to surf life saving because he enjoyed it so much.

“It’s a cool place to work – there are lots of different people and there is always something different.”

He said if he could get one important message out to people it would be to listen to the advice of the lifeguards and to swim between the flags.

“If people are unsure of where to swim, just come and talk to the lifegaurds – we’re here to help.”