The Guardian of Hot Water Beach

Getting to know Gary Hinds

By Emma Darragh

Ninety five percent of visitors to Hot Water Beach are overseas tourists, many have never set foot on a beach.  Gary Hinds is head guard and chairman of the Hot Water Beach Surf Lifesaving Club, and has seen it all during his 10 year tenure.  

His daughter Taimania started as a junior in 2006, and Gary decided to join too.  After 20 years playing rugby, he wanted to utilise and maintain his fitness in a different way.  The only problem was, “I couldn’t swim the width of the pool, let alone a length.”

He needed to swim 16 lengths in under nine minutes to pass his test.  It took a while, but he got there.  His commitment to the club has grown with the youth he oversees.  Now several who started before him are senior guards and young adults.  There are currently 60 volunteer lifeguards who look after Hot Water Beach, Hahei and Cathedral Cove beaches.  This core group are the reason for Gary’s devotion to the club, despite bureaucratic challenges and the ongoing struggle to stretch resources to fund enough paid guards during summer.

Gary’s first aim for the club was to have locals guarding a local beach.  When he started, there was something of a ‘them and us’ mentality between guards and locals; the lifeguards were not from the area, not invested in the community.

“They’d just come in for the summer and leave again.”  

All Gary’s guards now live locally.  They all go to school together and the older ones teach the younger ones.  The club offers a robust and active range of surf lifesaving programmes, from nippers through to seniors, and Garry makes sure they mix and mingle.  When the teenagers leave the area to study, they realise their training has provided a strong foundation for future careers.  Two former guards are now studying medicine, three are studying nursing.

Stacey Semmens, an early childhood teacher from Whenuakite, has been a lifeguard with the club for more than ten years.  She explains what occurred when Gary came onboard.

“We got more younger guards and it became more like a family.  If it wasn’t for him, we wouldn’t have as many guards as we do.  He makes it fun.  He’s great communicator, down to earth and can relate to us.”

Gary attributes his leadership to coming into it at 38; an outsider to the surf lifesaving community.  He questioned things, because he was trying to learn as much as he could.  He respected and sought the knowledge of those around him, regardless of their age.  This engaged the young people, and gave them a sense of growing and learning alongside him.

As a third generation farmer, first milking 600 cows and now running dry stock, Garry has cultivated the consistency and drive needed to develop the club and keep it vital throughout the generations. He attributes his years playing rugby to his ability to stay ahead of the game, anticipating what’s going to happen when on patrol.  Hot Water Beach is always evolving; known for hazardous rips, and cannot be compared to other beaches in terms of potential risk to those who aren’t familiar with it.  His advice to young guards is to enjoy it, be relaxed and be ready.

“There’s a lot of freedom in lifeguarding,” says Gary.  To be of service to the community while wearing shorts, outside, and on the beach, appealed to him and it’s what appeals to the young people too. Hot Water Beach Surf Lifesaving Club require their lifeguards volunteer for 75 hours before they will be considered for paid duties.  This is a higher expectation than other clubs and one Gary believes benefits the club, the public and the lifeguards.  

“It gives them more experience, professionalism and responsibility.  They have to earn the opportunity to be one of the 12 paid guards during the summer. They know the beach and they look after the people on it. They respect and understand the water and protect their own environment.”  

In 2012 Gary Hinds won Lifeguard of the Year at the New Zealand Surf Life Saving Association Awards, after winning the Eastern Region's Lifeguard and Volunteer of the Year the same year.  He has been filmed on Piha Surf Rescue and is a known authority in the Surf Life Saving community.  Yet these accolades mean little to Gary compared to the pride he feels toward his lifeguards.  He genuinely cares for them and treats them like family, along with his partner Sandi, daughter Taimania and son Taingarunui, who are also involved in the club.  

This local bloke from Boat Harbour Road, who’s lived his whole life in the Coromandel, has created a thriving, world-serving surf lifesaving club that shows no signs of slowing down.  It’s a good thing too, because the tourists are coming in droves.  Because of that club, hundreds of Mercury Bay youth have developed a sense of purpose, responsibility and service to others.  And as for that ninety five percent of overseas visitors to Hot Water Beach?  They get to take home happy memories instead of tragic ones.  

We have Gary to thank for that.