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It was a successful trip for a group of dedicated NSW surf lifesavers who have recently returned from a five-day trip across the Tasman as part of the annual Lifesaving Exchange Program with some of New Zealand’s finest lifeguards.

The trip was an opportunity is for volunteer surf lifesavers to experience patrolling in a totally different environment and also to share skills and knowledge that both parties could use into the future.

Nineteen-year old Matthew Calbert (Ocean Beach SLSC), and twenty-one-old Sarah Bugbird (Merewether SLSC) were selected as the representatives for the New Zealand tour.

The two young lifesavers were selected after participating in the City/Country Exchange Program in January and were excited to learn new skills and experiences from their Kiwi Counterparts, while Nixy Krite and Anthony Turner were selected to further their skills as facilitators.

SLSNSW caught up with the group to discuss their experiences in Surf Life Saving and what lessons they learned from their time in New Zealand.

How long have you been involved in surf life saving, and what do you most enjoy about it?

Matt Calbert (MC)

I have been involved in Surf Life Saving since joining nippers as an under 6, so a total of 14 years so far. I enjoy every single aspect of Surf Life Saving! In my 14 years I have been fortunate enough to be a part of multiple different aspects of surf from a club, branch and state level and always love the passion and happiness everyone has towards the movement.

Sarah Bugbird (SB)

I have been involved in Surf Life Saving for the past 14 years, since joining as a nipper. I have been an active patrolling member for 8 seasons, gaining my Surf Rescue Certificate at 13 years of age.

My enjoyment and passion for Surf Life Saving stems from my love of the surf and coastline, the strong sense of community involvement, the opportunity to promote surf safety awareness to the community and the opportunity to make lifelong friendships within the movement.

Anthony Turner (AT)

I have been involved in Surf Life Saving for 29 years. I enjoy the comradery, lifetime friends made and giving back to the community. I find it very rewarding facilitating Lifesaving Exchange Programs and mentoring future leaders and patrol members.

Nixy Krite (NK)

I have been involved with Surf Life Saving since my kids were little, and five years ago I made the decision to get my Bronze and become an active patrolling member. What I enjoy most about life saving is the comradery, the spirit of friendship and community, as well as our key responsibility which is keeping our beaches safe for all to enjoy.

What positions do you hold at Club or Branch level?


In my club I am a vice patrol captain and the first aid officer.


Within Merewether SLSC, I hold my Patrol Captain Qualifications, am a training officer and assessor on the Education Team and am the Under 13 Junior Activities Age Manager. Within the Hunter Branch I am a development camp facilitator and Community education instructor.


I am a current Duty Officer for Surf Life Saving Illawarra as well as a member of the Support Operations (RWC) at Branch level.


I am a passionate patrolling member, trainer and relief patrol captain at South Maroubra as well as serving with the Offshore Rescue Boat team as a crewman and trainee mentor.

What was the highlight of your time in New Zealand?


The whole trip was an unforgettable trip that by far exceeded my expectations! But the lifeguard school was the ultimate highlight. I gained so many new and valuable skills from the rock entry and exits, cave work, rock jumps, rock rescues, setting up helicopter landing zones and the night search. All the New Zealand Northern Region Senior Lifeguards and candidates were so welcoming and were so professional in showing us their techniques.


The 2017 New Zealand exchange program was a once in a lifetime opportunity that allowed me to learn and develop my skills in Surf Lifesaving alongside likeminded individuals who share my passion for the Surf Lifesaving movement.

The highlight of the New Zealand Exchange program for me was completing the two day ‘Intermediate Guard School’ at Bethell’s Beach. As a group, we learned techniques around rock entries, exits and rescues, cave exploration as well as Search and Rescue night operations.

Another highlight was discussing a variety of Surf Lifesaving topics and sharing our own experiences with other young surf lifesavers. This, for me, highlighted the similarities and differences between Surf Lifesaving operations in New Zealand and Australia and provided me with and international perspective of Surf Lifesaving to share with my branch and club.


To pin point one highlight would be hard.

Day 1: Muriwai beach and working alongside the Northern Region Lifeguards:

We were involved in numerous activities which included swimming into multiple caves and working around rock platforms with techniques on entries/exits around swells and rocks. Other water scenarios included rescue techniques around caves and rock platforms using swim fins and rescue tubes.

We also trained in jumping from 12 metre heights into the water safely. An IRB was also used in this scenario for rescue work.

Day 2 & 3: The Bethells Intermediate Surf Lifeguard School on the west coast: Activities included walking/swimming in multiple caves entries/exits techniques. Low to dark locations at times.

Rock platform rescue techniques on entries and exits using swim fins and rescue tubes. Night land search and rescue. Members using their search and rescue techniques and communication skills during this operation.


There were so many highlights that we experienced in New Zealand which included everything from rock access and cave work to the amazing New Zealand Lifeguards that we were able to network with and learn from.

But my personal highlight was my first cave experience because it pushed everyone’s boundaries and opened up a whole new skill set for me.

Are there any insights you can take back to your clubs that you feel will improve you as a patrolling member?


In New Zealand I learnt so many new and valuable skills but one thing in particular I will bring back to my club will be the teamwork. The Northern Region Lifeguards worked so effectively as a team in both the rock and cave work and the night search, which resulted in clear communication and positive outcomes! This is something that I really took away and can use at my club to effectively execute tasks.


The New Zealand exchange program highlighted the importance of continued training and skill development on effective patrolling practice. I would like to pass on my newfound knowledge and skills to fellow club members regarding rock rescues and effective search and rescue techniques.

I am also eager to promote within my club the importance of increasing your surf knowledge, broadening your skills set and working as a team in a patrol situation.


Highlights would definitely include broadening members skills on their rescue techniques around rock platforms and safe techniques on rescuing people around rocks.

I would like to encourage members to continue to upskill themselves on higher award levels and continue to maintain a good fitness level.


No matter what beach or country we are in we are all there for the same reason “saving lives.”

Having the opportunity to go to different beaches in different countries or just the beach next door to your own helps develop new skills and broadens your network within Surf Life Saving.

It helps you learn about different environments, coastlines, challenges and skills that other Surf Lifesavers and Lifeguards have to work with on their beach.

I now get to take these new skills to my beach and implement and share new ideas and skills with other lifesavers within the club.

Reflecting on your time on the exchange program in Australia what were your best experiences?


The 2017 SLSNSW city to country exchange was a fantastic opportunity to explore new beaches and support operations with new friends that share the same passion as me for Surf Life Saving. It was a once in a life time opportunity that allowed me to learn new skills and meet new people through extraordinary activities such as the Westpac helicopter, the Ballina Jetboat, multiple patrols, jet ski rides, archery, kayaking and much more.

There were so many highlights but my number one highlight was getting to see the Westpac helicopter in person and hear from the crew, sharing to us their knowledge and experiences. I have always been fascinated by the Westpac helicopter and this was defiantly a highlight.


Participating in the ‘Country to City Exchange program’, was a fantastic opportunity in regards to meeting new people, gaining valuable Surf Lifesaving experience and seeing how the operations of Surf Lifesaving in NSW work on a larger scale.

Some of my personal highlights from the exchange were patrolling both a different beach and within a different branch and learning about SLS operations in other areas. The opportunity to apply previously learned knowledge and skills into a real life situation, including Search and Rescue on the Surf Rescue 30 Offshore Rescue Boat was another.


Patrolling at other areas including Byron Bay and Ballina/Lighthouse beach showed how the clubs had larger areas to cover and respond to emergencies during callout situations. New technology including the use of Drones and Little Ripper patrolling at above locations gave an insight to the new technology that is available to surf lifesavers.


Without a doubt the amazing Lifesavers I get to meet, guide, mentor and learn from. Being a facilitator for SLSNSW has given me the ability to connect with so many different people at all different stages of their lifesaving journey and all of them are welcoming and let you into their lives and clubs.

Everyone has something to share and our Surf Life Saving movement is of full of amazing members willing to help anyone who want help on their own pathway.

My door is always open to help any aspiring lifesaver and I am so pleased I get the chance to share my passion and skills.

What are your goals and ambitions within the lifesaving movement?


I am so passionate about Surf Life Saving and want to keep moving forward in the movement. Future goals include obtaining my RWC operators certificate, becoming a duty officer, becoming a drone operator, getting involved with Surf Rescue 30 and keep on enjoying every bit of it


Within the Surf Lifesaving movement I hope to continue my roles as Patrol Captain, Trainer, Assessor and Junior Age Manager and use these platforms as a means of educating and ‘up-skilling’ other Surf Lifesavers.

In addition, I would like to be involved in initiatives that assist with member retention, with particular emphasis on youth involvement and motivation as well as the ongoing education and skills maintenance of members. Following the New Zealand exchange program I would like to pass onto members the valuable skills I have learnt.


I would like to continue to facilitate and mentor future lifesaving members with programs such as the Lifesaving Exchange Programs and continue to promote a safer beach and aquatic environment for the community.

I’d also like to encourage the importance of being a Duty Officer & Support Operator to members and to continue to upskill their awards & training.


My goal for this season was to train hard to be able to be a facilitator for the New Zealand Exchange and I am over the moon that I have finally achieved that goal.

Ultimately I want to be the best lifesaver I can in all aspects of the movement and to keep sharing, mentoring and learning from all the amazing people I get to meet.

My top tip that I would like to share to anyone regardless of what stage of the journey you are on is to take each opportunity and embrace it as personal life saving goals help mould the movement.

Any Further comments you would like to make?


I just want to say an absolutely huge thankyou to Surf Life Saving New South Wales and Surf Life Saving Northern Region for the incredible opportunity and most of all want to thank Anthony, Nixy and Sarah in which I got to experience it all with.


Both the Country to City/City to Country and New Zealand Lifesaving exchange programs are highly beneficial and have increased my Surf Life Saving knowledge and contributed to important skills development. It was a wonderful opportunity that I would highly recommend to future participants and I believe the experience has given me more motivation to remain involved in Surf Lifesaving.

Thank you Surf Lifesaving NSW for making this once in a lifetime opportunity possible.


I would not hesitate to recommend programs such as the Lifesaving Exchange Program to all future lifesavers that would like to broaden their skills & knowledge with Surf Life Saving.


The New Zealand exchange was a physically and mentally challenging program and I am so thankful I had amazing people around me to experience it with.

Sarah, Matt and Anthony are now lifetime friends.

They were amazing and their Clubs, State and the whole movement should be super proud of how they conducted themselves and represented SLSNSW.

We made lifetime memories and learned so much from each other and the people we were surrounded by across those 4 days.