Piha rescue - 4 years of filming at New Zealand's busiest beach

TitlePiha rescue - 4 years of filming at New Zealand's busiest beach
Publication TypeConference Paper
Year of Publication2007
AuthorsSullivan, B
Conference NameWorld Conference on Drowning Prevention
Date Published09/2007
PublisherInternational Life Saving Federation
Conference LocationPorto, Portugal
Other Numbers01-03

­Piha is a high impact, dissipative beach with waves averaging in excess of two (2) metres. The beach faces ‘west south west’, exposing it to the full force of the prevailing wind and swell, generated in the Antarctic Roaring 40’s.

The wave size combines with the fine volcanic sand to produce a low to moderate gradient beach with inner and outetr bars, separated by a deep trough. Strong lateral currents feed into permanent rips on either headland.

Piha is one (1) hour from central Auckland and beach visitation numbers can swell to 5000+ people in summer.

‘Piha Rescue is a high rating and hugely popular reality television programme in New Zealand. It portrays the efforts of both volunteer and professional Surf Lifeguards as they patrol the countries busiest and most high profile beach. When airing, the show rates consistently in the top ten (10) programmes nationally and has extremely high audience share results.

In four (4) years of filming, the Piha Surf Life Saving Club has saved over 900 lives, conducted over 450 first aids and searched for over 75 missing persons. The Piha Rescue crew has captured all of this activity on film.

This visual presentation will provide a snapshot of future resource and research opportunities now available, including (but not limited to):

Witnessed Drowning Process

Piha Rescue filming has captured evidence of a number of people at varying stages of the drowning continuum in a high impact surf environment. In addition to the research and analysis potential, this footage presents an opportunity to create a modern and relevant tool to aid drowning recognition and prevention.

Lifeguard Effectiveness and Competencies

Piha Rescue filming has captured evidence of how lifeguarding actually saves lives. Interesting comparisons between volunteer and professional lifeguarding, lifeguard response times, scanning, fitness/skill levels, patient care and real life resuscitation are areas of potential study.

Public Beach Behaviour

Piha Rescue filming has captured the behaviour and opinions of many beach users. This highlights the huge scope of service and responsibility placed on lifeguards. Multiple cameras enabled the crew to conduct interviews and get comment from many patients, post rescue.

In addition, this presentation will highlight the important role Piha Rescue plays in educating the beach going public in New Zealand.

The continued success of Piha Rescue and its domination in a competitive television time slot has significantly broadened the reach of SLSNZ public education initiatives. These initiatives are driven by a strategy that aims to ‘increase knowledge through quality public education and awareness’. It achieves this by attempting to:

  1. Reach more potential beach users
  2. Establish an understanding of risk and the role of Surf Lifeguards
  3. Highlight need for change of behaviour
  4. Entrench links to water safety programmes
  5. Ensure flexibility and effectiveness of education resources

The SLSNZ public education strategy consists of two (2) layers:

  1. Direct to users
    Traditional resource based education components targeting a variety of audiences
    Pro-active Surf Life Saving Patrols, walking the talk
  1. Indirect through Marketing and Media
    Promoting awareness and the role of Surf Life Saving to the lives of New Zealanders

The non-traditional form of messaging utilised in Piha Rescue sits firmly in the indirect layer. To deliver a message that will have an influence, the messenger must be credible, respected and recognised as an expert in the field. Building respect for Surf Lifeguards will ultimately increase the reach of the message.

This approach enables media to be utilised to link action - ‘safe swimming behaviour’ - with emotion – the consequences of unsafe behaviour in beach environment. It also highlights that everyday people get into difficulty in the water. This is reinforced through well constructed clips and messages played to the public as the show rolls out to an advertisement break.

Learning Outcomes
  1. Realise the research and resource opportunities associated with four (4) years of continuous filming at a busy surf beach.
  2. Understand what can be achieved through non-traditional forms of messaging.
  3. Recognise the benefits and potential of forming postive and proactive relationships with television media.
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