A decade on, Bondi Rescue celebrates the changing of the guards
A QUIET unease washes over rookie Bondi Beach lifeguard Jethro James when he recalls the moment he plucked a drowning five-year-old boy from the surf last summer.
The 20-year-old had signed on as a trainee surf lifesaver at the famous stretch of Sydney sand just months earlier and came across the struggling child almost by accident.
“Luckily, I was sitting right in front of that spot of water,” James says. “He was there one second, then he was in a lot of trouble. I saw him struggling … so I just ran in.
“He was in a really bad way. The water was only up to my chest, but for him … he was gone. I grabbed him and rushed him in. He was so defenceless.”
The rescue has stuck with the young lifeguard, who has been supported through the lingering effects by older colleagues who have seen it all over the years.
“We’re all pretty close down here,” fellow-lifeguard Trent “Maxi” Maxwell says.
“Jethro and I hang out a bit. He’s a good lifeguard and a really good kid, and I’ve taken him under my wing a bit, both on the job and outside of work, too.”
Maxi is one of several stars of Bondi Rescue, which is now in its 10th season and has been broadcast in almost 100 countries.
Starting work at 16, during the show’s second season, Maxi has grown up on screen.
Fame, parties, perks, a Cleo Bachelor of the Year win and countless opportunities to capitalise on his TV notoriety have followed. But that’s all secondary to the real stuff.
“That’s all fine, but I like helping people going through a rough time … and encouraging others to get involved,” he says. “Whether it’s mental health awareness or cancer charities … that’s what I like doing.”
As well as his family, who make sure the communityminded 24-year-old doesn’t get a big head, Maxi has been mentored by Bondi veteran Bruce “Hoppo” Hopkins.
“I started here in September 1991 and young Maxi was born at that exact same time,” Hoppo laughs.
“He bags me about that all the time. That makes me feel old.”
It takes a certain quality to be one of the elite few chosen to patrol the world’s busiest beach, he says, adding not too many hopefuls have what it takes.
“There’s a physical aspect to it, obviously, but a lot of it is intuition and common sense,” Hoppo says.
“If they’ve got that, this is a dream. Most of the kids who join as trainees have grown up on the beach, they surf, they love being here.”
One of the original Bondi cast, Hoppo is surprised by the show’s longevity.
“I thought we might get a year or two, but here we are. It’s become this kind of iconic Aussie show, which is amazing,” he says.
With that longevity comes celebrity – Hoppo is regularly stopped by fans in the street, not just in Australia but also during holidays in London and Dubai. The other side of that is tabloid attention – last year a rough patch in his relationship was splashed across websites magazines.
“As I tell the younger guys, we’re putting ourselves out there,” he says. “We can turn around at any time and say we don’t want to do the show anymore. You just take the good with the bad.”
And after that public bit of bad, Hoppo got to celebrate some good earlier this year with his wedding to longtime partner Stacey Woods.
Their happy day – which he described as “just perfect” – was, of course, captured by cameras for the show.
SUNDAY, 6.30PM, TEN
Up to the task: BondiRescue stars Jethro James, Trent Maxwell and Bruce Hopkins.