Surf life­savers mark 50 years of nip­pers

Bay News - - NEWS - By Jamie Troughton

Stephen Burn vividly re­mem­bers com­ing off Moun­tMaun­ganui’s Main Beach as a frozen 5-year-old nip­per, blue lips and shak­ing, and be­ing treated to a de­li­ciously hot, sug­ary cup of tea, dis­pensed in a gi­ant ce­ramic teapot.

Ch­eryl Leuthart (nee Law­son), mean­while, used to drag her feet on the way to nip­pers on a Sun­day, hop­ing to avoid the soft-sand warm-up run down to the toi­let block and back.

The pair­were able to rem­i­nisce over the week­end, as the Mount Maun­ganui Life­guard Ser­vice cel­e­brated 50 years of run­ning a nip­pers pro­gramme.

Burn was in the very first in­take in 1968, while Leuthart joined up as an 11-year-old in 1975, the year girls were al­lowed in.

Amid the cel­e­bra­tory cake, the may­oral ad­dress, the cer­e­mo­nial march­past and the ca­cophony of this year’s nip­pers in­take en­gag­ing in games, there was also a bit of irony.

Tea-lov­ing Burn, it turns out, now owns a cof­fee busi­ness on Wai­heke Is­land with wife Jane, while run-loathing Leuthart has turned into a trail-gal­lop­ing guru.

Now liv­ing in New Ply­mouth, she co­in­cided her trip back to the Mount with awin in the Tani­wha half marathon along the Waikato River Trails on Satur­day.

“Lit­tle did I know I’d ac­tu­ally grow to quite like run­ning!” she laughed.

“Be­ing in the nip­pers def­i­nitely put us in good stead, later in life. When Bob Mitchell was our coach, we’d spend hours stand­ing at at­ten­tion and at ease, with eyes on the hori­zon— they were mun­dane things but they taught us amaz­ing dis­ci­pline. Iwent on towin two New Zealand R&R ti­tles and I guess I’m us­ing that dis­ci­pline inmy run­ning now too.”

Mitchell was the pre-em­i­nent fig­ure in lo­cal nip­pers his­tory— he and­wife Shirley­were in Syd­ney on hol­i­day in early 1968 when he went back to his old club, North Cronulla.

There, he saw some of the first Aus­tralian nip­pers in ac­tion and he vowed to bring the con­cept back to Mount Maun­ganui. The first club meet­ing was held on Novem­ber 2, 1968 and at­tracted 41 boys, with Mitchell as pres­i­dent and John Burn— fa­ther of Stephen— sec­re­tary. Many of the found­ing mem­bers were wharfieswith young fam­i­lies.

Ini­tial ac­tiv­i­ties in­cluded pil­low fights, tug-o-wars, mu­si­cal flags, sack races and surfo-planes, while the first sub­scrip­tions cost 50 cents, plus $2.10 for togs. Mount’s in­no­va­tion was quickly picked up by other clubs; the likes of Whakatane, Waimarama and Piha were quick to write to Burn ask­ing for in­for­ma­tion on how to set up the pro­gramme, with an Auck­land Nip­pers’ Cham­pi­onship held in 1970.

Sadly, Mitchell died in an ac­ci­dent on the wharf in 1978 but Burn Snr and Mitchell’s widow Shirley (now Young­man) were on hand to help cel­e­brate on Sun­day, along with an­other of Burn’s prog­eny, daugh­ter Karen Kur­tovich, who was also part of the 1975 girls’ in­take.

“I guess you’ve got to say it’s achieved its pur­pose over those years,” John Burn said. “It’s pro­vided a path­way through to se­nior surf life­sav­ing and pro­vided a good bit of water sense and water safety.”

Those first Mount nip­pers also got to pioneer other surf life­sav­ing in­no­va­tions. The club was one of the first in the coun­try to in­tro­duce in­flat­able res­cue boats for pa­trolling.

“There’s some re­ally strange things as you age— I often for­getwhat I did yes­ter­day but I can tell you the spark plug num­ber for a John­son out­board mo­tor was an L77J4!” Leuthart said.

“And we could strip an engine down af­terwe’d sunk it, empty all the sand and re­in­state it within 12 min­utes!” Stephen Burn added. “All those thingswe learned at such a young age— by the timewe were 14 and on pa­trol, we knew how the beach was work­ing, where peo­ple were and how they could get into trou­ble and where the

safe swim­ming spots were. It was just in­stinc­tive.”

The pair were also there when the club re­built in 1978, back­when Mount Maun­ganui was still a sleepy sea­side town that only came alive for a few weeks over sum­mer. That build­ing­was de­mol­ished in April to make way for the fourth it­er­a­tion of the club­house— a $3 mil­lion project which is ex­pected to be fin­ished early next year. Itwill cater for Tau­ranga’s boom­ing pop­u­la­tion and the greater de­mands on life­guards as first re­spon­dents, although an­other $200,000 is still needed to com­plete the project.

The pub­lic can do­nate at www.mountlife­guards.co.nz/do­nate.

PHOTO/Jamie Troughton/Dscribe Me­dia

Pi­o­neer­ing nip­pers Stephen Burn and Ch­eryl Leuthart cel­e­brate with their 2018 coun­ter­parts, 50 years af­ter the surf life­sav­ing pro­gramme be­gan at the Mount Maun­ganui Life­guard Ser­vice.

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