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Belinda Slement. Supplied 3

10 questions with Belinda Slement

Belinda is the National Education Manager for Surf Life Saving New Zealand (SLSNZ), and a long-term volunteer with the Wainui Surf Life Saving Club and the Gisborne SAR Squad.


How did you get involved with Surf Life Saving?
I grew up at Wainui Beach, near Gisborne. From a young age, I spent most of my spare time swimming, surfing and then once I gained my Surf Lifeguard Award, patrolling and competing with the Wainui Surf Life Saving Club.

Can you tell us about your day-job?
My current role is the National Education Manager for SLSNZ, based in Gisborne. My role involves managing all SLSNZ's qualifications, education framework and our community education programs. We relocated to Gisborne from Wellington seven years ago to start a family and give our kids the same sort of upbringing that we had.

How did working remotely go pre-COVID?
When I relocated, that was my first experience in remote working. SLSNZ were really supportive of this and gave it a good go. Back then, it was really uncommon, but these days I'm managing a team of remote staff all across the country.

How did you get involved in SAR?
At the time, there wasn't a formal SAR squad in our region. After a few incidents where our senior surf lifeguards were asked to assist on searches, a few others and I saw the need to re-establish and formalise an area squad. The Gisborne SAR Squad was re-established in 2018.

What was involved in developing the SAR squad?
There are five Surf Life Saving clubs in our area, which are all rel-atively small so it made the most sense to build a squad of senior members from the area. We began SAR-specific training and developed our relationships with the local Coastguard and Police. The more the Police saw what we could do and our capability, the more we were tasked to respond.

What are the usual types of SAR operations you're involved in?
We have quite a variety of SAR operations in our area, ranging from missing divers, overturned boats to flood operations. Sadly, some of those jobs become recovery operations, but our squad takes comfort in helping reunite a family, to assist with their grieving process.


What are the challenges of being a paid staff member as well as a volunteer?
I love everything to do with the beach and surf lifesaving, but trying to find that balance so I don’t burn myself out with too much of a good thing is a challenge. Having perspective from across the organisation is hugely beneficial in both my roles, and hopefully for the people that I work with.


Can you tell us about a memorable SAR operation?
As a foreign flagged container ship entered Poverty Bay, one crew member decided to put on his drysuit and jump overboard during the night. He wasn’t reported missing until the next morning, sparking a large interagency operation with Coastguard, Police, Land Search and Rescue, RCCNZ, Eastland Port and Eastland Rescue Helicopter. I was the initial coordinator for our SAR squad, and we worked closely with Police on shoreline and coastal searches. Given the circumstances, there were a lot of questions about the man’s motives. Was this part of criminal activity? Could that mean he was dangerous to us? It was a complex and chal-lenging operation.


What aspects of SAR are you passionate about?
I help run our local Wāhine on Water training days for women to upskill with Inflatable Rescue Boats (IRB). I’m also a huge advocate for empowering our women to take up roles in SAR and in surf lifesaving in general. We’ve come a long way since I started as a volunteer with the organisation. It's fantastic to see more balance slowly coming in and more female role models in our SAR squads.


What is your advice to surf lifeguards wanting to be involved with SAR?
The right attitude is important, it's not about putting on a super-hero cape! We do have happy outcomes, but a lot of the time we’re reuniting people with deceased loved-ones. It's about being there for your community, 24/7, and providing your skills to help families, just like yours.


Feature image: Belinda Slement. Supplied

This story was originally published in the April 2024 issue of Link magazine

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