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Keeping it in the family

Image: Supplied.

For the Jones family Surf Life Saving isn’t just a volunteer role, or a sport. It’s a lifestyle.

This week Peter (PJ) Jones and his family will once again be making the journey from their Porirua home to Mount Maunganui’s Main Beach for Surf Life Saving NZ’s largest sports event for junior club members.

Oceans’ 20 is being held from February 27 to March 1, for 10 to 14 year olds. PJ, his wife Rachel and their five daughters will be there competing, volunteering, supporting and cheering.

Ally, 19, and Mickey, 15, will be volunteering at the event. Ava, 14, and Hatti, 12, will be competing, while Gabriella (Gubby), at age two, will be there as the team mascot.

This year will be the eighth time the family has attended the Oceans’ competition.

This year also marks the 20th anniversary of the event which teaches kids important lifesaving and beach safety skills through sport, with the goal of them all becoming qualified surf lifeguards.

It is “sport with a purpose”.

PJ joined Surf Life Saving when he was 10 years old and was heavily involved until his early 20s.

He took part on and off until his daughters got into it. Now it’s a full-time affair for the family at Paekakariki Surf Lifeguards club.

The family attended their first Oceans’ event in 2013 when their oldest daughter Ally was 12 years old.

Ever since there has been one or two Jones daughters competing every year.

“Oceans’ has been run in challenging conditions over the years. But it’s a neat environment for the kids. It’s a great way to spend four days at the beach,” PJ says.

“It teaches them a lot about themselves, about triumph and adversity. When you’re faced with a two metre wave, you’ve got some choices to make.”

PJ says Surf Life Saving is “more of a lifestyle than a sport”.

“It’s something the whole family can get involved in. We’re at the club five or six days a week.”

Ava joined the Nippers/Junior Surf programme as a seven-year-old and will be competing at her fourth and final Oceans’ event this weekend.

“It’s a lot of fun, and it’s different every time – the atmosphere changes every year, and you get to meet a whole lot of people.”

Ava gained her Surf Lifeguard Award at the start of the 2019-2020 patrol season and carried out seven patrols over summer.

“It’s been really cool. I’ve been watching out for little kids between the flags and people come up to the club asking questions.”

Mickey has competed in Oceans four times and is now in her second year of being an arena volunteer.

Before she was old enough to compete at Oceans she did two years as a "runner", helping the officials by running results and papers to and from arenas (before technology allowed iPads and electronic marshalling and results).

Ally joined Surf Life Saving as an 11-year-old and has since taken part in two Oceans’ competitions and six TSB New Zealand Surf Life Saving Championships (Nationals).

She became a Surf Lifeguard at the age of 14 and this summer worked as a seasonally employed Surf Lifeguard in Wellington.

Ally says Oceans’ is a big deal for young kids and she enjoyed her weekends there so much that she now volunteers – just so she can keep going. 

“Nationals is very different, but it is still really awesome. You grow up with a lot of those people.

“They’re your ‘summer family’ that you hang out with.”

When Ally competed in her first TSB Nationals event at Ohope at the age of 15, she was involved in a rescue that earnt her a service award.

“The surf was unbelievable – it was huge,” she says.

“It was during the diamond race [swim, board and run] and as I was going out in the swim section I saw someone in front of me. I thought, I must be going fast, I’m catching up to her really quickly.

“Then I realised she wasn’t swimming. I could see she was being washed by the waves. She had tried to put her hand up but she was so weak she couldn’t hold it up long enough for the IRB to see her.”

Ally took herself out of the race, grabbed on to the competitor and called out to the safety team in the IRB.

She helped get the girl into the IRB, but declined a ride back to shore with them.

“I really wanted to finish the race. I was dead last.

“I was just doing what anyone else would have done. That’s why we become lifeguards – to help people.”

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