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New lifeguard clubhouse for North Piha

Most Westies adore the wild and stunning beaches of the West Coast. On a magnificent day, who doesn’t savour soaking up the sun or casting a line into the sea at popular Piha?

Despite its natural beauty, Piha is recognised as one of the nation’s most dangerous beaches. But the volunteer lifeguards at United North Piha are ready to come to your aid. Thanks to the dedication of these unsung heroes, we can head to the beach with peace of mind, knowing help is close by. So The Trusts is thrilled to support such a vital service.

For more than 70 years, lifeguards have patrolled North Piha beach from Labour Weekend to Easter. “It’s impossible to calculate the lives saved by our volunteers,” says Gareth Neilson, the Rebuild Co-ordinator of United North Piha Lifeguard Service Inc. “Every person that we speak to, as a preventative action when they visit this beach, could potentially have needed rescuing had they not received that intervention. The drownings which do occur at Piha, are either people swimming outside the flagged areas or outside patrol hours. This is a testament to the effectiveness of the lifeguards patrolling Piha.”

After a long history of safeguarding the community, United North Piha Lifesaving Club members found their facilities in dire need of repair.

The existing clubhouse had been extended in 1984 after the number of beachgoers soared and by 2007, membership growth prompted plans to develop the building again. “With cornerstone funding not secured until 2018, the existing facility had further decayed to a point where the recommendation was that refurbishment would be more expensive than starting with a clean slate,” says Gareth.

In January 2023, the old clubhouse was demolished and construction launched on a new state-of-the-art facility. Timber salvaged from the old clubhouse will be used for stair treads in the new building, earmarked to be formally opened in about July.

The new Lifeguard Operations, Training and Community facility, Te Pou, has been taking shape with the help of local community support, cornerstone funding from the council, and fundraising efforts. But the club still faced a shortfall to cover the full cost of the fit-out and furnishings.

“The Trusts, as our community sponsor, is contributing to that shortfall,” says Gareth. “The club is extremely fortunate to receive the ongoing support that this community sponsorship will provide. Over the last 10 years, the old facility demanded significant maintenance just to keep it operational, and working out of portacoms for the last two seasons has only made the job far less enjoyable.”

Waitākere Licensing Trust President Linda Cooper says the trust has a long history of supporting valued West Coast surf lifesaving activities and clubrooms over many decades. “It only made sense to ensure United North Piha club could finally complete their project, and supporting this last piece of the puzzle with our sponsorship was a no-brainer,” she says.

At 440m2, the new clubhouse is about 80% bigger than its predecessor along with being so much more functional, says Gareth. Te Pou features a dedicated lifeguard operations room instead of the former building’s lounge where the service was supplied. Directly accessible from the beach, the first aid room includes two mobile beds, air conditioning, and a water trough to douse burns from the hot, black sand.

A specific training room reachable from the beach and gear shed is designed to make it simple to sweep out sand.

In emergencies, the building can be switched over to generator power as well as provide shelter – 40 bunks, showers, and cooking facilities- for displaced members of the community, he says.

“Beyond the immediate Piha Community, we are planning that the facility may be utilised by the lower decile schools in West Auckland, providing overnight school camp opportunities, so that the pupils can learn about the unique Piha environment, conservation, the area's cultural heritage and other experiences."

Te Pou has a large dining area that can host up to 80 people for a seated public meeting. Events on the first-floor terrace and lounge will hold groups of up to 50.

For more information on United North Piha Lifeguard Service Inc., check out their website.