'In it for life’
The newest Life Member of the Gisborne regional surf lifesaving organisation, Dion Williams from Wainui, has come a long way from his nipper days hunting for crabs at Makorori Beach. The 47-year-old became one of the youngest lifeguards in the region to receive the honour at the recent ‘Awards of Excellence’ night. Along the way he has been a champion paddler and a club and New Zealand coach. He talked to reporter Murray Robertson about his journey so far . . .
Dion Williams joined Riversun Wainui as a young boy in 1980 and has lifeguarded, competed and coached at that club ever since.
“My mum and dad joined me up to nippers at Wainui when I was around seven years old. I remember learning to turn and spin my paddleboard in the stream next to the club with my uncle Owen teaching us.
“We also went crab hunting at Makorori as part of Nippers. We used to drive around in the club's old rescue Landcruiser.”
Dion qualified for the surf lifeguard award as a 14-year-old in 1987, under the guidance of Brent Simpson and this reporter.
“I was part of a big group going through the award, which was cool,” he said.
“My dad started taking us for paddleboard training and to carnivals, and my uncle Owen taught me how to go in and out through waves.
“It was awesome to learn great skills from a master surfer and lifesaver like my uncle.
“When I decided paddleboard competition was for me, Michael Fitzharris trained me hard during my teens.”
Dion loved being out in the big waves at Wainui the most.
“I loved being out the back in big southerly storms when the surf was wild, and I remember my clubmate Pete Boyd and I used to get amongst it as much as we could.
“It was pretty dangerous when I look back — some of the storms we went out in — but I absolutely loved it.”
At age 15 he won his first Northern Regional Championships on the paddleboard and got a silver in the nationals. In his racing years he won multiple board race medals.
“It was such a good environment to grow up in and race in.”
He also raced in Australia and at the world championships held in New Zealand.
Dion was still a teenager when he joined the Wainui committee and attended Gisborne Association meetings as a club delegate. He has been on multiple committees ever since and is currently on the New Zealand surf sport committee.
“I'm keen to play my part in trying to help lead the direction of the surf lifesaving sport.”
He started coaching in 2006 at Wainui and has had fantastic success over the years with his young charges.
“Getting Wainui kids up to a high skill level in the ocean and waves has been absolutely rewarding.”
Six of his young protégés have been selected for various New Zealand squads and teams over the years.
“I love coaching and love being able to give back to my Wainui community and beyond, the knowledge I've learned over my many years in the ocean,” he said.
Dion credits his family for being such a big part of his life at the surf club.
“My dad and mum have been huge, developing me as a person.
“My brothers, uncles, aunts and even my grandfather, who resurrected the Wainui club way back, have all had a big influence on me going this long in surf lifesaving.
“Now I have a young family I intend to go even further.”
Dion and his wife Nicola have twin daughters — Alyvia and Brooke aged 7.
He was the assistant coach for the New Zealand team that went to the Japan Cup in Fukuoka city.
“I absolutely loved it. It's so cool being able to be among high-performance athletes and really trying to get the best out of them.”
He said he was especially pleased with the way things had developed between the Gisborne clubs, how they had been working together more in recent years.
“Gisborne has got a really good thing going at the moment, and we're trying to achieve a lot of things together rather than singularly. It's really cool to be part of.”
The rescue side of lifeguarding has seriously benefited from his expertise too.
“I've rescued quite a large number of people out of dangerous situations over the years. In seven or eight of those cases it was a matter of life or death for them, and I am very proud of what I was able to do for them.”
As for the life membership: “I've seen a number of people I really look up to in surf lifeguarding in this district receive Gisborne life membership over the years.
“It makes me feel really proud that I am part of that group now.”
He said it had been a great 40 years so far.
“I cannot wait to do another 40.”