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Perspectives and experiences of female surf lifesavers in Aotearoa New Zealand

This study aims to explore and understand the experiences of female surf lifesaver athletes in Aotearoa New Zealand. The popular image of lifeguards, particularly in the media, has long been based on a particular heroic masculinity, yet women have been active participants in surf lifesaving in Aotearoa New Zealand since 1911 (Harvey, 2010). Jaggard (1999) dubbed female lifeguards as the ‘forgotten members’ of surf lifesaving clubs, this research refocusses the narrative and seeks to highlight women’s experiences in SLS sport. This study is qualitative and used an interpretive approach grounded in feminist theory. The research consisted of semi-structured, one-on-one interviews with six women who competed in the Under 19 or Open categories of surf lifesaving sport in the summer of 2020/2021. Three guiding topics led the conversations: connections to blue space, female athlete experiences in surf lifesaving sport in Aotearoa New Zealand, and the significance of required volunteer patrol hours to athletes. Thematic Analysis was used to analyse the data collected from interviews; three core themes were identified. The first theme explores participants' connections with blue coastal space, which was a key landscape for participants’ experiences in sport and leisure. The second theme identified highlights the complex and nuanced social culture of SLS sport. The final theme revealed the gender discourses around key topics such as embodiment, experiences of motherhood, inclusion, and marginalisation. This research explores the complex ways in which women navigate societal expectations around their bodies, their time, and what it means to be a female athlete.  
Type of thesis
The University of Waikato
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