He may be known to many as the Nelson College for Girls assistant principal, but Brad O’Leary has dedicated his life to surf life saving and last Saturday was one of just four given a Surf Life Saving New Zealand (SLSNZ) Distinguished Service Award.
Brad was among the group of 49 SLSNZ members honoured with Service, Distinguished Service, 50 Year Badges and Life Memberships for their dedication to Surf Life Saving.
To receive the Distinguished Service Award, members have to have given outstanding service to surf life saving at club, regional, or national level over a vast period of years.
His casual ‘If you stick around long enough, something is bound to happen’ approach is deceiving, over 25 years Brad has been a nipper, lifeguard, athlete, coach, surf coach educator, and is now chairman of the national sport committee and the IRB (inflatable rescue boat) committee.
On top of his own surf sport achievements, Brad coached several of the past and current Black Fins including multiple world record holder Sam Lee and remembers putting current Black Fins coach Steven Kent through his surf lifeguard award.
Brad says one of his best memories was racing IRBs at Piha Beach in some of the most challenging conditions raced in during the last 20 years.
“They wouldn’t let us race in it now but competing in mountainous surf over 12ft tall, watching boats get crumpled and people get obliterated in these massive waves and knowing that you were going to be racing in and around them was pretty gnarly.”
“We came through as the top club, little old Foxton beat all the big guns, every one of our members came home with medals.”
However, as every lifeguard knows, its not all just having fun in the surf, Brad’s most harrowing experiences include searching for bodies and challenging mass rescues.
“I remember hooning up the beach from Foxton to Himuitangi going I don’t know how many times over the speed limit with the IRB in the back to go and respond to a mass rescue situation off the coast.
“The pressure swells and the current ripping out to sea was the most intense I’ve ever seen, we pulled about 12 people out of the water that day.”
Brad says the award was a huge honour and says he was inspired and humbled amongst all the other recipients on Saturday night.
“To be able to do this for 25 years is a rare thing and it is a massive honour, there were people in that room who were current and past Olympians, people who have given their whole life to surf life saving and to be recognised amongst them as an equal was really humbling, there can’t be a higher honour really.
“And at the end of the day, I’m just a very small part of a big organisation that is made up of volunteers, people putting in hard work to keep us all safe.”