Surf lifesaving originated in Australia in 1907 in response to drownings at local beaches in Sydney. Such groups became necessary following the relaxing of laws prohibiting daylight bathing on Australian beaches.[2] Volunteer groups of men were trained in life saving methods and patrolled the beaches as lifesavers looking after public safety.

The original surf life saving club is a matter of contention between the Bronte and Bondi beach clubs in Sydney. Bronte Surf Lifesaving Club claims to be the “First Surf Club in the World since 1903”. This is based on minutes of a meeting held in 1907 (found at the local library in 1982), which was noted to be the fourth AGM of the club, as well as a time capsule from 1931 (unearthed during renovations of the club house) in which documents record then President and Gen. Secretary of Surf Lifesaving Australia unanimously declaring Bronte to be the first club. The Bondi Surf Bathers’ Life Saving Club also claims to be the “world’s first life saving club”. It was officially established on February 21, 1907 at the Royal Hotel in Bondi – as was recorded in the newspaper The East Sydney Argus, and in the Waverley Council Minutes acknowledging receipt of a letter from the newly formed group.

According to current evidence, it may therefore be correct to say Bronte was the ‘first’ real club, and Bondi was the ‘first official’ club. Whatever the original club, it is certain that on October 10, 1907 the Surf Bathing Association of NSW (SBANSW) was founded – with 9 clubs and affiliated associations. The first club outside of Sydney was Kiama Surf Bather’s Club, founded in 1908.

Chariot race, Piha Surf Club carnival, New Zealand c. 1938

The first New Zealand Surf Lifesaving Clubs began in the years 1909-1910 leading of with: Castlecliff (Wanganui), Lyall Bay (Wellington), New Brighton (Christchurch) and Worser Bay (Wellington). Within the next few years other clubs started forming around five regions: Wellington, Christchurch, Dunedin, Gisborne/Napier/New Plymouth and Wanganui.

In the Northern Region, Piha Surf Life Saving Club was founded in 1934, and as such is the oldest club on Auckland’s West Coast and is the home of Piha Rescue. Soon after the New Zealand clubs were formed, rivalry began to take place which created the forming of competition between the clubs and regions. By early 1912 competitions were being organised by Wellington’s Maranui Club, with male members competing in squads of 8. The competitions consisted of a land drill and ‘reel test’. The first New Zealand National Champs where clubs were able to compete was held in 1922.