Mt Maunganui stalwart made a member of the NZ Order of Merit
After a lifetime patrolling and responding to emergencies on his favourite stretch of beach in Mount Maunganui, it takes a lot to fluster Kent Jarman.
One brief letter announcing he’d become a member of the New Zealand Order of Merit managed to do the trick though.
The 65-year-old surf lifesaver – affectionately known as KJ – sat down with a thump, disbelief etched on his weathered dial, and needed a few minutes to compose himself when the correspondence from Government House arrived. Even now that he’s had a chance to digest things, his Queen’s Birthday Honour is still struggling to sink in.
“I’m gob-smacked, to be honest – I really am,” Jarman admitted. “It’s quite humbling because you don’t do stuff like this thinking one day you might be recognised. It’s also humbling because I’ve spent 50 years doing something that I’ve loved, hanging out at beaches with great people, having fun.”
Jarman’s wife Shelley Kerr – a fellow life member of the beloved Mount Maunganui Lifeguard Service – recorded the moment on her iPad to show their grandchildren. It was another proud moment in a lifetime of surf lifesaving service for the pair.
The Order is awarded to those “who in any field of endeavour, have rendered meritorious service to the Crown and the nation or who have become distinguished by their eminence, talents, contributions, or other merits”.
“I’ve spent 50 years doing something that I’ve loved, hanging out at beaches with great people, having fun.”
Jarman’s surf CV covers that criteria rather nicely. As well as club life membership, he’s also a life member of Surf Life Saving Bay of Plenty and Surf Life Saving New Zealand. He’s been a national champion athlete, New Zealand representative, coach, club captain, chairman and president, with 42 years as a patrol captain and 29 years as an IRB instructor.
Yet those labels only tell half the story. He was a 16-year-old Tauranga Boys’ College schoolboy when he first joined the movement, convinced by a club member who’d spotted him at school swimming sports. Following stints with Omanu and Wellington’s Lyall Bay club, he joined Mount Maunganui in 1974 and has been on deck ever since.
He has no idea of the numbers of lives he’s saved but he’s prevented at least one fatality every single year he’s been on patrol. Some years have been busier than others; he once rescued 25 people in an eventful 2hrs at the Main Beach using an IRB. He’s also fitted a career as a builder around those countless rescues, the hundreds of volunteer hours each summer and the dozens of emergency call-outs each year, all while mentoring dozens of younger members coming through.
Those fresh faces, so often looking to Jarman for guidance, have in turn kept him going.
“Kicking around with young people keeps you young. I love it – the younger ones don’t cut me a lot of slack and I’m expected to keep up with them but that’s cool and hopefully there’s a little bit of respect there. That’s all part of it because it keeps you grounded.”
When he’s not on patrol, you’ll find him surfing, sailing or swimming, with some basketball thrown in for good measure. And the good news for Bay of Plenty beachgoers? He’s had a dodgy shoulder repaired in the last 12 months and has come back fitter than ever.
“Age is a state of mind. Your body may tell you that you’re getting older but it doesn’t mean you have to think like an old person. Life’s still got a few chapters to go yet.”