There's something different about the newest Bondi Rescue lifeguard...




It’s time for you to meet Nicola Atherton. She’s a 27-year-old Sydneysider, and she’s about to become Australia’s most famous female lifeguard.

She is, after all, the newest member of Bondi Rescue – one of Australia’s most-loved TV shows, both here and abroad. And although she’s only been a lifeguard for three months, Nicola is ready to show the boys exactly how it’s done.

Nicola has plenty of experience in the water – prior to becoming a lifeguard, she was a professional surfer for 10 years, even winning the World Junior Surfing Championship at the age of 20 in 2007. She began looking for a career change and decided to apply for the lifeguard role with Waverly Council. Having grown up surfing in Bronte, she already knew plenty of the boys and knew she’d fit right in.

Nicola had to get her jet ski licence, her lifeguard certification and her first aid training. She also had to pass a rigorous fitness test. And after all that, finally, she was welcomed to the Bondi Beach time – Bondi’s fourth ever female lifeguard.

I had a chat with her to find out more about this incredible sportswoman, and also get some of the behind-the-scenes story about what it’s like to work on Bondi Rescue.

Natalia: How did you get started in surfing?

Nicola: I grew up on Bronte Road, which was a five minute walk to the beach. It was the best place in the world to grow up. I fell in love with surfing at the age of 12. It became everything to me, more than a hobby or passion, it was my life and I spent every spare second I could in the surf.


And how did you decide that you wanted to be a lifeguard? 

I was just seeking change and it was my family that suggested I try out for the Waverly Lifeguards – it was the first year in ages that the council was actually accepting new applications. It was a really quick decision to move into lifeguarding, I had a lot of the ocean skills and experience required for the role and emergency response was something I’ve always been intrigued by. I really felt this was a great job and it will help me figure out what career path I want to take after surfing.

What are the other lifeguards on Bondi Rescue like – are they as nice as they seem?

The guys are really cool. They’ve actually all been really good to me, really helpful, they’ve enjoyed being able to show me the ropes and share their past experiences with me. The gender issue gets brought up quite a lot but I don’t really see it that way because I’ve known these guys for such a long time.

Nicola as a professional surfer

Was that gender divide more evident when you were competing as a professional surfer?

Yeah, definitely. I felt really inferior to my male counterparts, especially at events when male surfers would stand around and say, “Oh the surf is rubbish, let the girls go out.” It definitely made me feel like a bit of a second-class citizen. Even now, with marketing and sponsorship, if you’re not a really aesthetically pleasing package to market, you don’t get support.

So I think it’s really hard to be a young girl in surfing at the moment. Really avid, keen surfers are going down this route where they think it’s more important to have this image on Instagram where they’re always in their bikini, jumping around. You don’t have to be some goddess in a bikini to be a surfer – it’s not about that. It’s about going out with your friends and catching some waves and having fun while doing it.


I was never going to be a sample size, photogenic model type of girl – and if you don’t have that quality, it’s very limiting how far you can get without support.

Is there any advice you’d give to young girls hoping to follow your footsteps?

In terms of surfing, it’s not something you’ll pick up overnight. Find a group of mates and have a lot of fun with it. The more time you give to surfing, the more you’ll appreciate it. You’re in the water, it’s a beautiful thing to do and there’s a great community of surfers out there.

If you’re keen to get into lifeguarding, great! There should be more girls getting into it and anyone who loves the ocean should throw themselves into it. It’s just about being fit, knowing your elements and being up-to-date on all your first aid. I’d encourage young girls to join Nippers or join surf school programs.

What do you love about being a lifeguard on Bondi?

Waking up and heading to the beach to go to work is something that I’ve been fortunate to do for a long time already, and getting to do that now is still incredible. Also, I had a really nice moment the other day where three girls ran up to me and wanted a photo, telling me that they loved the show. I love being a positive influence to girls like that.

Rod ‘Kerr Box’ Kerr, Nicola Atherton and Chris ‘Chappo’ Chapman


Do you have to be really fit to be a lifeguard?

Yes. You have to do an 800m pool swim in under 12 minutes and then you do a big 3km run-swim-run. I do a lot of training – ironman-style training, classes at the gym, bit of yoga, just keeping active.

What’s been the hardest thing about being a lifeguard?

This season, we had a Japanese exchange student drown one evening at Bondi. It all happened so quickly and tragically, we couldn’t get to him in time to save him. I was in the tower and watched him take his last breath through the binoculars before he went under. I’ll never forget his face, and that is the side to this job that can be very hard to deal with. It was a really tough time for everyone and the support and camaraderie from the boys was amazing.

And here are Nicola’s tips to always keep yourself safe at the beach:

1. Always swim between the red and yellow flags.

2. If you’re stuck in a rip, swim parallel – don’t

3. Some people are scared of waves, so they tend to jump in areas that don’t have whitewash rolling through. This is actually where the rips generally are, even though it looks quite calm. So you always want to be swimming on a nice sandband with the whitewash and waves rolling through and try to avoid any deep, deep dark blue areas – they’re usually an indicator that it’s deep and the water is rushing back to sea.

And in other sports news from the week…

– Congratulations to our Australian Hockeyroos, who took a 4-0 victory over China in their third match of the Hawke’s Bay tournament on Tuesday, and a 5-3 victory over Korea this week as well. They now sit in second place for the tournament.

– Our Aussie women’s cricket team, the Southern Stars, won its third straight ICC Women’s World Twenty20 title with a six-wicket win over England. It’s another world championship to add to their list of incredible achievements.

– Our women’s rugby team has been competing in the IRB Women’s Sevens World Series. After some incredible wins, they lost to New Zealand this week in a nail-biting game between the two rivals that came to a final score of 26-12. Keep an eye on this space next week for an interview with one of our Australian rugby players.

– And one more victory for our Matildas, who managed a 2-1 victory to beat Brazil in the two-match women’s soccer series on Wednesday night. It’s an awesome win for the Matildas, who will be competing in the Asian Cup next month in Vietnam. However, there are concerns about injuries to their star midfielder, Tameka Butt, who rolled her ankle during the game and is having scans to determine just how bad the damage is. Fingers crossed she’ll be okay for Vietnam.

Have you seen anything in women’s sport that you want to talk about this week?