Max Milligan prides himself on being a welcoming smile and reassuring figure on the beaches of Port Macquarie.
The friendly but vigilant approach has paid off earning him the respect of members of the public, fellow guards and the title of Port Macquarie-Hastings Lifeguard of the Year for 2019-2020.
Mr Milligan was a rookie with the lifeguards during the 2017 and 2018 season before joining patrols as a casual guard for the last two seasons.
The 19-year-old graduate of MacKillop College admits succeeding as a lifeguard is about being part of the team and remaining alert at all times.
"While it's nice to be recognised for my efforts. The great job done by the team this summer in keeping everyone safe is more important," he said.
"I guess what we all value is someone who is always approachable and seen at the water's edge. People who see you and know they are safe because there is a lifeguard.
"The main challenge for us is remaining alert because you and one other person are responsible for sometimes thousands of people.
"It's important to be well-rested, pace yourself. If you're packing up at 5pm there can be someone in trouble so you need to be as alert at 5pm as you are at 9am that morning."
Mr Milligan said lifeguarding in the summer holidays is a constant reminder of how vital the service is in Port Macquarie.
"I did about 10 to 15 rescues this season, which I think I was recognised for. I was working a lot of the time in the summer holidays when it was really busy," he said.
"There was a mass rescue on Christmas eve with two people at the same time. It's just a great feeling of knowing everyone got to go home to their families for the holidays."
The Port Macquarie Swimming Club, Surf Life Saving champ and knowledgeable academic is now seeking out new challenges as he forges a career in commerce law by studying Commerce and Economics at the University of NSW in Sydney.
"I'm hoping to get some pool life guarding work in Sydney and be able to do some life guarding in summer here at home," he said.
"I love working with the team we have here and I'll always be available to help out if I'm in the area."
State and national honours were won in 2018 by his boss, Port Macquarie-Hastings lifeguard supervisor James Turnham.
"Max is one of those staff members that does the job but goes above and beyond. He gets to know the regular beach users and trains rookie lifeguards," Mr Turnham said.
"He's good value among the team as a bright and happy staff member who gets along with everyone. He maintains his fitness and you can trust him in many situations at the beach."
Recruitment is currently open for ALS Lifeguards in NSW. Men and women are encouraged to apply with training provided.
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