Graham obtained his surf bronze in 1947. It was inevitable he joined Taylors as his father had a bach at ‘the bay’, one of the train carriages that still exist on “Rotten Row”.
He was a good breaststroke swimmer, gaining Canterbury titles and also played water polo for the Christchurch Club. As a junior surf life saver, placings in the belt events were his major success at a time when there were only two or three junior members of the Club. They were lone figures on the beach.
Elected club captain in 1949, Graham was young at 19, but he was an inspired choice. After giving him a couple of years to settle, a perusal of club results shows that our Club competitive record stems from his appointment and continues almost to this day.
The records show that in 1956, when he finished as club captain, the club was well on the way up and growing in competitive stature. All grades: women, junior and senior ranks were starting to become forces on Canterbury and New Zealand beaches.
After five near misses, he finally won the national individual belt championship in 1958, beating the iron man of the sport, Reg Harker (Red Beach, Auckland), in stormy conditions at South Brighton beach. In his competitive career he had wins over all the notable men of the surf, Noel and Colin Chambers, Jack Ryan, Neville Schou and Rab Blair, as well as Harker.
Graham was a member of the club quartet which won back-to-back New Zealand four-man R & R titles in 1951 and 1952.
His strong leadership also carried on to coaching. Graham was a supreme coach winning numerous New Zealand and Canterbury titles in women’s, men’s and junior events for both our club and for the Canterbury province. As a coach of Taylors Mistake teams he was known as a perfectionist, winning the Ted Hughes Trophy as champion national instructor for four consecutive years.
The 1971 club’s Annual Report showed its first photograph ever, a photograph of Graham’s senior six-man team that won its first Nelson Shield, once the premier event of New Zealand’s Surf Life Saving. This was a highlight of his coaching career. The team proved unbeatable, taking not only the New Zealand championship for the Nelson Shield, but also the Canterbury, South Island, and national inter-districts titles as well ‘in one summer’. With very little change of personnel this team repeated its national championship success in each of the next three years, again under the Pratley formula.
Graham served the club as an instructor for 27 years, and in seven of those he was also chief instructor for Canterbury.
As well as club captain and coach,”Prat” served in many other positions in the club. He was president for five years and until recently actively assisted with building maintenance.
Graham was prominent in all facets of surf lifesaving in Canterbury. As a champion competitor, fastidious coach, and stalwart administrator, he served his chosen sport with a zeal few could match. At the Canterbury level he was president, chief instructor, selector, and coach and was elected a life member in 1972.
Graham was a Mason, a well-known Magician – “Gordon Graham”, and also put a lot of time into scouting, dedicating much of his effort again to the young people in our society for their betterment.
His efforts have touched and influenced a lot of young people in their formative years and he will be remembered by many.
A product of Papanui Technical College, Graham was also a Canterbury secondary schools’ breaststroke champion, and swam at the 1959 Centennial Games.
As well as his public appearances in this guise, he also organised Christmas entertainment at Taylors Mistake for many years.