Kevin Neilson receives OAM in 2019 Queen's Birthday Honours for nearly 50 years of service to lifesaving

Cronulla surf lifesaver Kevin Neilson was 18 and had just finished the HSC when he was chosen in a 13-man Australian team to compete against New Zealand.

That was the start to his nearly 50 years of service to surf lifesaving, which has been recognised with a medal (OAM) of the Order of Australia in the Queen's Birthday honours.

Mr Neilson, of Port Hacking, has also contributed to the community in others ways, including 45 years as a student and teacher at De La Salle College, Caringbah, and through Neilson Swim School at Caringbah Leisure Centre for 34 years.

He was an inaugural committee member of the Cook Community Classic Committee in 2008 and was a volunteer coach for the Can Too - Cure Cancer Australia.

During council centenary celebrations in 2005, he was named one of the 100 Faces of Sutherland Shire.

Mr Neilson's love for the water began when his family moved from Redfern to Miranda and his parents wanted him to learn to swim.

They took him to the free swimming lessons at Gunnamatta Bay baths where he was was coached by Frank Jordan, who represented Australia in water polo at the 1952 Olympics.

Sutherland Shire didn't have an Olympic pool until 1968, but the opening of Captain Cook Bridge in 1965 provided the opportunity to train in such a facility at Sans Souci.

At Sans Souci, his interest in surf lifesaving was nourished by Ken Wiles, a Cronulla club member and Australian belt champion.

Mr Neilson joined the Cronulla club in 1966 at 13 and within five years was competing for Australia.

"I was chosen in the Australian team at the end of 1970 and when I came back from studying in the US, I wanted to help surf lifesaving in any way I could, because of what it does for the community," he said.

"I also tried to help Cronulla SLSC do what they wanted to do because they helped me during my years of competition."

Mr Neilson went on to take on a range of roles in surf lifesaving at national, state, Sydney and club levels.

He was a national team selector and a member of the Australian National Coaches Commission, Sport Development Committee and Elite Coach Sport Selection Committee.

At state level, where he was made a life member of Surf Life Saving NSW, he served in many capacities, including 12 years as a coaching adviser and was Coach of the Year in 2007 and 2008.

The Cronulla club valued him highly. He was head swim coach for 33 years until 2017, president from 2004-2008 and served in other positions.

He was made a life member in 1998 and his wife Sandra became the club's first female life member in 2012.

Mr Neilson retired from school teaching two years ago and his focus is on teaching and coaching with his son Daniel at Caringbah Leisure Centre.

"We have created a niche because we cater for both surf swimmers - from all clubs, not just Cronulla - and stillwater swimmers, " he said.