A Papamoa surfer who saved a drowning teenager says too many people are risking their lives at sea by not learning where rips and currents are.

Evolve store owner Sam Malcolm was preparing for a surf lesson at Papamoa Beach, opposite Stella Pl, on Sunday night when he noticed a boy caught in a rip with his mother and brother struggling to rescue him.

Mr Malcolm grabbed a surf board, jumped down a bank and ran in.

The boy had begun to panic and was out of breath when Mr Malcolm reached him, he said.


"He was in quite a bit of bother ..."

Mr Malcolm estimated the boy to be 12 to 14 years old.

Mr Malcolm said he often saw people who were unfit and unaware about sea hazards getting into trouble in the water.

"It wasn't really the kid's fault. Papamoa has quite a strip (of strong current), he got pushed into the rip then the rip just took him out."

But the incident was typical of people not reading the sea before getting in, and not knowing what to do when in trouble, Mr Malcolm said.

"It definitely becomes a bit of an issue at this time of year. We notice it as surfers, because we don't surf in the flags, we see all the guys who don't swim in the flags and when they get in trouble.

"People don't listen."

Mr Malcolm said it was lucky the boy and his family got into trouble at a time when there were people around.

"If it had been midday on Monday that kid would have drowned."

The boy was shaken but did not need medical help, Mr Malcolm said.

Mr Malcolm said there needed to be better community education of rips and currents.

He referred to two 28-year-old men he was instructing in the surfing lesson after the rescue, who were unable to identify the same rip.

"I said to them 'where is the rip?' and they couldn't see it. That goes to show it's a real problem, people don't know."

Surf Life Saving New Zealand Eastern region lifeguard adviser's committee chairman Allan Mundy said the rescue was typical of similar incidents at this time of year.

"It's exactly in that context - outside of patrolled areas, outside of patrolled times.

"Even though there's all that public information about people who aren't confident swimmers to swim in the flags, the number of people who just don't take that and have to be rescued is pretty high."

Mr Mundy said surfers were the "unsung heroes" of Bay beaches and estimated they were responsible for at least 50 per cent of all rescues in the Bay.

"We at Surf Life Saving New Zealand are well aware of the support we get from the surfing community.

"Without these guys, the number of fatalities would be right up there."

Mr Mundy works as a lifeguard at Omanu Beach and is also a surfer.

He said more people needed to take extra care when entering the sea and if unsure, swim between the flags.

Papamoa head lifeguard Shaun Smith agreed.

"They honestly don't know what they look like. They haven't got a clue, to be blunt."

Mr Smith said while he did not expect everyone to swim between the red and yellow flags, he hoped people not confident in their swimming skills or identifying a rip would stay in the flags or talk to lifeguards.

"We love to talk to people." He said they spent much of their time advising people of rips and currents. He said the surfers did a fantastic job of helping look out for people outside of the flags.