Four people, including two boys, were involved in a dramatic surf rescue yesterday at Waimarama Beach after being swept 70m offshore.
Ten-year-old Josh Randell and 12-year-old Jamie Nichols were enjoying a day at the popular beach when they fell victim to a strong rip at about 3pm.
Josh's parents, Anton and Kirsty Randell, noticed the boys were in trouble when they were quickly dragged down the beach from the Waimarama Surf Life Saving Club, where they had entered the water in foggy conditions. Both parents dove into the surf to rescue the boys but soon fell into the same trap, left struggling to stay afloat.
Surfer Wade Kelly was on the beach when he heard crying and screams for help from distraught onlookers before he entered the ocean with his surfboard.
"I zipped up my wetsuit and put on my strap. I had to make sure I did this properly and thought about it because I didn't know how long I was going to be out there," the 22-year-old said.
"I had to worry about myself as well. It was pretty rough out there, you could really feel the undertow.
"If I had come off my board I'm not sure I would have been able to swim back in."
As he paddled out through the breaking surf he realised he would have to rescue one person at a time.
"I just tried to keep them calm because obviously they were a little bit panicked.
"They were kicking and holding onto the board as I tried to bring them in and catch a wave to get them in quicker."
He said his first priority was to bring the kids ashore and started with 12-year-old Jamie.
"By this stage there were a few people trying to help but if they didn't have a board they couldn't get out there - it was just too rough."
The Hastings man made two more tiring trips through the breaking waves, bringing Josh and Mrs Randell back on his surfboard next, each time waiting for a trough in the oncoming waves to paddle in and save one of the four.
"I was exhausted. When I went to go out and rescue the dad I offered another guy my board to go out, he obviously wanted to help and I wasn't sure I had the strength."
A couple of jet skiers joined the rescue effort and picked up Mr Randell, the last to be rescued.
"We really noticed the change in conditions from when we got there at about 1pm. It just started getting really rough," Mr Kelly said. "It's the busiest it's been out here in a long time. "
He said it took about 30 minutes to rescue all four, while one of his friends onshore called emergency services. The four were taken by ambulance to Hawke's Bay Hospital.
Jamie's father, David Nichols, described the event as "bloody horrible" and said if it was not for "the guy with the longboard" it could have been a different story.
"Sh*t yeah, he is a hero. He was knackered, he was out there for ages."
Mr Nichols said when he saw the two boys drifting further and further to the left he knew they were in trouble.
"I grabbed a boogie board to go out there but it was just too rough and I couldn't get out to them. You could see Kirsty bobbing in the water looking around for the boys. It's obviously a very strong sort of pull out there.
"I've always told them to stick together, and swim together. Don't go out too far," he said.
"They are all safe now, that's the main thing. It was bloody horrible, though."
Waimarama Surf Life Saving Club patrol captain Kim Nilsson said two lifeguards were surfing at the southern end of the beach and launched an inflatable rescue boat (IRB) when they leant of the developing rescue.
"When they went out with the IRB the father was still unaccounted for, but the jet skier had managed to pick him up."
He said the rough conditions, fog and low tide could have all been factors in the rescue.
He advised people to always ask a local where the safe areas to swim were before entering the water.
"People should not swim out of their depth and should always swim together. At this time of year as well, the chill factor does come into it and does get people making mistakes."
Surf patrols at Waimarama Beach are due to begin on November 16 but Mr Nilsson said after a poor early season last year and yesterday's incident they would seriously look at "firing up early".
When Hawke's Bay Today went to print Josh, Jamie and Mrs Randell had been discharged from hospital while Mr Randell was still being assessed.