My happy place: Auckland's rugged west coast

By Bronwyn Sell

Chris Deacon, Westpac Rescue Helicopter paramedic and surf lifeguard.

Chris Deacon has rescued many people at wild Piha Beach. Photo / Jason Dorday
Chris Deacon has rescued many people at wild Piha Beach. Photo / Jason Dorday

My happy place is the west coast of Auckland. There's a nice rugged element to it. It's never the same two days in a row - the tide's in or the tide's out or it's windy or the surf's large or small - but it's always perfect.

I'm a lifeguard at Muriwai, so I spend a lot of weekends out there. I also did five years as a regional guard at Piha. And, as a paramedic on the rescue helicopter, I often get called to jobs on the west coast. I just love it because it's almost like going home.

We've had a couple of good rescues out there. Last year we rescued a guy off the front of the Sugarloaf Rock at Muriwai.

I jumped out of a helicopter into the water and got a guy on a jetski to take me across to the front of Sugarloaf. I jumped up and just used the waves surging up the rock face to lift me on to the rock ledge where this guy was stuck.

He'd been surfing at Maori Bay and got swept around the corner. His eyes were as big as flippin' dinner plates, he was that scared. I put a rescue tube around him and jumped him off the front and swam him out through the surf a bit and the jetski came and picked him up.

As a child I can remember being taken out to Piha in my uncle's Morrie Oxford on the gravel roads. I've got vivid memories of playing in the black sand and building sandcastles. Another lasting memory I have is of going for a swim one day with my mate Freddy after I'd finished patrolling at Piha. There was nobody out there. It had been a howling on-shore and it was quite rough.

We went down to the south end and jumped into the Pakiti Rip and got sucked out around into the bay then out past the fallen rocks. The rip spits you out across to the centre of the bay. So we were right out the back on the bar and the wind died, and a gentle off-shore started.

There was only him and me out there and a surfer, just bobbing up and down in the ocean. When there's a bit of a swell running you can hardly see the shore until you get lifted onto the top of a wave. It was so isolated, in this unique, tranquil spot. No traffic, no cellphones.

I turned to Freddy and I said, "Mate, just look around. It just wouldn't matter how much money you have, you can't buy this experience."

* Chris Deacon recently clocked up 2000 rescues with the Westpac Rescue Helicopter. To donate $3 to the trust, text CHOPPER to 5338, or buy the Rescue 1 game from your app store.

- Herald on Sunday

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