Rescues stretch Ruakaka lifeguards

By Cameron Leslie

Just as paid regional lifeguards knocked off for the summer, Ruakaka Surf Lifesaving Club had its busiest day in at least two years on Friday with four serious rescues in one day.

Patrol captain Kyle Taylor said the club's capacity was stretched when off-duty life guard Lauren Gibbs from Bethells Beach saved a 9-year-old boy caught in a rip.

Gibbs, 24, who is patrol captain for Bethells Beach and Surf Life Saving New Zealand's lifeguard of the year for 2012, was on holiday at Ruakaka when others at the beach told her of a boy in trouble in the water about 100m from shore.

A man, thought to be the boy's father, had gone to the lad's rescue but was having trouble holding him up.

"I thought the kid was a goner by the time we got him out," Gibbs said. "He was pale and blue. We'd have lost him even if we'd got there 30 seconds later."

Gibbs' six-months pregnant cousin, Ricci Wilson, helped in the rescue and the man and boy were met on the beach by a St John Ambulance crew.

Taylor said the club usually had three lifeguards on duty.

"When we were called to help Lauren rescue the boy, I stayed at the beach and sent the other two lifeguards." As the two lifeguards went to help, Taylor was called to another emergency - a surfer who had damaged his spine while in the water.

"We were really stripped of resources when I was called to help the surfer so we closed the beach. Just as we opened it and things began to settle down, I was approached by a guy who said his friend was missing and another boy who said his dad was missing," he said. Both were found soon after.

Paid regional lifeguards, who started patrolling five Northland beaches on December 24, stopped work at Whangarei Heads, Ruakaka and Baylys Beach on Friday.

The Ruakaka club's captain, Ben McKernan, backed up Mr Taylor's concern about resources being stretched without the three paid lifeguards stationed there.

On Saturday, volunteer lifeguards had searched for a boy aged about 13 who had been reported missing from the Uretiti Beach campground. He was found playing on the beach.

The volunteer lifeguards had also dressed a serious cut which a girl received on her hand when it was struck by a surfboard fin in the water. She was then sent to a doctor to have the wound stitched.

Yesterday, the volunteers dealt with another girl who had cut her hand on a shell while surfing.

Mr McKernan said there had been 500 people at the beach yesterday and the good swell there would continue to draw big crowds through this week.

"We're a bit concerned we will have only six volunteer lifeguards on rostered patrols here with the campground full and a lot of people around," he said.

The paid lifeguard service will end at Waipu Cove on January 11, but will continue at Mangawhai Heads until January 25.

Volunteer lifeguards will work weekends on all five Northland beaches after the regional guards from Surf Lifesaving Northern Region pull out.

- Northern Advocate

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