Two 15-year-old girls are being hailed as heroines after going to the rescue of men caught in a rip and near drowning at a Northland beach.
Best mates Amohia Afeaki and Sabrina Parsons were boogie boarding in Sunday's big swells at Matauri Bay when they spotted two men in trouble near the rocks at the northern end of the beach.
''There were these two Indian men calling 'help' and putting their hands in the air. No one was going so I swam out there,'' Amohia said.
She found one man weighed a good 150kg and was in serious trouble, so she signalled to Sabrina to swim over with her board. The slimmer man took hold of Amohia's board while Sabrina battled to make his big friend hang on to hers.
''When I got him on my board his eyes were rolled back and he wasn't responding,'' Sabrina said.
''I shouted at him to listen and to breathe in for two seconds and out for two seconds ... That got him breathing regularly but then he started panicking again. He was so panicked he kept rolling the board and going under.''
The girls signalled for help which came in the form of a man who swam out from the beach and two teens who paddled out on surfboards to rescue a third member of the group.
Sabrina persuaded the large man to concentrate on breathing and kicking while they made their way to a small bay around the rocks. They were halfway to shore when more rescuers arrived in an inflatable, a dinghy and kayaks.
But that wasn't the end of Sabrina's problems. The big man was afraid to let go of her board, and when he finally did take hold of the boat it took a good ten minutes to hoist him on board. They were taken back to the beach where two ambulances, police, a Kaeo fire truck and the Northland Electricity Rescue Helicopter had arrived expecting the worst.
Nine people, including the girls and two rescuers who had swallowed a lot of water, were taken to Bay of Islands Hospital by chopper and by road. All have since been discharged.
''We were perfectly fine, but they wanted to take us to hospital to check us too,'' Amohia said.
Though both live in Auckland, Amohia has close ties to Northland with family in Kaitaia and Te Rarawa/Ngati Kahungunu descent. The pair are spending a month at Matauri Bay Holiday Camp with Amohia's family and became friends through Sea Scouts, which they say gave them the skills to initiate the rescue.
They have not had specific rescue training but have completed many man-overboard drills and know what to do with people panicking in the water.
They are being hailed in the motorcamp as heroes, but they're not so sure.
''Possibly,'' Sabrina said.
''I guess so,'' Amohia added. ''The rescue boats came, but if we didn't give them our boogie boards they would've drowned. They were already under water.''
The rescued men, who live in Auckland, had been holidaying further north but stopped at Matauri Bay to test the water.
Both girls are starting Year 12 this year. Amohia, who lives in Mangere Bridge, goes to Te Kura o Nga Tapuwae while Sabrina, from Onehunga, goes to Auckland Girls' Grammar. They are members of the New Lynn Sea Venturers and help out at the Aotea Sea Scouts in Onehunga.
Sunday's experience has made them even keener to try surf lifesaving, though their nearest surf beach is almost an hour's drive away at Piha.