They do not consider themselves heroes but the day may have ended very differently if Harrison Knew and Aaron Sawford had not swam to the aid of a young woman who was caught in a rip.

The Whangarei Boys' High School students were among 23 from the school at Sandy Bay, on the Tutukaka Coast, for a two-day surf course run by the O'Neill Surf Academy.

The two students were in the water waiting to catch a "good wave" when they noticed a young woman with special needs, who was wearing clothes rather than swimwear, being swept out to sea. She was not waving for help and appeared relaxed so the boys were not sure if she was in trouble.

"She was pretty calm but she was drifting pretty quickly," said Harrison.

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"She was probably 50m out and was drifting further and further out. We had a discussion because we didn't know if she was all right or not because she looked pretty calm," said Aaron.

Harrison and Aaron both knew how to identify rips and they knew she was stuck in one so they decided to swim out and help.

"We swam out and I got off my surfboard and I put her on my board and we swam sideways to get out of the rip," said Aaron.

Two surf instructors were quickly made aware of what the boys were doing and also swam out to help and brought the young woman to shore.

WBHS physical education teacher JT Thomas said he was "so proud" of the boys' actions but they were being "very humble" about Tuesday's incident.

Harrison and Aaron do not consider themselves heroes despite people telling them the situation might have ended differently if they had not spotted the young woman.

"A few people said she would have been dead, but it just feels like we would help anyone," said j
The two boys did not know who the woman was so could not meet up with her. They said the surf instructors took over once she was brought to shore.

Simon Clowes, owner of the O'Neill Surf Academy, said he was proud of everyone involved in helping the young woman.

"I take my hats off to the boys from the school and our surf instructors," he said.