Lifeguards busy as flat waters fool swimmers

By Mahvash Ali

Rips catch beach-goers unaware at complacent east-coast hot spots

Jacqui Davis, with her children Chelsea, 8, Simone, 5, and Max, 2. Photo / Doug Sherring
Jacqui Davis, with her children Chelsea, 8, Simone, 5, and Max, 2. Photo / Doug Sherring

Placid east coast beaches are keeping surf life savers busy as complacent crowds flock to the white sandy coast.

Surf Life Saving NZ spokesperson Lisa Honeybone said nine rescues at Pakiri Beach so far was the highest number of rescues in Auckland this summer. Also on the east, Ocean Beach at Whangarei had the most rescues with 11.

Friday was the Ruakaka Surf Life Saving Club's busiest day in at least two years 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, who is patrol captain for Bethells Beach and Surf Life Saving NZ's lifeguard of the year 2012, was on holiday at Ruakaka when other beach- goers told her of a boy in trouble in the water.

"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."

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 spinal cord 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.

Nearer Auckland, Red Beach Surf Lifesaving Club patrol captain Alistair Maney said east coast beaches were popular because people perceived them to be safer.

He said the swells at Red Beach were tame compared with west coast beaches.

Jacqui Davis, with her three young children, said she found Red Beach safer because the waters were calmer. She was surprised when told Pakiri Beach, less than 100km from Red Beach, had the highest number of rescues in Auckland - even more than Piha.

"It is a bit worrying. I guess a lot of people in New Zealand take the water for granted. It's all about safety in water and reading the change in conditions," she said.

Denise Delby, who was at Red Beach with her two grandchildren, said she preferred it for the children because the waters were shallow, though the Pakiri Beach statistics did not surprise her.

"Pakiri is more open and exposed," she said.

Yesterday, a man disappeared at Himatangi Beach on the west coast. Palmerston North police were alerted about 2.40pm.

The Feilding man, 27, was swimming with his partner and friends when he drifted away.

A search by surf lifesavers from Himatangi, Foxton and Kapiti, two vessels from Manawatu Coastguard, the Palmerston North Rescue Helicopter and Heli Pro failed to find him.

Water Safety NZ figures show there have been 18 drowning deaths in the country since October. Auckland ranked the highest, at six deaths this season.

- Herald on Sunday

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