A mother and her two teenage sons have been saved from drowning by a group of young surfers after they were caught in a brutal rip at a west Auckland beach.
The surfers - Darren Celliers, 20, Caleb Lemkus, 21, Olly Mason, 23, Lewis Mennie, 16, and Troy Duckworth - hoisted the distressed and struggling family members on to their boards about 30 metres beyond where "relatively calm" waves were breaking at Bethells Beach.
"The younger brother was just freaking out. He was scared and in shock," said Mr Celliers, a part-time surf-shop worker from Browns Bay.
"We spent the first few minutes trying to calm him down and explain that he was going to be all right."
Between the five surfboards, they paddled them back to the shore.
The younger brother kept telling his rescuers, "If you guys hadn't come, I would have died out there," Mr Celliers said.
He believes they were just minutes from drowning. "They were pretty exhausted and pretty far out, and weren't making any progress towards land. It was pretty freaky."
The drama unfolded about 6.30pm on Christmas Day, when the surfers - all part of the North Shore Christian Surfers Group - arrived at Bethells, an hour's drive west of Auckland CBD.
As they walked towards O'Neills Bay, a fellow beachgoer alerted them to the trio in strife.
The young men paddled out, carried along on the same rip that had got the swimmers into difficulty.
When they got there, they found the stricken family distressed and afraid they were going to drown.
The surfers hoisted the mother and two boys, aged about 18 and 13, onto their surfboards and assured them they were going to be okay.
Mr Celliers thinks the family, although locals to the Auckland region, had likely underestimated the dangers of the west coast beach.
He warned against swimmers venturing into the waves once the lifeguards have gone off duty.
"Even being an experienced surfer, I wouldn't just go swimming out on the west coast without flotation. It's freaking dangerous."
News of the near-miss comes during one of the worst holiday periods in recent memory for water tragedies.
On Monday, two boaties died when their 5m vessel was swamped by a wave while crossing the treacherous Manukau Harbour bar.
On Saturday, a 16-year-old boy was swept out to sea on Ninety Mile Beach at Hukatere in the Far North.
On Boxing Day, Simon Camp, 47, died at Karioitahi Beach, 70km southwest of Auckland, while surfing on a board he got for Christmas.
On Christmas Day, Heng Li, 25, a student, died at Uretiti Beach in Northland while setting crab pots, and Imogen Saleupolu-Mataafi, aged 1, is believed to have drowned in a temporary pool set up in the backyard of her family's Manurewa home.