Heroic Bethells Beach lifeguards have been decorated for saving the lives of six people in a dramatic off-duty rescue.

Half a dozen swimmers were saved from drowning at the infamously rough west coast beach in February - thanks to lifeguards Dean Maddaford, Shane Dwyer, James Newland, Andrew Carr and Robin Hammond.

The Bethells Beach Surf Life Saving Club quintet were packing up for the day on February 21 when just after 5pm they noticed a group in the water, caught in a rip around 300m offshore.

Thinking on their feet, they quickly launched an IRB and swam out with rescue tubes to help the swimmers who were at the back of massive surf and were seriously close to drowning.


Their actions avoided a certain number of deaths in very difficult conditions.

Tonight in Auckland the men were honoured with the rescue of the year gong at the annual Surf Life Saving New Zealand Awards.

Elsewhere, Waihi Beach's Christiaan Maarhuis was named New Zealand's lifeguard of the year.

Surf Life Saving New Zealand chief executive Paul Dalton said Maarhuis' commitment and dedication to his club, region and surf lifesaving in general is outstanding.

"Despite working full time, with a young family, he never hesitates to step up and lead by example. He is a great role model to the young lifeguards that he is helping to train and they will benefit greatly from his knowledge," Dalton.

Volunteers are the lifeblood of SLSNZ and this year's volunteer of the year award went to Owen West from Oreti Surf Life Saving Club.

West was initially a member of Rarangi Surf Life Saving Club where at the start of the 2014/15 season, the club only had nine lifeguards registered. Taking on numerous roles, West has played a big part in rebuilding the club which now has 29 lifeguards.

2016 Surf Life Saving New Zealand Awards 2016 winners:
Lifeguard of the Year: Christiaan Maarhuis, Waihi Beach
Volunteer of the Year: Owen West, Oreti
Rescue of the Year: Bethells Beach
Training First Aid Award: Tairua
Instructor of the Year: Lucy Scown, Waihi Beach
Innovation of the Year: Max Corboy, St Kilda
Surf Official of the Year: Ross Merrett, Papamoa
Coach of the Year: Shane Radovanovich, Paekakariki
International Sports Performance: Samantha Lee, Lyall Bay
Gudsell Trophy: Orewa
London Trophy: Tolaga Bay