Rescues flag up dangers of ocean

By Dylan Thorne

A series of dramatic rescues along the Bay coastline this summer shows just how treacherous our stunning beaches can be.

Earlier this week, 21-year-old Wi Paratene Turuwhenua was rescued after being struck by a large wave and swept out to sea by a rip while swimming at Mount Maunganui.

He would almost certainly have drowned if it hadn't been for two surfers who held him above water until the Lifeguard Service IRB (inflatable rescue boat) picked him up and took him to shore.

Exhausted in the churning surf, Mr Turuwhenua said he was about to give up his fight to stay afloat before the two surfers came to his aid.

A day earlier big surf stranded a father and his 8-year-old son on a rock at Whakatane and the pair had to be rescued by 18-year-old lifeguard Chantai Lillas.

Learning to swim is essential for all children but even then the power and unpredictable nature of the ocean means it is a dangerous place.

The two rescues highlight just how quickly people can find themselves in serious trouble in the surf.

They also highlight the fact that lifeguards can be the difference between life and death for a swimmer caught in a rip or struggling in heavy swells.

It's been a busy summer on our beaches.

Papamoa lifeguards have rescued record numbers of people as crashing surf and powerful rips hit the Bay of Plenty coastline.

The club had 37 rescues last week - more rescues than for the whole of last year.

Papamoa Beach club patrol captain Shaun Smith said half of the people rescued last week would have drowned had they not been swimming in the patrolled area.

The fact they had been swimming between the flags meant guards could get to them quickly after spotting they were in trouble.

These rescues serve as a warning and demonstrate just how critical it is for everyone to swim between the flags.

Those who don't are putting their lives at risk.

Perhaps Mr Turuwhenua put it best when, moments after he was returned to land, he was asked if he had a message to other swimmers: "Be careful when you're swimming. I could easily have been another statistic so I'm really happy to be alive."

- Rotorua Daily Post

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