Beach feud flares at Piha

By Celeste Gorrell Anstiss

Photo / Supplied
Photo / Supplied

A cameraman for the reality-television show Piha Rescue was ordered off the West Coast beach as he filmed a girl pulled from a rip during lessons by a surf instructor who has starred on the TV show before.

The instructor, Phil Wallis, operates the Piha Surf School, which is independent of the Piha Surf Life Saving Club, whose members are the stars of the show. He took exception to the cameraman filming his lesson.

"I walked up to him and told him to turn the camera off," Wallis said. "I said, 'Get lost buddy'. He kept filming and pointing the camera at me. I chased him off the beach."

The altercation is the latest in a string of incidents between Wallis and the reality television show. Last year, footage showed Wallis holding back students from lifeguards who were trying to pull them into a lifeboat. This time, he told the cameraman to stop filming after the mother of one of his students became upset during a lesson.

Wallis said he was teaching an 11-year-old, who had a year's surfing experience, to handle a rip. The girl's mother became upset and worried her daughter was in trouble, which drew the cameraman's attention.

Wallis said he was fed up with the constant presence of the film crew on the beach, where he has lived for 26 years.

"They harass people. They look for content and dramatise everything," he said.

"Some women don't want to sit on the sand in their togs because the cameras are never far away.

"It would be different if the girl had put her hand up and genuinely needed rescuing. But they were just dramatising a small situation."

The girl was soon pulled to shore by two surfers and her mother, Alex Gard, said she later realised she had panicked.

"Next minute I turn around and there's a camera in my face. I didn't realise who it was or where they were from," Gard said.

She would be embarrassed if the footage was aired, she said.

'"Phil showed her exactly what was going to happen in the rip. He knows Piha like the back of his hand. I have complete faith in him."

Piha Rescue star Duncan Clark said Wallis could get "a bit wound up".

"It's happened several times this year. He feels he doesn't have to inform us when he's doing these lessons."

Piha Surf Club president Peter Brown described Wallis' lessons as "high-risk". He said there had been no problems with Piha Rescue in its eight years filming - apart from incidents involving Wallis.

Brown said the water-safety education provided by the show outweighed any minor inconveniences.

The surf club also received a small payment for its participation in the show and the exposure on prime-time television kept sponsors happy.

TVNZ and South Pacific Video Productions, the company behind Piha Rescue, would not comment.

- Herald on Sunday

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