A man who came within a breath of death at Waitarere Beach has shown how grateful he was to be rescued with a huge donation - 65 years after being pulled from the water.

The sense of gratitude that Lew Sutherland, 73, had for the surf club member who saved his life on that summer's day in 1954 never left him.

He recently donated $25,000 to the club, which they planned to put towards a new watchtower and building to help save even more lives.

As a nine-year-old, Mr Sutherland, who grew up and still lives in the Hutt Valley, recalled he had wandered down the beach at Waitarere with his brothers and sisters and went for a swim.


"I could swim like a fish," he said.

Then an undercurrent swept him out past the breaking waves and he was fighting for his life.

"I was in real trouble," he said.

"I'd done all the swimming courses and life-saving courses and had all the certificates from school. The flags were out, but I thought I was too good a swimmer to abide by the flags."

He remembered thrusting himself upwards with an outstretched hand every time he went under, something that he was taught to do during surf lifesaving lessons.

"I learnt a big lesson that day. There was a terrific undertow that sucked me in beautifully. Fortunately I was pulled out."

A lifesaver on patrol that afternoon saw his distress and swam out to him, pulled him onto the sand and began to pump his chest.

"I can't remember his name," he said.

Mr Sutherland's younger brother watched it all unfold from the beach and they were able to walk home to tell his parents of the ordeal.


He couldn't remember their reaction either, but said "I think they sent me to bed".

Mr Sutherland said he was "number one son" - the eldest of four boys and two girls.
The family used to rent a holiday bach on the beach front owned by the family accountant.

He said he had fond memories of their family holidays at Waitarere. The drive from their family home in Hutt Valley to the beach used to take three hours in the 1950s.

He declined to be photographed but was happy to share his story.

Meanwhile, surf club member Kylie Bensemann said they were grateful for Mr Sutherland's gift and would use the money towards replacing the surf club building.

The club hoped work would begin by 2020.

The club's volunteers began patrols last weekend, and will continue every weekend and public holiday until March next year, between 1pm and 5pm.

Horowhenua District Council funded a paid lifeguard weekday patrol between December 19 to January 25, between 11am and 6pm.

Lifeguards were competent swimmers trained in first aid and trained IRB drivers.

The club currently had a team of 40 guards who were commended for their efforts in training and working for the organisation.