Northland lifeguards are ready to dive into what could be their busiest season yet as patrols kick off today.
With Kiwis stranded on the country's shores due to ongoing international travel restrictions local lifeguards are braced for higher numbers of beachgoers on staycation or who have travelled to the region.
Tourism New Zealand has predicted up to 18 per cent increase in domestic visitation through peak season, Northland Inc Destination general manager Tania Burt said.
"If that is anything to go by then Northland is likely to do very well as a popular summer destination."
Burt reported anecdotally from accommodation and activity providers forward bookings for Labour weekend and the summer season are "generally looking good".
Waipū Cove Surf Lifesaving Club guards are in a whirlwind of completing refreshers and brushing up on skills ready for the pending season, club captain Kath Manning said.
"They are really excited, especially as last season ended so quickly."
Manning described how the Surf Life Saving Emergency Call Out Squad (ECOS) have already been awash with out-of-hour rescues.
ECOS services the region for all surf lifesaving related callout operations alongside other emergency services, even outside patrol hours and including search and rescue missions.
Surf Life Saving Northern Region chief executive Matt Williams is predicting a continuation of previous season trends which showed more Kiwis were visiting Northland's "wonderful beaches".
"It's great people want to explore their backyards. If you're wanting to explore the coastlines make sure you do it safely."
Mangawhai Heads Volunteer Lifeguard Service lifeguard Tony Baker said they are already experiencing crowds they don't usually see until peak times in January.
"We've already completed after-hour rescues of people making the most of the warm weather and heading out for a swim - not realising how dangerous conditions can be on a nice day."
Baker believed it was a symptom of the growth in Mangawhai's population, which will become more obvious this summer as people enjoy their backyards.
To help with the surge in locals Mangawhai Heads Volunteer Lifeguard Service has more than 50 lifeguards and 16 newly qualified IRB drivers.
Ruakākā Surf Lifesaving Patrol chairwoman Tania Ahrens said if their usual
hordes of tourists are replaced by staycationers their influx of new members will mean a strong presence of guards on their beach.
SLSNZ chief executive Paul Dalton said the organisation is anticipating their busiest surf lifesaving season on record this summer.
"The fact that Kiwis can't travel overseas means many families will head to the beach. We encourage people to pick patrolled beaches and always swim between the flags."
Volunteer weekend patrols start today from 11am-4pm and go until Easter. The Far North starts patrolling Ahipara Beach in December. Waipū Cove and Mangawhai Heads will run observational patrols during November before kicking off their full patrol schedule in December.
Men the bigger risk takers
"Dead" is how a Whangārei lifeguard described the alternative ending for a pair of inexperienced male divers.
Seasoned Whangārei Heads club captain Josh Maxwell saved the men from a deep sea drowning at one of the country's most dangerous beaches, Ocean Beach near Whangārei.
The off-season rescue last Sunday afternoon highlighted the call for male beachgoers to practise more water safety, Maxwell said.
Statistics from Surf Lifesaving New Zealand (SLSNZ) revealed in the past decade 87 per cent of Northland's fatal drowning victims were male.
For the 2019/20 summer period - Labour weekend to Easter - there were six fatal drownings in Northland, five of which were male.
The numbers reflect a national trend across the country's beaches and SLSNZ have launched the SaveTheMales campaign as a response.
SaveTheMales kicked off in early October to raise awareness around the country's alarming male drowning rates, SLSNZ chief executive Paul Dalton said.
"We're calling on Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson to talk to our Kiwi blokes about beach safety and encourage them to listen to our surf lifeguards."
Maxwell described the men in their 30s he rescued as having "all the gear and no idea". They told the lifeguard they had driven up from Auckland to dive for crayfish off the Bream Head coast.
"I reckon they would've died out there and no one would've even known," Maxwell said.
The Whangārei Heads Surf Lifesaving club captain spotted two heads dip into the deep waters near Tarakanahi Island as 1.5m ground swells pounded the nearby rocks. Maxwell just happened to be close by as he completed his grinding weekend ritual - an 8km paddleboard loop from the beach to Guano Island.
"I was concerned," he said. "But I thought they must be really experienced divers taking on swell like that."
Forty minutes later, still plagued with concern Maxwell checked on the divers as he started his return to shore.
"I looked to see if I could spot them and the swell had taken them a kilometre further out to sea and separated them," Maxwell said.
"They looked buggered and were slowly trying to kick their way back to shore."
Maxwell approached the men on the rescue paddleboard and told them to grab one of his feet each and towed them back to safety.
The need for male beachgoers to have more self-discipline around the region's coastlines has been echoed by Northland's other surf lifesaving clubs.
Both Ruakākā Surf Lifesaving Patrol chairwoman Tania Ahrens and Waipū Cove Surf Life Saving club captain Kath Manning believed men are the bigger risk takers.
Ahrens said Ruakākā-based guards found it was mostly men in their 20s to 40s armed with a "she'll be right" attitude.
The biggest issues highlighted by Northland lifeguards were
overestimating abilities within the water, a lack of awareness around surf and water conditions, wearing no lifejackets, and inadequate pre-planning for fishing outings.
In the eight years Baylys Beach Surf Lifesaving club captain Kyran Gillespie has spent patrolling Northland beaches he has experienced men consistently ignoring the advice of lifeguards.
"In our service we talk to everyone about beach safety before they go in the water. We see the men brush it off, whereas most of the women thank us for it."
Regardless of gender, SLS Northern Region chief executive Matt Williams urged everyone headed to the beach this weekend and over the summer to swim between the flags, swim to your ability, and check in with the lifeguards if you're unsure about something.