Mount Maunganui and Papamoa lifeguards made 24 rescues in two days as long weekend swimmers faced towering 3m waves.
The two-day lifesaving stint resulted in more rescues for Mt Maunganui than the total recorded over the past six months.
On Sunday, the Mount Maunganui Lifeguard Service carried out 11 rescues from Main Beach to Tay St.
By 4pm yesterday they had already done another six, with two hours to go before the patrol finished.
Meanwhile at Papamoa yesterday afternoon, one young lifeguard made seven rescues.
Surf Lifesaving New Zealand eastern region lifesaving manager Chase Cahalane said overall the summer season had been one of the safest on their books.
However, dangerous surf conditions along the Bay of Plenty coastline over the long weekend had created a "combination for carnage". The arrival of a 1.5m to 1.8m swell produced 3m-high facing waves as it hit shallow water, as well as powerful undertows — feeder currents — along the beach and strong rips.
"I think conditions had a lot to do with it but people's attitudes towards their own safety played a part, too," Cahalane said.
"It's often people over-estimating their ability and under-estimating the conditions. That caught a lot of people out.
"There's a lot of surf and the bigger the swell, the bigger the rips. If someone's not swimming in the right spot, it's easy to get caught up in it. Even those feeder currents are very strong and caught a few people."
Cahalane said thousands of people were at the beach over the long weekend but a lack of funding meant the satellite patrol base at Tay St was not operating. Lifeguards patrolled the beach instead, he said.
In preliminary figures released to the Bay of Plenty Times, Mount lifeguards made 13 rescues between July 1, 2017, and January 26, 2018.
There had been a total of 17 for the entire eastern region, which consists of seven clubs including Whakatane and Opotiki.
The initial rescue figures had been "surprising" for Cahalane.
"It's been a really hot January and the crowds have definitely been at the beach," he said. "I was prepared for a shocker."
Last summer, Surf Lifesaving New Zealand changed the way it reported rescues.
Callouts were split into rescues — where someone's life was in peril, or assists — for situations that were not life-threatening.
Papamoa Surf Life Saving club captain Shaun Smith said his lifeguards had also been busy, but not with rescues — until yesterday.
He put yesterday's spree down to the rapidly changing surf conditions and a packed beach.
Most of the rescues were of people caught in "flash rips", including young children.
"They are probably only getting sucked back 20m but they start to panic, especially if they don't have a boogie board."
Earlier, Smith said it had been a quiet season for rescues.
"We haven't really had any. We've had quite a few assists, where we've helped people out, etc, but no one in any real danger.
"We've been lucky at Papamoa. We've got a lot more people so you would think we've had a lot more rescues but, no."
Smith believed Papamoa attracted more families to a more concentrated part of the coast compared with the Mount which was popular with foreigners and teenagers.
Meanwhile, Omanu Surf Lifesaving Club president Donal Boyle understood there had not been any rescues on his patch this weekend.
"People were swimming within their capabilities."
His team of lifeguards had been asked to break out their first aid kit a few times this summer, however — mostly to help people who had cut their feet on tuatua shells.