Mount Maunganui lifeguards copped verbal abuse from beachgoers when they were patrolling Leisure Island and the Mauao base track due to dangerous sea swells.
Lifesaving manager of the Eastern Region Chaz Gibbons-Campbell said Mount Maunganui lifeguards activated their callout squad yesterday and had nine or 10 lifeguards attend the areas because the incoming tide and big swells were washing up on to the track.
"They were at the entrances advising the [Mauao base] track had been closed and it was dangerous. A few people thought they were more entitled than everyone else, gave them the middle finger and pushed on through.
"The lifeguards copped a lot of abuse, which frankly is very poor. They're out there advising people of the dangers and the amount of people that brushed past them and pushed past the signs and gave them abuse was ridiculous," he said.
Gibbons-Campbell said the abuse was mainly from people who went down to check out the conditions, rather than people going in the water.
"It was verbal abuse and more from people who wanted to climb on to Leisure Island and get a photo on the rocks.
"When these guys have given up their time to get some safety messaging out to the community, all these people can do is turn around and give them some harsh words.
"These guys are locals in the area. They've seen these tragedies that have happened in the past and they know what those waves can do. From the videos I've seen on social media, there were some really close calls yesterday," he said.
Gibbons-Campbell said members of the public were also lending a hand to surfers in trouble.
"[The Mount Maunganui lifeguards] got heaps of reports from people from the public jumping in and helping other people who were actually in trouble which is pretty scary.
"People need to heed the advice, keep the conditions and don't get the photo op. The photo can wait."
Surf Lifesaving New Zealand national search and rescue manager Allan Mundy, who is connected to the Omanu Surf Club, said while it was rare for lifeguards to cop abuse, it was "very disappointing" especially considering the lifeguards were volunteers who had dropped what they were doing to respond to a community need.
He said not listening to lifeguards' advice could have fatal consequences.
"We've had some really bad incidents in the past with similar swells where people have lost their lives and our people had to go on to try to find them so it's really dangerous.
"These large swells have got very strong surges and resulting rips are really strong. If someone gets swept out to sea, it's not a matter of standing up and walking back in, in three metres you're going to be over your head."
He said lifeguards had a wealth of experience so their advice needed to be listened to.
"All our guys are trying to do is to warn the public so they do not get in trouble. If you got in trouble yesterday a survivable outcome is very unlikely.
"We don't expect all members of the public to fully appreciate the hazards but we do expect if a lifeguard is down there trying to prevent people getting into difficulty they should listen respect the message."
Mundy said the decision to call on volunteer lifeguards at this time of the year was not made lightly and was done when there was a "real and present danger".
He said the strong swells were expected to be around until Thursday or Friday and reminded people to be mindful when walking on the beach.
"Two to three hours either side of full tide there are areas where there will be no beach safe to walk on."
He said people should always try to walk on dry sand as wet sand meant there had been recent waves and that may mean more were coming.
"If you can't walk on the nice fluffy white sand consider another route."
Surf Life Saving New Zealand health, safety and risk manager and Pāpāmoa Surf Lifesaving Club chairman Ross Merrett said he did not see any surfers in the water while he was at Pāpāmoa Beach yesterday.
"I spoke to a lot of surfers who said the conditions were too messy to get out there [in Pāpāmoa]."
He said it was unfortunate lifeguards had copped abuse just for doing their jobs.
Marine mammal expert and photographer Nathan Pettigrew went down to capture the swells on Sunday as said it was "beautiful yet fierce".
"It's the biggest I've seen since I can ever remember. It was just incredible.
"We may not get that again for a long time."
He said he hadn't heard of any lifeguards copping abuse from beachgoers but said to go out in the water in yesterday's swells would have been nuts and put lives at risk.
Tauranga City Council reopened the Mauao base mid-morning today after a fallen tree was removed. Later in the evening, it closed the track overnight again after monitoring the afternoon high tide.
The council reported there has been some surface damage to both the Mauao base track and the access track to Moturiki (Leisure Island) as a result of the storm, and were advising people to be careful.