Former footballer Aaron Burgess' plans of a career in helping others was kick-started a little earlier than planned, when his day-time stroll down to the beach with his kids turned into a dramatic water rescue.

Mr Burgess, who was due to start police college in April, had gone down to Tomahawk Beach in Dunedin with his daughter Ruby, 4, and Max, 2, when they were approached by a woman who said her friend had gotten in trouble.

"I could see her 100 metres off the beach, just bobbin up and down," he said. "I looked around and there was no one else that could do it."

The father-of-two said instinct took over as he left his children with a woman, who called police, while he dove into the water to help the struggling swimmer.


Despite his brave actions Mr Burgess admitted it was a tough rescue, battling the rather strong rip to reach the panicked woman.

"The rip was strong, it took me five minutes to get to her," he said.

"I was worried she would grab onto me and pull me down."

But he said he managed to calm her down, turned her onto her back and thanks to a bit of "luck" and "adrenalin" managed to pull the floundering woman back to shore.

As Mr Burgess got back to a depth where he could stand, another bystander helped pull the woman to safety.

As they got to shore emergency services arrived and St John Ambulance took over the woman's care.

While Mr Burgess didn't class himself as a strong swimmer, he felt his past experience as a lifeguard, and his relative fitness from his former career as a footballer probably helped with his stamina out in the water.

However, he admitted doubts at his ability flickered through his mind throughout the rescue.

"You do have those thoughts [that it could end badly]," he said. "But I couldn't do nothing."

Asked if he'd do it again, his response was "absolutely, but hypothetically you hope it doesn't happen again".

Despite his hopes he'd never have to enter such a dramatic rescue again, Mr Burgess said it gave him some confidence he'd do well in his future career as a cop.

"What happened today, gave me the confidence that I can respond in an emergency."

He said being able to help someone gave him a "buzz" and that "to do that for a career would be fantastic".