There was no slow-motion running down a Californian beach for dozens of young Kiwi lifeguards who oversaw up to 10,000 beachgoers each day on a recent trip to the US.

The team of 42 qualified guards took up "Baywatch-style" patrols at Huntington Beach as part of a rare exchange programme with their American counterparts last month.

Aged from 14 to 17, the guards carried out rescues and patrolled the busy beach that had between 5000 and 10,000 visitors a day, said Tairua Surf Life Saving Club captain Matthew Kerr.

Kerr, 24, was one of four coaches who escorted the teens for the 2-week trip, which he believes will help save lives on Kiwi beaches.


By Friday, 49 people had drowned in New Zealand waters this year compared with 71 at the same time last year. Last summer, lifeguards in the northern region did 652 rescues.

Kerr said California did many things differently. "Not having flags is a big change ... They could have between 5000 and 10,000 people on a beach and the sheer scale of patrolling that many people was much different. They have the Baywatch-styled towers with just one lifeguard, so there is a lot of communication with each other."

He said the Americans' focus on prevention was something the Kiwis hoped to increase back home.

"[The Kiwi guards] have all come back with some new knowledge about water safety, especially the whole preventative action model.

"Instead of waiting for something to happen they are in and out of the water all day warning people and ... being quite clear about where people should and shouldn't be swimming," Kerr said.

The exchanges happen every four years. This summer the US group will visit the Piha and Tairua clubs for two weeks in January.