When Far North surf lifeguards Anthony Walker and Thom Anderson dived into raging surf in fading light and atrocious conditions to rescue two divers stuck on rocks they didn't give too much thought about their own safety - they knew their training would serve them well.

Their bravery, and that of their fellow lifeguards on March 9 this year, was described as heroic by Northland's Search and Rescue boss Senior Sergeant Cliff Metcalfe.

Now, the rescue, at Tapotupotu Bay at the top of the country, has earned the lifeguards involved in the dramatic rescue - Far North Rescue vice-president Tony Walker, his son Anthony Walker, club captain Thom Anderson and his wife, lifeguard Kate Clarke - the award for the top rescue of the 2016/17 surf lifesaving season.

Anthony Walker said it was an honour for the Far North Rescue club to win the award ahead of many, much larger clubs.


"We're just a little club, but we can make a big impact," he said.

He and Mr Anderson knew if they relied on their training that evening they would be safe, but their heroics have rightly been recognised with the BP Rescue of the Year award at Saturday's Surf Life Saving Awards of Excellence in Auckland.

"We just did what we had to do to make sure everybody got home safely," Anthony Walker said yesterday of their efforts.

On the evening of March 9, in fading light and with three-metre swell battering Tapotupotu Bay, Anthony Walker and Mr Anderson were involved in the rescue of two divers who had been stuck on rocks at the bottom of a cliff. The divers, both from Kaitaia, had been there for about five hours and the crew from Far North Surf Rescue were the last chance of saving them.

The weather was atrocious, with high winds, sheeting rain, lightning and raging seas. It was so bad that the Northland Rescue Helicopter couldn't get to the men because of the risks in the foul conditions. It was just too dangerous and things were looking decidedly grim for the two divers - until the crew from Far North Surf Rescue turned up.

The four of them had already driven the 125km trip from the club's Ahipara base to Tapotupotu Bay after getting their rescue gear and hooking up the Inflatable Rigid Boat (IRB) within about five minutes of taking the emergency call. The four volunteers knew what to do - this is what they train for - and they had to do it quickly.

The IRB was launched from the bay with Mr Anderson the driver and Anthony Walker as the "swimmer" who would go into the water first to get to the divers. Ms Clarke was carrying out the rescue logistics from the shore and Tony Walker co-ordinating things and on stand by.

The IRB got to about 100m away from the rocks and it was pretty clear that the only way to rescue them was jump in the water and swim to them.

Anthony Walker leapt in first - his main concern to get the first man out quickly and safely.

The gut he was in was surging, with competing currents pulling him under and on to the rocks - but he used his training and courage to get the first diver back to the boat safely. Mr Anderson then swapped over and jumped into the turbulent ocean to get the second diver.

Again, skill, bravery and determination got the man to the IRB and they got back to the shore, almost on darkness.