A Tauranga teenager with just two months of surf lifesaving training has been commended after saving the life of an elderly man caught in a rip.

Ian Pugh, 13, is a member of the Mount Maunganui Lifeguard Service and while he is a three weeks shy of being old enough to become qualified, that did not stop him when he found a bodyboarder in strife.

Last Friday Ian headed out on the water for a surf after he finished training on the beach.

"I saw a couple of people out further and one of them looked like he was struggling because the rip was coming across and he was getting swept into the rocks," he said.


"He was in a spot where the waves kept crashing on him but he wasn't going anywhere - I went over and asked if he was alright and he said he'd quite like a lift because he was out of breath."

The man, described as an elderly man bodyboarding, grabbed onto Ian's board and the youngster towed him to shore.

After navigating the shore break, Ian was met on the beach by club coaches and New Zealand surf lifesaving representatives Hamish Miller and Declan Dempster, French national lifeguard Julien Lalanne and members of the regional lifeguard service based at the beach.

The man, although shaken, was assessed by lifeguards and given the all-clear.

Lalanne, who has been coaching at the Mount for a number of years during his off-season, was incredibly proud of his young charge.

"I was just so impressed with his instincts as much as anything," he said.

"Technically, it wasn't a perfect rescue but the way he saw they were in trouble and went straight in to help more than made up for that.

"And the most impressive thing was how humble he was afterwards - he just shrugged and said it was no big deal."


Patrol captain Julia Conway helped Pugh fill out his first-ever rescue incident form and was also impressed with his actions.

"He kept a calm head and did exactly what lifeguards many years his senior are supposed to do," Conway said.

"It was pretty cool to see someone so young handle themselves so well in that situation.

Conway said the conditions were tricky on Friday, with rescues up and down the coast, caused by strong winds and holes formed by large swells earlier in the week.

She recommended people swim between the flags and use swim fins if bodyboarding.

Ian, who attends Bethlehem College, admitted he was a reluctant participant when he was first taken to the beach by his family at the start of the season but now is totally hooked, especially with such a successful outcome to his first rescue.

"It didn't really seem that big a deal but I could see it could've got worse if he was out there for any longer,' he said.

"It all happened so fast but it seemed like the best thing to do, to give him a bigger board and get him in safely."