A 17-year-old girl has been dubbed a hero after temporarily abandoning a surf ironman event to save a kayaker off the Mount Maunganui coast.

More than three hours into her event, Cayleen Bester's surf life saving instincts kicked in when she spotted a man stuck on rocks who looked like he was in trouble.

"He was trying to pull his kayak up on the rocks but it was really full of water and sinking and I was worried he was more concerned about saving his kayak than saving his own skin," Bester said.

She said it didn't look like he could swim so she paddled over to support him and kept him safe until a IRB arrived.

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IRB drivers Meg Fisher and Laura Weston, who were doing event safety for the race, picked the man up and took him to shore, and Bester continued her race.

Weston said Bester had gone way off course to check on the guy and was sitting with him on her board helping him out when they arrived.

Lifeguards Meg Fisher (left) and Laura Weston keep an eye on competitors during the Mount Monster endurance race today. Photo / Jamie Troughton, Dscribe Media Services
Lifeguards Meg Fisher (left) and Laura Weston keep an eye on competitors during the Mount Monster endurance race today. Photo / Jamie Troughton, Dscribe Media Services

"It was a real credit to her because other paddlers were going past in a world of pain and hadn't spotted him but she still had her wits about her. It was pretty cool to see."

The surges over the rocks were causing havoc and Bester was preparing to dive in with a tube to assist when the man was finally coaxed off the rocks, Weston said.

"They took him nearly a kilometre back into shore, through the heavy surf zone, before assessing him and leaving him to think about his narrow escape."

Bester eventually finished the Mount Monster endurance race in 3 hours, 24 minutes and 5 seconds. She was 72nd overall and 10th in the under-19 women's division. She also received an award for the Spirit of the Mount Monster at prize giving.

It's not the first rescue the South African-born teen has been involved with either - three years ago as a newly-qualified 14-year-old lifeguard, she swam out to rescue a man whose inflatable chair had blown out to sea.

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She celebrated today's effort with an ice cream, which also helped ease the physical toll the race had taken in rising 2m swells.

"It was pretty hard - I had cramps in my legs and I'd been a bit sick beforehand, plus the surf was pretty epic and I really struggled to get out on the ski.

"But I just knew it was the right thing to do, to help the guy out, and I definitely wasn't worried about my finishing time. I was pretty stoked and just glad that he got out alright."

New Zealand's biggest surf life saving endurance event saw the men's title captured by Taranaki 17-year-old Joe Collins, ahead of 15-year-old Gisborne prodigy Lachie Falloon, while Claudia Kelly (East End) also broke through for her first win at 18, ahead of defending champion Ella Kingi (Otaki).