A17-year-old girl has been dubbed a hero after temporarily abandoning a surf ironman event to save a kayaker off the Mt Maunganui coast.

More than three hours into her swim, Cayleen Bester's surf life saving instincts kicked in when she spotted a man stuck on rocks.

"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." She said it didn't look like he could swim so she paddled over to support him and kept him safe until an inflatable rescue boat arrived.

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

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

"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 to shore before assessing him and leaving him to think about his narrow escape."

Bester finished the Mount Monster endurance race in 3h, 24m, 5sec. 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.

It's not the first rescue the South African-born teen has been involved with — 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.

She celebrated yesterday's effort with an icecream.

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

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"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 all right."