All the surf lifesavers could see, in the green, foamy water of one of New Zealand's most popular - and dangerous - beaches, was hair.
It belonged to a man who had tried to rescue a struggling girl after surf lifesaver patrols had packed up for the day, and instead found himself fighting for his life in the waters of West Auckland's Piha Beach.
When Olivia Kayes and fellow lifeguards reached the man, he was moments from death.
"Just his hair was above the water … another couple of seconds he would've been goners," Kayes said.
The man, initially spotted by two lifeguards still on the beach an hour after patrol ended, was unconscious as he was pulled from the water, she said.
"But he was still breathing."
He was one of the lucky ones.
Last year 90 people drowned in New Zealand, including 25 at beaches.
The overall toll was the worst since 2011, when 91 people drowned, according to Water Safety New Zealand's 2021 Drowning Report.
Yesterday, Surf Life Saving Northern Region - whose territory ranges from Raglan to Ahipara on the west coast of the upper North Island, and then south to Mairangi Bay in Auckland - began its official summer beach patrols.
They began in the sunshine of a settled long Labour weekend, and with a simple message from the organisation - please stay safe.
It's one shared by Kayes, a Northern Region Junior Regional Lifeguard of the Year, St John Ambulance emergency medical technician, bachelor of health science in paramedicine student and - exam results-dependent - registered paramedic with a long-term dream of working on rescue helicopters.
Her No 1 piece of advice to the public was to always swim between the flags.
"And [stay] within your own abilities."
The Takapuna 20-year-old comes from a lifeguarding family, with her father, uncle and aunties all having been lifeguards, and after starting at Red Beach Surf Life Saving Club as a "nipper" she pulled on the yellow shirt at 15.
She was responsible for the lives of others, but the magnitude of that responsibility took a while to sink in, Kayes said.
"It's pretty crazy looking back at it … 15, 16-year-olds doing CPR and pulling people out of rips and telling old people they can't swim outside the flags.
"Even now I still feel pretty young to be doing the stuff we do."
Nerves were more common in her first years, but it could still be scary at times - such as on New Year's Day last year when they had five major incidents at Piha, including a body recovery, a critically ill patient, a missing person, a bunch of injuries and a lot of rescues.
"That's probably the most nervous I've been in the last few years. You just take a deep breath and back your training, back your skills and just do what you can."
Other moments stirred emotion for different reasons.
Last year, Kayes was part of the Northern Region's first all-female patrol for a week, and was given a daily reminder of less progressive times.
"There's a lady that swims every day, out the back, no matter how big it is. Every day she'd come up to me saying how she was never allowed to be a lifeguard when she was a girl … she was always like, 'I could run faster than the boys, and swim faster, and they never let me'.
"It's pretty cool to show her what's happening now, to see how far it's come but it's bittersweet, too."
Olivia Kayes' top tips for a safe summer
• Swim between the flags, and within your own limits
• Ask lifeguards for advice
• If in doubt, stay out
• Wear a lifejacket if rock fishing
• Remember the 3Rs if you get in trouble - relax and float, raise your hand, and ride the rip until help arrives or you can safely swim back to shore
• Go to safeswim.org.nz to check when beaches are patrolled, and for updated surf and current conditions, and water quality