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"Without those lifeguards, he wouldn't be here and this would be a completely different story."

This is how Marcia Charlton frames the harsh reality she lives in after her husband of 28 years had a stroke mid-surf.

It was a Friday in February when Ian "Charlie" Charlton decided to take work off and head to Waihī Beach from Hamilton for a relaxing day in the surf.

It was the end of the summer season, school had gone back, the tourists had retreated back to their offices and Charlie paddled out - "especially because it was quiet".

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"He went up on a wave and thought this is a bit strange, my arm is not working," Marcia said on behalf of Charlie due to the stroke complications.

"He was cool, calm and collected and thought 'I will lie down on the board and angle it to the shore and see what happens'."

The fit, healthy Charlie, without so much as a trace of blood pressure problems quickly realised he might be having a stroke as the right side of his body started to shut down.

"He couldn't move and was not in control of anything, so was taking in water.

"He was lying on his board and trying to wave his arm at people but there was nobody really around because it had all shut down for the season."

Waihī Beach lifeguards will be just some of many lifeguards out on the water protecting Aotearoa. Photo / Supplied
Waihī Beach lifeguards will be just some of many lifeguards out on the water protecting Aotearoa. Photo / Supplied

The "incredible" part - some off-duty lifeguards were at the club setting up an event for Saturday and after five minutes thought they better check out the surfer who they initially thought was just having a rest.

"He is alive because they followed their intuition and their training kicked into gear," Marcia said.

"I think they are just amazing, without them we wouldn't have him today - it is that simple."

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On top of that, other surfers came to help out - one being a doctor.

"It wasn't his time to go."

Doctors believe the pressure of paddling and the surfing itself is what caused a blood vessel to explode in Charlie's head, Marcia said.

Three months were spent in the hospital learning how to walk and talk. Six weeks of that Charlie was being fed by a tube.

Now almost a year later, Charlie is reliant on a wheelchair but is able to walk 100 metres at a time. Photo / Supplied
Now almost a year later, Charlie is reliant on a wheelchair but is able to walk 100 metres at a time. Photo / Supplied

Now almost a year later, Charlie is reliant on a wheelchair but is able to walk 100 metres at a time and determined to progress with each day.

"I guess there are all these what-ifs," Marcia said on behalf of Charlie.

"Like what if he had been surfing outside of [the surf lifesaving club] or if they hadn't had an event on the next day or even if they didn't follow up on them because they weren't on duty.

"We feel complete gratitude to the lifeguards. Without them honestly, I don't know where we would be. With this, we still feel a lot of hope."

But as the summer has rolled around, the reminder to be vigilant and safe in the surf is at the front of Marcia and Charlie's mind, as now the "water baby" is being held back from the sea breeze due to the inability to get his wheelchair on the sand.

"It is quite tough so enjoy it while you can."