Twenty-year-old Clarissa Nowak has been a part of the Wanganui Surf Lifeguard Service for seven years and in 2018 was involved in New Zealand's rescue of the year.

It started out like any day on February 18. Nowak was patrolling Castlecliff Beach when she heard of two swimmers being lost at sea at Kai Iwi beach over the radio.

Nowak went to help out and when she arrived, discovered that abseilers couldn't launch and inflatable rescue boats (IRBs) were at risk due to the conditions.

"It was one of the worst days of summer, they really didn't pick a good day for a dip because the swells were not only huge, but they were also dumping waves," Nowak said.


"With dumping waves it's really easy to flip an IRB which was why we couldn't just drive to them and pick them up."

A team led by Laura O'Keeffe had been able to identify that the father and daughter were stranded on a sandbar out in the ocean.

Nowak was discussing tactics with her team in the beach tower when they discovered lifeguard Alex Forlong had injured herself swimming to the stranded duo.

When Forlong came back to shore, Nowak tagged in, went out on an IRB, dived in and began swimming towards the sandbar.

"As I was swimming, I was thinking 'don't stuff this up' but just getting there was a really big step because I could calm them down.

"When I got there, the issue was that the island they were sitting on was made of clay, there were quite a few sharp shells sticking out and the girl was in shock.

"She had hurt her ankle and that made her not want to move."

Another lifeguard, Phil Gilmore, came over to help, the two of them were able to stabilise the girl and then bring both back to shore.


Nowak said they were very happy to feel the sand between their toes when they reached land.

"Obviously the girl was super-relieved, but then they were taken straight to the paramedics, so I didn't actually get to talk to them afterwards.

"I haven't caught up with them since, it would be interesting to hear what they think though."

There is a huge potential for rips along the West Coast and the two were swept out by a rip when they decided to dive in on the south side of the beach.

Nowak moved to New Zealand from near Frankfurt in Germany in 2010 and attended Whanganui High School.

She was a competitive swimmer with the Wanganui Swimming Club and became interested in surf lifesaving when her brother Vincent became a lifeguard.

"Where I grew up there wasn't actually any water around us, but in the summer we'd go to Sweden and there were lakes all around there," Nowak said.

"I've always liked the water, I can't imagine not being confident in it, so it feels great to be able to help people that aren't."

Nowak wasn't able to attend the Surf Life Saving New Zealand Awards in Auckland as she is studying for a bachelor of science at Victoria University of Wellington.

When the season starts around Christmas time, Nowak will make the drive up whenever she can to help patrol at Castlecliff and Mowhanau beaches.

Her advice for the summer is simple, you must know your limits.

"Earlier this year it was quite obvious that it wasn't safe to swim that day, it didn't look good at all, so I'm not sure why they went in in the first place.

"Just don't go in if you don't know your limits."