Busy weekend for Northern lifeguards

By Wright Communications

SLSNR CEO Matt Williams says lifeguards were put to the test across the entire west coast of Auckland as the sunny conditions and high surf brought large numbers to the beach. Guards at Muriwai Beach had the briskest two days patrolling, plucking 41 people from the water over the weekend, including 13 in one mass rescue on Saturday afternoon. Matt says he was astounded at the lengths volunteers went to in looking after the beachgoers, and was concerned at reports of lifeguards "literally limping off the beach after an almost 12-hour day".

One Muriwai swimmer probably also owes his life to the sharp eyes of patrol captain Damian Molloy and Rescue Water Craft (RWC) operator Andrew Lancaster who spotted the man entering the water a kilometre down the beach from the patrolled area.  Damian says the man disappeared after one rough wave doubled up and he immediately sent a crew down to check, who found the man barely staying afloat in the water.  An ambulance was summoned and took the man to hospital and it's understood he has recovered.

Matt says the man was yet another swimmer who owes his life to a lifeguard. "To say he's a lucky guy is a gross understatement.  But this simply bears out the folly of attempting to swim outside the flagged area when the conditions are this dangerous."

Muriwai Volunteer Lifeguard Service Head Lifeguard Oliver Tyack says the beach saw possibly the highest numbers of people on the beach for any day in the last few seasons between 12 and 2pm on the Sunday.

Oliver says a bad rip and trough in the middle of the beach running south caught many swimmers out, and flash rips had also opened up around the flagged area during the two-hour period.  "Despite lifeguards' efforts a number of swimmers got caught in the rips, some - frustratingly - up to four times each.  We also assisted 70 people back to safety before they got to the point of needing rescue. Our resources were really stretched."

Elsewhere on the west coast lifeguards also were kept on their toes with the tricky conditions and large numbers of beachgoers. Karekare beach saw nine rescues and 30 assists, while Sunset Beach had one rescue and nine assists.

Peak headcount across all the SLSNR beaches was more than 18,000, but a more telling statistic, says Matt, is the number of preventative actions carried out by volunteers - more than 2600, involving around 7500 people. "Nobody drowned this weekend because our volunteers were out there, and they're exceptional - it pays to emphasise this.

"Our guards have done a great job in averting major incidents and possible tragedy by intervening smartly when it looks like something might go wrong.  If we have a relatively safe and uneventful summer, that will be the reason, along with what I hope is a much greater sense of respect for conditions and more common sense from the public.

"I also want to thank our volunteers again for going the extra distance.  They've been extending patrols into the evening in the face of people staying at the beach much longer in the day.  Muriwai for example extended their volunteer patrol till 7pm - they still had more than 1200 people on the beach - and around 300 in the water - at 6pm."

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