Dangerous conditions and multiple rescues prompt warning from surf lifeguards as weekday patrols end

For Surf Life Saving Northern Region

Surf Lifeguards at two of Auckland’s most dangerous beaches are warning surfers and other beach-goers not to overestimate their abilities as weekday patrols come to an end tomorrow.

The Paid Lifeguard Service (PLS) will put up the flags for the last time at Muriwai and Piha on Friday 6 March, though weekend patrols by Volunteer Lifeguards will continue to Easter.

Muriwai PLS Patrol Captain Maysha Ahrens says they’ve rescued 14 surfers or swimmers trapped in holes over the past three weeks. “Conditions are particularly bad as the tide goes out because the currents get really strong and sweep people into these deep holes that open up all along the beach,” she says. “Holes are these patches of deep water where people can’t touch the ground and there are no breaking waves to catch back to shore, so people just get stuck.”

Ahrens says that most of those rescued have been surfers who’ve overestimated their abilities. “Often you’ll see a surfer just paddling and paddling to try to get out of a hole and it’s like they’re on a treadmill because they’re not making any progress. If people are first-time surfers or have any doubts then please don’t go out, because from next week we aren’t going to be there during the week to rescue you.”

Piha PLS Patrol Captain Jacob Rennie says holes are also a major hazard at their beach and often feed into the southern Patiki Rip, which sucks out to sea. “If you get trapped in a rip or a hole the best thing to do is relax, lie on your back and raise one arm into the air to signal for help. Don’t try to swim against the current as you’ll just get tired really fast.

“If you see someone in distress in the water then call 111 and ask Police for the Surf Lifeguards. This will activate the local Surf Emergency Callout Squad who can perform a rescue. The main thing is to keep the person in trouble in your sight so we know where they are. Don’t go out and try be the hero unless you’re a very confident swimmer, and if you do, make sure to take a flotation device with you.”

Northern Region Paid Lifeguards patrolled at 22 locations from Ahipara in the Far North to Raglan over the summer, with Muriwai and Piha the final two to finish up.

SLSNR Operations Manager Alan Gibson says the strong presence of lifeguards over the 2019-2020 summer coupled with key safety campaigns and hard-hitting messages has contributed to a relatively low level of swimmers getting into trouble and few drownings among the beach-going population, though disproportionate numbers of fishers and surfers continue to get into strife.

“Most of that was down to inexperience in challenging conditions, or in the case of fishers not taking precautions such as wearing lifejackets. These are all areas where Surf Life Saving is looking to have greater impact to avoid future tragedies.”

SLSNR CEO Matt Williams says that the finish of the paid lifeguard patrolling season also didn’t signal any kind of respite for the surf lifesaving movement, as work will begin immediately on reviewing the season just gone and planning for the next and future seasons. “A critical piece of work for the coming winter will be around working with local authorities, communities, and surf lifesaving clubs to understand where future services will be required, what format they will take and how they will be supported. To me this is a critical and exciting piece of work to embark on with our stakeholders ensuring that we are all well-positioned to deliver to the future needs of our beach users. For us it is about getting ahead of the curve and knowing today where we need to be tomorrow.”

For those wanting to go to the beach over the coming weekends, information about volunteer patrol locations and times as well as hazard warnings can be found on the SafeSwim website.

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