Mass rescue in Waikato wins Rescue of the Year Award

For Surf Lifesaving Northern Region

A rescue involving 10 swimmers on a Waikato beach has won the Rescue of the Year award at the Toyota Financial Services Surf Life Saving Northern Region Awards of Excellence.

The mass rescue, performed by Kariaotahi Surf Life Saving Club took place on a busy Waitangi Day and is described by the crew as “one for the record books”.

On the day of the rescue, Karioitahi Beach was buzzing with beach-goers with the headcount for the day estimated at over 2,000 people with approximately 350 people in the water at one time. It was also high-tide at 11.30am meaning the team were working with an outgoing tide throughout the day.

Things appeared to be under control until 5.00pm when the low tide presented itself as an increasingly dangerous challenge for the lifeguards. This escalated when flash rips began to open up resulting in multiple swimmers getting pulled outside of the flags. An Inflatable Rescue Boat (IRB) was dispatched and five lifeguards with a tube and fins entered the water.

The lifeguards secured 10 swimmers in distress on to the tube before the IRB arrived. Swimmers were then ferried back to shore on the IRB with four patients in bad condition from taking on water. The four injured swimmers were transported to the club house and treated in the first aid rom. Three patients had improved and were discharged while one young man not showing any signs of improvement was taken to the hospital by St John’s Ambulance. 

Due to the dangerous sea conditions the beach was closed by the Patrol Captain Tara Coe and swimmers were advised to exit the water.

That day Kariaotahi lifeguards also received another rescue mission at Hamilton’s Gap, a small unpatrolled beach approximately 20km north from Kariaotahi.

Tara instructed four lifeguards Bradley Walters and Shannon Swann and off-patrol lifeguards Josh and Logan Martin to head to the beach. Bradley and Shannon took approximately 25 minutes to arrive in an IRB negotiating large holes, sandbanks and heavy surf with the low tide. Logan, Josh and a Westpac Rescue Helicopter arrived shortly after. Fortunately, the distressed swimmers made it back to shore on their own with only one member being attended by Westpac and transported to hospital.

The Kariaotahi Surf Life Saving Club accepted the Rescue of the Year Award from MC and SLSNR President Malcolm Beattie. An award that Patrol Captain Tara Coe says the team doesn’t take lightly.

When you’re on patrol your main priority is making sure the public are safe at the beach. We’re all glad to be able to make such a huge impact to the lives of our local community and while getting recognised for it is not expected we really appreciate the recognition.”  

SLSNR CEO Matt Williams says that the swift response from the Kariaotahi club lifeguards meant that many people made it home to their families safely at the end of the day.

“Thanks to the hard work and skill of our lifeguards, multiple tragedies were avoided on Waitangi Day weekend. This season lifeguards faced a number of demanding rescues and have answered them admirably. This is a well-deserved recognition for Kariaotahi and all northern region clubs who are delivering such a critical service,” he says.

Other finalists for the award include Bethells Beach Surf Life Saving Club for a rescue that started with the assistance of an injured patient on the West Auckland beach track with an ankle injury. Later on that day in an off-duty rescue, five struggling swimmers caught in a rip were assisted by the Bethells team to safety.

A family rescue conducted by Orewa Surf life Saving Club which involved two beloved pets at the Orewa estuary was also a finalist. The family of four were caught in a rip and then rescued by lifeguards from Orewa Surf Lifesaving Club within minutes of signalling for help.

You can find a full list of winners from the awards below.

Surf Life Saving Northern Region (SLSNR) has four beach safety messages:

  • Be prepared. Learn to swim and survive, always wear appropriate beach attire, and be Sun Smart.  
  • Watch out for yourself and others. Always swim between the flags, keep children within arm’s reach. 
  • Be aware of the dangers. Always read the safety signs and talk to the lifeguard for safety advice.
  • Know your limits. Never swim or surf alone.

In the 2018-19 season, SLSNR lifeguards:

  • performed 286 rescues and 447 assists, carried out 894 first aid treatments, carried out 181 searches and made 30,998 safety interventions involving 105,041 people
  • helped educate more than 12,505 school-aged children in beach safety

*Surf Life Saving Northern Region encompasses 17 surf life saving clubs, covering 22 beaches from Raglan north on the west coast around North Cape, and south to the Auckland City beaches.


Sports Awards

  • Under-14 Sportswoman of the Year: Zoe Crawford (Mairangi Bay)
  • Under-14 Sportsman of the Year: Jasper Cornish (Red Beach)
  • Under-16 Sportswoman of the Year: Astaria Te Aukura (Mairangi Bay)
  • Under-16 Sportsman of the Year: Samuel Poching (Mairangi Bay)
  • Under-19 Sportswoman of the Year: Lucy Makaea (Piha)
  • Under-19 Sportsman of the Year: Oscar Williams (Piha)
  • Open Sportswoman of the Year: Danielle McKenzie (Mairangi Bay)
  • Open Sportsman of the Year: Michael Lee (Mairangi Bay)
  • Surf Coach of the Year: Shane Edwards (Sunset Beach)
  • Competition Team of the Year: NZ IRB Team (Sunset Beach)
  • Developing Surf Official of the Year: Graham Pashley (Omaha) and Benny Larsen (Orewa)
  • Surf Official of the Year: Glen Phipps (Mairangi Bay)
  • Outstanding contribution to Junior Surf: Mike Brown (Mairangi Bay)
  • Cath & Eddie Millar Cup: Orewa
  • Junior Surf Championships: Red Beach
  • Pool Championships: Piha
  • IRB Championships: Sunset Beach
  • Northern Region Championships: Red Beach
  • Junior Competition Club of the Year: Red Beach and Orewa
  • Masters Competition Club of the Year: Orewa
  • Senior Competition Club of the Year: Piha

Lifesaving Awards

  • Rookie Lifeguard of the Year: Zac Brown-Hale (Waipu Cove)
  • Under-19 Surf Lifeguard of the Year: Sam Reinen (Orewa) and Jack Doyle (Piha)
  • Surf Lifeguard of the Year: Guy Hornblow (Kariaotahi)
  • Instructor of the Year: Grace Campbell (Mairangi Bay)
  • Examiner of the Year: Benny Larsen (Orewa)
  • Outstanding Contribution to Powercraft: Brady Campbell (Mairangi Bay)
  • Outstanding Contribution to Support Services: John-Michael Swannix (Whangarei)

Regional and other Awards

  • Paid Lifeguard of the Year: Jacob Rennie (Mairangi Bay)
  • Outstanding Contribution to Event Safety: Sam Walter (Mairangi Bay), Laura Puckett (Omaha), Jacob Groom (Mairangi Bay)
  • Community Educator of the Year: Grace Campbell (Mairangi Bay)
  • Club Administrator of the Year: Kath Manning (Waipu Cove)
  • Volunteer of the Year: Joanne Hobson (Sunset Beach)
  • CSE Genesis Innovation of the Year: Northland Beach Education Tour (Waipu Cove)
  • Rescue of the Year: Mass rescue Waitangi Day (Kariaotahi)
  • Best Patrolled Beach: Omaha, Orewa, Bethells, Mairangi Bay and Sunset Beach
  • Club of the Year: Sunset Beach

Service Award Winners

  • Tara Coe – Kariaotahi
  • Bradley Walters – Kariaotahi
  • Chris Parker – Kariaotahi
  • Brady Campbell – Mairangi Bay
  • Kevin Morrison – Mairangi Bay
  • Wade Downey – Red Beach
  • Kathy Kramer – Red Beach
  • Robyn Presland – Red Beach
  • Tony Wiseman – Orewa

Distinguished Service Awards

  • Michael Taylor – Red Beach

Life Memberships

  • Jonathon Webber - Piha

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