Hectic weekend for Whangārei Heads lifeguards, with three rescues in one day

Whangārei Heads lifeguards Daniel Akroyd, Max Stackhouse, Taha McLean Saad, Charlie Parker, Oscar Boyd and Camille de Andrad.

Whangārei Heads surf lifeguards were unusually busy with big swells and sunny weather at Ocean Beach over the weekend, rescuing three people and helping hundreds of others.

Three people were rescued on Sunday, with another 10 people assisted to safety and 135 preventative actions carried out to stop people from getting into trouble in the water.

Whangārei Heads Surf Life Saving patrol captain John-Michael Swannix said the high number of rescues and assists was due to the conditions, and swimmers were doing the right things.

“Those really big swells on the East Coast were great for surfers – we had really clear, beautiful surf – but for swimmers it was pretty hectic and dangerous out there, particularly on the low tide,” Swannix said.


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The three people rescued included a mother and her 8-year-old son, and another person who got into trouble around half an hour later.

“We were having what we call feeder currents where the water would wash sideways for a bit and then suck people out, so we were really trying hard to keep people in the flagged area.”

The whole beach was dangerous, Swannix said, and there was a surfing competition at the south end, so lifeguards simply had to pick the best spot available for the flags.


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“What would happen is the swell would be coming in and we’d get a big surge out as the tide was going out, into what we call flash rips.”

Swannix said Ocean Beach was also very busy on Sunday due to the unusually fine weather.

“Because everyone’s been cooped up for the past week regretting that they haven’t had a summer, they all turned up to the beach on Sunday.”

Whangarei Heads Surf Life Saving patrol captain John-Michael Swannix.
Whangarei Heads Surf Life Saving patrol captain John-Michael Swannix.

The lifeguards extended their patrol hours by half an hour on Sunday because of the conditions.

“There were so many people in the water and we didn’t feel right leaving them there when we’d just been having all of those rescues,” Swannix said.


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“I’m so proud of my patrol, they did such an awesome job. There were quite a few new lifeguards on and they really had a taste of what a busy day can be like.”

Surf lifeguards at Waipū Cove also had a busy weekend with a large number of surfers on the beach, fine weather on Sunday and people returning to the campground.

Waipū Cove Surf Life Saving Club captain Kath Manning said although a lot of people were on the beach and swells were large, there were no rescues.

“I think people were pretty good, because the surf was so large everyone was really swimming between the flags,” Manning said.

Lifeguards were still kept busy with prevention, and administering first aid to injured surfers.

Surf Life Saving Northern Region chief executive Matt Williams said in addition to the Whangārei Heads rescues, there was also one at Ruakākā, where a person was rescued just south of the flags.


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Williams said he was optimistic the lower drowning toll over the New Year period – compared to the high number in 2022 – would continue, but said bad weather had probably kept numbers low.

“We’ve had such bad environmental conditions, we haven’t seen people at the beach.”

Safety messages from Surf Lifesaving Northern Region:

▪ Choose a surf lifeguard-patrolled beach and swim between the flags.

▪ Read and understand the safety signs – ask a surf lifeguard for advice as conditions can change regularly.

▪ Don’t overestimate your ability or your children’s ability to cope in the conditions.


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▪ Always keep a close eye on very young children in or near the water – always keep them within arm’s reach.

▪ Get a friend to swim with you – never swim or surf alone.

▪ Watch out for rip currents, they can carry you away from shore. If caught in a rip current remember the 3Rs: *Relax and float, *Raise your hand, and *Ride the rip.

▪ Be smart around rocks. When fishing never turn your back towards the sea and always wear a lifejacket.

▪ If in doubt, stay out!

▪ If you see someone in trouble, call 111 and ask for the police.


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