It was fortunate for one family at Ōtaki Beach on Friday, November 29, that local Pete Housiaux was out walking his dog.
If not for Pete’s surf-lifesaving skills, the family could have been mourning the loss of at least two boys this Christmas.
Pete was at the beach about 4pm when he noticed three girls drifting in a rip. They managed to get themselves out, but 10 minutes later the rip got stronger and it pulled three boys across.
As a volunteer lifeguard and long-time member of the Ōtaki Surf Life Saving Club, Pete was well aware of the risk and spoke to the father of one of the boys on the beach who was trying to wave them in. The boys were in trouble.
Pete gave the man the keys to the clubhouse so he could go in and set the alarm off alerting other volunteer lifeguards. Meanwhile, Pete got in the water and headed for the boys, who he thinks were aged about 10 and 13.
One of the three got back to shore by himself, but the other two, who had a boogie board with them, needed help. The younger of the two was exhausted.
Pete got them on the board and they helped each other to get back in.
“The rip came up really fast,” he says. “They would have been lucky to get in without some help. They were glad to see me that’s for sure. Their parents were pretty thankful.”
Ōtaki Surf Life Saving Club captain Kirsty Doyle says all beach users need to be mindful of their surroundings. Water conditions are ever changing and require vigilance at all times. Ōtaki SLSC recommend that beach goers always swim between the flags.
“Our lifeguards are well trained and best equipped to position our flagged area in the safest place.”
The club’s voluntary patrols run every weekend from 1-6pm (depending on conditions) until Sunday, March 8. The regional guard service starts on Monday, December 16, and runs through to the end of January.
Surf Life Saving NZ says Pete’s rescue – and another by a volunteer off-duty lifeguard just a few hours later north of Ōtaki at Himitangi Beach – serves to remind beach-goers of the risks.
There have already been 25 drownings from January 1 to October 31 this year, compared to 23 in the whole of 2018.
SLSNZ central region manager Charlie Cordwell says beach-goers should remember the importance of the 3Rs.
“If you get caught in a rip, remember to Relax and float, Raise your hand to signal help, and Ride the rip until it stops so you can swim safely back to shore.”
He says people should also choose a lifeguarded beach and always swim between the flags. Lifeguarded beaches have the safest spots to swim mapped out with red and yellow flags. People who do swim at a beach that isn’t patrolled need to be “incredibly careful” and they should never swim or surf alone.
If anyone does spot an emergency, call 111 and ask for police – they have a direct line to Surf Life Saving NZ.