Teen's brave rescue
Brave James Lee has returned to school with a holiday adventure tale more exciting than most.
The 16-year-old's heroic efforts to save four people from drowning during the break is the talk of the class and his bravery has been recognised with a plaque specially commissioned by Mt Albert Grammar School.
James was at Hot Water Beach to do some surf lifesaving training when the incident occurred.
He had just climbed into a hot pool when he was alerted to two boys caught in a rip.
"I saw them out there and I instantly went. You can tell when people are in trouble. I knew it was a big surf, so that means lots of water moving and strong currents," he says.
It took him about 20 minutes to get the boys to shore. He then went to find a senior lifeguard and returned to find a middle-aged man was also caught in a rip.
"That man couldn't swim, so I had to get a boogie board and float him on that. I got the public involved a lot because I didn't have my gear," James says.
"That was the biggest thing that was different about these rescues, I didn't have a tube and fins so it was a lot more stressful and I was pumped with adrenaline."
James got the man back to shore and turned to see another man caught in the same rip. He helped save him too.
The Titirangi resident was visiting his parents in the Coromandel and has been a member of the Hot Water Beach Life Saving Club since he was 10.
He says many people underestimate the sea.
Hot Water Beach is one of the three most dangerous beaches in the country.
Around 80 to 100 people are rescued at the tourist hot spot during the peak season and a further 40 to 60 are saved by locals during the off-season.
"People don't appreciate how much of a dangerous beach it is," James says.
"It's similar to Piha, in that you have a body of land in the water that creates rips. It's the same thing on a smaller scale behind the hot pools at Hot Water Beach."
It was James' first off-duty rescue, but the modest schoolboy says he just did what any other surf lifesaver would have done.
"They would have been able to think on their feet like I did, and people do that a lot as well. So it was just a matter of that I was the only lifesaver there. But if I wasn't, four people could have died, so that is pretty humbling."
Hot Water Beach head lifesaver Gary Hinds says he is proud of James and the other team members who regularly put their lives on the line.
"Good on him for stepping up like that, because it's a big ask of a 16-year-old to go out in the water without a tube and fins and save someone," Mr Hinds says.
"A lot of people in their 20s wouldn't be able to do something like that. It's a real sign of maturity."
Mt Albert Grammar School spokeswoman Estelle Sarney says it is the first time the school has commissioned a plaque to commend a student for outstanding courage.
"Because it's such a feat we wanted to recognise his bravery in a special way," she says.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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