Shallow waves can still pack a powerful punch, as Josh McQuoid found out when they almost cost him his life.
The 12-year-old thought he was safe enough walking in the waves along Napier's Marine Parade beach with his friends on Sunday afternoon.
But a wave caught him, pulling him out into the Pacific Ocean.
"It was only knee deep - that was what surprised me, and it swept me off my feet," he said yesterday.
The Napier Intermediate student is tall and fit for his age but the waves kept pushing him back as he tried to swim to shore.
Coughing and spluttering, he just focused on keeping his head above water. "It was really hard, it flipped me around heaps of times . . . I didn't know which way was up."
A German tourist went to his aid, but was unable to keep a hold on him.
Constable Bryan Farquharson tried to keep Josh calm while his colleague Constable Paul Bailey leaped into the sea to help. But the strength of the waves knocked Mr Bailey off his feet too.
At that point Josh thought: "I'm going to die."
"I saw them on the beach and a big wave came and smashed me under and it felt like I was in a washing machine."
Mr Bailey managed to grab on to him and, anchored by a human chain stretching to the shore, he pulled Josh to safety.
Josh, who was unresponsive at that stage, was moved up the beach where members of the public gave him first aid.
"I was shocked; I felt so depleted, I just couldn't move."
Hikiroa Ratapu, 13, said it was pretty scary watching his friend struggle in the waves. He yelled for help as soon as he noticed Josh being dragged out.
Josh's father, Shane McQuoid, said Hikiroa was their "little hero" for quickly raising the alarm.
"If he wasn't thinking straight, he would have jumped in," he said, and that could easily have led to two drownings.
Josh was discharged from hospital on Sunday night.
His mother, Kath Kuru, said the police phone call was every parent's worst nightmare.
She had been trying to ring Josh earlier, to hurry him home for tea. He had been in town with friends, and she had no idea they had gone down to the beach.
She was relieved he had survived, but concerned he had put himself so close to danger.
"Never do that to us again," she told Josh in the ambulance.
Both parents said they wanted to thank everyone who helped their youngest son.
"We just want to show our heartfelt thanks and gratitude."
OFFICER TAKES ON HUGE SURF
A few hours into his fourth shift in Napier, Constable Paul Bailey was hurled into the deep end.
The 30-year-old father of four arrived on Napier's Marine Parade beach, stripped to his underwear and leapt into huge waves to save Josh McQuoid.
Josh was already in the orbit of Constable Bryan Farquharson but the 12-year-old boy was still out beyond the breakers, rising and falling on the crest of the waves. Josh was not far from shore but the huge waves made it nearly impossible to get him ashore. Mr Bailey thought he would be able to grab Josh but when the next wave hit, it took the constable straight off his feet
He managed to get through the waves and grab Josh, who by that stage was "a dead weight with no fight left in him". But the strength of the waves meant Mr Bailey lost Josh about three times. "He was totally submerged but fortunately he banged into my legs as he was getting sucked back out again. That's how I found him again."
Josh and his parents went to the police station with chocolates and a card on Sunday night.
Five people have drowned at Napier's stony Marine Parade beach since 1996. It is usually safe, "but like any beach there are times when it is dangerous", Pacific Surf Lifesaving Club chairman Mike O'Malley says.
The lifesaving season finished on March 3. "There are times when yes, it does cut up rough and it's going to pull you in," Mr O'Malley said. The last drowning was of 5-year-old Jago Kara, who was swept away while playing at the water's edge in January 2008.
- The Dominion Post
How soon will you visit the new war memorial park?Related story: War memorial park all but completed