'The boy gave me hope' - saved fisherman
It was hope in the form of a 12-year-old boy that saved Vincent Shao from sinking beneath the waves and drowning at Waihi Beach on Saturday.
"I thought I was going to die," the 32-year-old Auckland resident said from his Mt Eden home yesterday.
Mr Shao, a property developer, and a friend had set two crab pots on the surf beach near Bowentown when he lost his footing in waist-deep water shortly before 2pm.
A rip dragged him out to sea and into the breakers.
The Chinese immigrant and married father of one was a competent swimmer but he fought against the current - a common mistake that quickly renders inexperienced ocean swimmers exhausted.
Mr Shao soon found himself struggling to stay afloat nearly 100 metres from shore.
At the same time, good mates and cousins Sergio Schuler and Will White, both 12, were enjoying their first day of holidays on the beach with the Schuler family from Te Aroha.
They were swimming down the beach away from surf lifesavers when they saw Mr Shao "half drowning" with his hand up, screaming for help.
Had they not swum to his aid, Mr Shao said he would "have definitely given up".
Will, from Waihi, is a member of the Waihi Beach surf lifesaving club and had been training as a nipper for four years so he stayed with Mr Shao while Sergio swam ashore to get help.
"When I almost gave up, the boy gave me hope," Mr Shao said.
"You can see the hope there and you will try your best to survive even though you are very tired. That's why I think the boy, Will, really helped. I want to say thank you to him. I'd say he has a bright future. He just stayed with me and told me what to do."
Sergio swam back out to meet the pair as they moved towards the shore.
He said they half dragged and half encouraged Mr Shao because he was pushing them under the waves to stay afloat.
When the trio made it to the sand, Mr Shao walked a few steps and then collapsed from exhaustion and started vomiting water he had swallowed.
Sergio's mother, Vivian, phoned an ambulance and Mr Shao was soon in a St John ambulance bound for Tauranga Hospital.
He was initially in an unstable condition but after four hours he was heading home.
Waihi Beach surf lifesaving club captain and police sergeant Dave Litton said that in Saturday's rush there was not time to show enough appreciation for what the boys had done, which he said was a "huge feat".
"They didn't think twice about jumping in. And it's not like they were there looking for trouble, they were just having a swim," Mr Litton said.
The club was immensely proud of Will's efforts, he said. "We're really proud of both the boys.
It's an example of what can be achieved with even just a little bit of surf training."
Mr Litton is now in the process of nominating both boys for the prestigious Surf Life Saving NZ national rescue of the month award while Mr Shao plans to return to Waihi to personally thank Will, who he has a gift for, and the "professional" St John paramedics.
He was also full of praise for the Waikato and the people who cared for him, from the beachgoers who cleaned the sand out of his mouth to the doctor who gave him the all clear.
But Mr Shao owes his life to Will who gave him hope when he had none.