A police constable led two other rescuers to save a man and two boys who were caught in a rip at a Bay of Plenty beach.
Constable Dean Oswald, who has been involved with surf lifesaving since childhood, stripped to his underwear to reach two 11-year-old boys and a 31-year-old man who got caught at Ohiwa Harbour.
The sea was rough, with waves more than a metre high, and the swimmers had been in the water for around 40 minutes by the time he reached them.
Two other men turned up at the beach with lifejackets to help with the rescue, eventually escorting the boys to shore while Oswald swam out further to save the man.
"One of the boys said 'My uncle, my uncle' and I saw him further out, lying face-up with waves breaking over him. He was conscious but I'd say pretty close to going under," Oswald said.
"It took about 15 minutes to pull him back to shore - every time a wave came I said to him 'Close your eyes, close your mouth, we're going under'."
The boys had gone for an evening swim and had become caught in a rip.
Their uncle swam after them but "it all turned to custard" and they became separated, Oswald said.
All three were holidaying with family in Ohope.
Once ashore, the three were picked up by helicopter and taken to Whakatane Hospital, where one boy was kept overnight.
Oswald said though the result of the rescue was fantastic, it was a wake-up call for the group.
PAIR SAVED IN AUCKLAND
In Auckland, two swimmers were saved by an Australian tourist and the father of a junior surf club member when they got into trouble at the non-patrolled Waitakere Bay last night.
Regional lifeguard supervisor Jason Harvey said the trio was spotted about 7.50pm by a member of the public, who told rangers in the area. The rangers then called the lifeguards.
By the time lifeguards arrived, the Australian tourist - a surfer - and the father of a child from the surf club had jumped in to save the pair.
"They were very lucky," Harvey said.
Like Oswald, Harvey said the rescue reinforced the importance of swimming between the flags during lifeguard patrol hours.
The new year has already seen an extremely high number of rescues, including 30 in the northern region - from Raglan to Cape Reinga - on New Year's Day alone.
Swimmers were urged to take particular care in the afternoon, when the current tidal pattern meant the tide was outgoing and could pose trouble at some beaches.
- with the Whakatane Beacon