The long spell of fine summer weather in the lower North Island sparked a big rise in beach rescues.
The Surf Lifesaving patrol season stretches from Labour weekend to April, and already by early this week there had been 186 rescues in the central region, 44 more than the whole of last season. The area covers from Waitara in north Taranaki to Westshore in Napier and down to Wellington and Wairarapa.
On January 21 there were 24 rescues in one day at Himatangi Beach - the worst seen by a lifeguard veteran.
Himatangi patrol captain David Pontin has been patrolling for 16 years and said he did not anticipate the tide change that caught so many swimmers off-guard on Wellington Anniversary Day.
"It was just a big day, there was up to two metres of surf rolling in and lots of holes around. There was a lot of water movement and one minute people were happy swimming on the bar and the next they were taken out into the channel and got into trouble," he said.
Close to 1000 people were at Himatangi that day and it took about 10 minutes for a dozen lifeguards to rescue those in trouble and clear the water of 150 swimmers.
It was at that beach that 27-year-old Feilding man Jarrett Simeon drowned on January 5. Mr Pontin was on duty that day and said Mr Simeon was swimming about 600m outside the flags when he got caught in a hole. "Lifeguards just couldn't get to him in time."
He put the high number of rescues this summer down to a combination of great weather, big surf and fast water movement. This season, lifeguards have done 327 first aid treatments, and prevented beachgoers getting into trouble 12,212 times. Volunteer and paid guards have worked 25,612 hours in the central region.
While most paid lifeguards have finished patrols, there are still volunteers at some beaches through until the end of March. From Wellington to Himatangi, there will be patrols between 1pm and 5pm on weekends and public holidays.
Volunteer patrols in Taranaki and Hawke's Bay will continue until mid-March.
- © Fairfax NZ News