A young Christchurch surfer realised the danger he was in only halfway through dragging two men to safety from the Rakaia River.
Ike Hanson, 20, feared all three of them would be swept out to sea during the dramatic rescue in February last year.
Hanson and Christchurch friends Kyle Williams, 22, and Toby Walker, 19, received bravery awards from the Royal Humane Society yesterday.
Kerry Sutton, 63, and Edgar Russ, 68, were bringing Sutton's jetboat into the river mouth when it was swamped by a wave and overturned.
Russ was initially trapped under the hull but managed to swim to Sutton.
They held on to the boat until it sank, with Sutton supporting his friend to stop him going under.
Meanwhile, Hanson and his friends were surfing south of the river mouth.
"The fishermen were waving to me on the beach and they said `Two guys capsized a boat over there; they might die' and I said `There's no-one dying today', and just ran," Hanson said.
The trio sprinted along the shingle beach and paddled across the river's southern and main streams.
Hanson ran until he was level with the stricken men on the river's north side.
He paddled out to them, then swam in, dragging his board with both men lying on it.
The three surfers and a fourth rescuer pulled the two boaties to shore.
Hanson, who was given a silver medal for bravery, said he was a "very reluctant hero".
"I am reluctant as they come I think. I just did it; anyone would have," he said.
"It was more scary when I realised what was going on halfway through it. I was sure I was going to be sucked out to sea with two old dudes on a surfboard."
Walker and Williams received certificates of merit.
"I really owe my life to Kerry and then to Ike," Russ said.
"Your body just gets colder and colder. Your brain doesn't understand properly. It was just touch and go."
Sutton, 63, wanted to thank the fourth unidentified surfer who helped bring them to shore.
"He was pretty instrumental. He did exactly the same as these three guys ... We got to shore and he disappeared."
- The Press
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