Plea by lifeguard, 16, after rescuing 4

MATT BOWEN
Last updated 05:00 08/10/2013
Hot Water Beach lifeguard James Lee
BRUCE MERCER/Fairfax NZ

BUSY AFTERNOON: Hot Water Beach lifeguard James Lee spent Saturday afternoon saving four people from the surf. He is calling for funding for more voluntary patrols at the beach.

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A 16-year-old lifeguard who pulled four swimmers from the water in the space of an hour at the weekend wants extended patrols on Coromandel's famed Hot Water Beach.

Yesterday, James Lee told the Waikato Times the beach was one of the country's three most dangerous and statistically had the largest number of rescues each year.

There were 79 rescues in the 2012-13 season.

While the beach often has large crowds throughout spring and autumn, a lack of funding meant the surf lifesaving club does not begin patrols until Labour Weekend.

James reckons three of the four people he had to rush in to save on Saturday would have been "goners" if he hadn't been there.

"It's the only time I'd actually considered that, if I'd bailed, these people would have actually died - if I wasn't there they most certainly would have drowned."

A swell running and about 300 people were enjoying the summery weather when the tide turned and the rips started churning out to sea.

In the first incident, two boys, aged 9 and 11, were sucked out through the breakers. They were in a panic when James arrived to help - it was his first off-duty rescue.

He had no fins, flotation devices or backup, yet he managed to calm the pair down and called two surfers over to keep them afloat.

After the 20-minute rescue, he called head lifeguard Gary Hinds for backup because of the dangerous conditions.

By the time he got back to shore, a man was in trouble and getting sucked out too.

"I thought this guy was goner," James said. "Usually the procedure is when you're in a strong rip like that one, you let it take its course and float out and swim parallel to beach to calmer waters and come in."

But the man couldn't swim. James, lacking a flotation device, yelled for a boogie board. He got one and managed to get the man to a sandbar only to turn around and see a 20-year-old swimmer in strife in the same rip.

After that rescue, and flush with adrenaline, he tried to close the beach.

Now James wants funding extended so voluntary guards can patrol up to four weeks either side of the official season, Labour Weekend to Easter.

"In this extended period we get 10 to 20 rescues a year and that's more than lots of clubs get all season.

"Something definitely needs to be done about that."

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- Waikato

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