Sunset Beach rips have been so ferocious that lifeguards have taken to patrolling beachgoers from the water - and it made the difference between life and death for one swimmer from Pukekohe.
The 30-year-old woman was swept out of her depth in the Port Waikato waves by a flash rip about 4.30pm on Thursday.
Trust Waikato Sunset Beach Lifeguard Service president Malcolm Beattie said that the beach has been treacherous at low tide, with rips running north, south and "all over the place".
Since New Year's Eve, volunteer guards have been watching swimmers while in waist-deep water and from a mobile tower on the water's edge.
It was a pre-emptive move to keep the crowds of up 500 people safe, but it was not enough to stop the woman's near-drowning.
She was on the southern fringe of the patrolled area when a flash rip on the edge of the main current dragged her out.
Mr Beattie believes the woman panicked immediately, became exhausted and started sucking in water.
Because of the water patrols, a lifeguard was able to get to her within seconds, and got her head above water.
"If she'd been left any longer, she might not have come out of that. We'd be talking a statistic here and not a recovered patient."
When she got to the sand, she said she was fine - but moments later she collapsed and was going in and out of consciousness.
Mr Beattie said she had taken "a hell of a lot of water" into her lungs.
They gave her oxygen and made an emergency call to St John and the Westpac Waikato rescue helicopter.
She was flown to Middlemore Hospital for treatment.
Mr Beattie warned swimmers not to exceed their ability in the surf as the woman had.
Earlier in the day, lifeguards rescued an inexperienced boogie boarder who was holidaying from Britain.
The 18-year-old, who was not wearing flippers, was splashing around about 200 metres from the patrolled area.
Lifeguards tried to get him in between the flags three times and, on each occasion, he told them "in slightly abusive tones to go to hell".
"Well, 20 minutes later we were out there pulling him in," Mr Beattie said.
"People like these who are not experienced don't know that you can't kick straight back into shore.
"The objective is if you're stuck in a rip you go north or south, laterally, but he was struggling like hell to get in and was stuffed and he put his hand up."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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