Surf Lifeguards take first place in BP Rescue of the Month - January

Wednesday, 11 March 2020

The Surf Lifeguards involved in pulling two people from the water at Oakura Beach, Taranaki on January 13, 2020 have been recognised by Surf Life Saving New Zealand and BP.

Taranaki seasonally employed Surf Lifeguards were involved in the incident that has won first place in the BP Rescue of the Month competition for January.

Surf Life Saving New Zealand invites clubs to submit their rescues to be judged for the title of BP Rescue of the Month, which acknowledges operational excellence by Surf Lifeguards around the country.

Regional Lifeguard Supervisor Sophrose London was one of seven off-duty seasonally employed Surf Lifeguards from Wellington, Dunedin, California (USA) and Newcastle (UK) who responded to the incident that resulted in one person being rescued and another sadly losing their life.

She says the incident happened at around 7.45pm after a day of rain.

“The sea was glassy with monstrous sets of approximately 6ft - 8ft rolling through. Most of the surfers had retreated back to shore as it was too heavy.”  

Sophrose says all seven lifeguards, who were living in Oakura together at the time while they were working as seasonally employed Surf Lifeguards, decided to go body surfing with fins in the giant waves.

Shortly after getting into the water, Surf Lifeguard Blake Porteous, from Brighton Surf Life Saving Club, swam out to the rest of the group, although he had a broken collarbone, and alerted them to shouts of help from out at sea.

The group spotted a surfer with what appeared to be two people on his board.

California brothers Ryan and Hayden Paul, from Worser Bay Life Saving Club, swam over with Sophrose and found a woman who was unconscious and not breathing.

Her husband was on the verge of drowning due to hypothermia and exhaustion.

Newcastle Lifeguard Paul Reeve, from SLSNZ International Guard Club, paddled a member of the public’s surfboard out to help.

Hayden and Ryan skilfully towed the unconscious woman through the unforgiving surf and onto the beach.

Sophrose helped the surfer keep the man afloat until Surf Lifeguards Millie and Jack Malin, from Worser Bay Life Saving Club, came to rescue him in the IRB that they had gone back to the club to set up.

The IRB was expertly manoeuvred through breaking surf and the man was rescued and treated for shock and hypothermia.

By this stage Ryan and Hayden had begun CPR on the woman with the help of local club members from New Plymouth Old Boys Surf Life Saving Club and the local emergency services that had arrived.

Unfortunately their efforts were unsuccessful.

There was huge involvement from all the locals including doctors, anaesthetists, police, fire service and more off-duty Surf Lifeguards.

Sophrose says the highly skilled and experienced Surf Lifeguards, combined with the fast response, ensured that the couple had the best care they possibly could have had on the night.

“It was the ultimate test of physical endurance, emotional capability, skills and efficiency.”

She says the skills required to carry out this rescue were “extremely advanced”.

“Hayden and Ryan used expert technique to tow an unconscious patient through 8ft breaking waves and then extract her onto the beach.

“Meanwhile Jack and Millie launched in a shore dump and manouvered the IRB through massive set waves to the patient and retrieved him quickly.

“I do not know of many other lifeguards capable of doing this with such precision.”

The Surf Lifeguards also have admiration for Blake and the surfer involved in the rescue.

Without the surfer’s intervention and skill to keep the swimmers afloat there would have been a double fatality that night.

Blake, who swam out to alert them to the shouts for help, contributed to a quick lifeguard response.

“For Blake to swim out in the surf with a broken collarbone to alert us of the shouts, he had to time the lull perfectly and utilise all his strength in his remaining arm and legs,” Sophrose says.

The Surf Lifeguards involved will be recognised with a share of $500 worth of BP gift vouchers for their respective clubs – Otaki Surf Life Saving Club, Worser Bay Life Saving Club and Brighton Surf Life Saving Club.

“The outcome was unfortunately tragic and our thoughts are with the woman’s family and the Surf Lifeguards involved,” BP NZ Managing Director Debi Boffa says.

“We know that IRBs are important to Surf Clubs all over the country and this is another example of why that’s the case. We would like to acknowledge and recognise the tenacity and incredible commitment of the lifeguards who were involved.

“We’re incredibly proud to have supported Surf Life Saving for 52 years, and to have the opportunity to recognise the outstanding skills shown in this incident.”

Surf Life Saving Kariaotahi and Whangārei Heads Volunteer Surf Life Saving Patrol will receive $300 and $200 BP gift cards respectively as BP Rescue of the Month second and third place getters.


For more information, please contact:

Melanie Louden
Media and Communications Manager
Surf Life Saving New Zealand
021 757 433