United North Piha Lifeguard Service & Piha Surf Life Saving Club Take Home 1st Place for “HELP” Rescue

Wednesday, 17 March 2021

Press release

March 17, 2021

[Image: A surfer stranded at Auckland’s Mercer Bay wrote “HELP” in the sand before being rescued by Surf Lifeguards from United North Piha Lifeguard Service & Piha Surf Life Saving Club]

Sometimes the difference between life and death can be as thin as a line in the sand.

At 3:30pm on February 17th, Surf Lifeguards at United North Piha Lifeguard Service (LS) took a call from a member of the public who was walking along the Mercer Bay Loop Track. The tramper, looking down at isolated Mercer Bay, spotted a man carving the word “HELP” into the sand before collapsing.

It was later discovered that the man was surfing alone at Karekare Beach before losing his surfboard and being sucked around to Mercer Bay and thrown against rocks. The Mercer Bay Loop Track is a well-known, dangerous track that is rarely used. The bay has no cell phone or radio coverage, making it an extremely challenging environment to operate in on the best of days; let alone on an afternoon when the average swell hit 2.5m+.

United North Piha LS’ Patrol Captain tasked lifeguards to respond on a Rescue Water Craft (Jet Ski) and contacted nearby Piha Surf Life Saving Club (SLSC) to request an extra crew person. This would allow both patrols to operate unaffected while the rescue was being carried out.

The Jet Ski launched from United North Piha LS and picked up an experienced Crew Person from Piha SLSC, arriving at Mercer Bay shortly after. The lifeguards spotted the man lying on the beach, waving for attention. At this stage, they deemed him to be out of immediate danger and discussed a plan at the back of the breaking waves. Due to the large surf and steep beach, the Jet Ski would not be able to reach the shore. Instead, they decided to drop one of the lifeguards off as close to the beach as possible so that he could swim to the patient.

The crewman approached the patient and discovered that the surfer had a severe laceration to his leg, as well as countless other cuts and bruises across his body. He was extremely exhausted and was showing signs of hypothermia after being exposed to the elements for 2-3 hours.

Due to the remote location, radio communications to Surfcom were limited to relaying from the beach to the Jet Ski, then from the Jet Ski to Surfcom. The crewman on the beach decided that the severe laceration needed to be bandaged before attempting to transport the patient. The Jet Ski dropped off the on-board first aid kit so that the lifeguard on shore could apply emergency bandages.

While this was happening, the lifeguard waiting on the Jet Ski requested an ambulance to Piha SLSC and Piha SLSC lifeguards prepped the first aid room for the patient's arrival.

Once bandaged, the patient was able to walk with assistance and he was comfortable enough to board the Jet Ski safely. In between sets, the Jet Ski met the lifeguard and patient in waist-deep water and the trio made their way out through the surf back to Piha.

An all-terrain vehicle and lifeguard were ready at the water's edge to transport the patient to the first aid room. The lifeguards helped the patient to shore but he was so exhausted that he collapsed again. The Jet Ski operator and crewman completed a two-person drag out of the water before the patient regained energy and was able to walk assisted.

Lifeguards then continued to look after the patient while they waited for the ambulance to arrive and transport the patient to Auckland City Hospital.

The surfer was reported missing by his wife at 5pm, meaning that if the tramper hadn’t spotted him drawing “HELP” in the sand, it would have taken another two hours before lifeguards went looking for him. This could easily have resulted in a very different outcome. Thankfully, this story has a happy ending and the man was able to be reunited with his 4-day old baby.

bp Head of Country NZ, Matt Elliott, says bp is proud to support incredible Surf Lifesaving teams like the United North Piha LS and Piha SLSC.

“bp has been in partnership with Surf Life Saving New Zealand for 53 years and is so proud to support the organisation’s efforts in keeping us all safer at our beaches,” he says. “This rescue is a great illustration of the incredible difference Surf Lifeguards make on our beaches across the country.”

As the first-place winner of bp Rescue of the Month, United North Piha LS & Piha SLSC will be recognised with $500-worth of bp gift vouchers.


  • If you see someone in trouble at the beach, CALL 111 & ASK FOR THE POLICE. They have a direct line to both Surf Life Saving New Zealand and Coastguard.



SLSNZ is the national association representing 74 surf lifesaving clubs with 18,000+ members, including more than 4,500 volunteer Surf Lifeguards. Our lifeguards patrol over 90 locations each summer and provide emergency call-out rescue services throughout Aotearoa, saving hundreds of lives each year and ensuring thousands return home safe after a day at the beach.

We do all this as a charity and rely on the generosity of the public, commercial partners, foundations and trusts for donations and financial contributions in order to lead and support our incredible front-line volunteer lifeguarding services.

For more information, please contact:

Mackenzie Koppel

Media and Communications Manager

Surf Life Saving NZ

021 757 433