Auckland Designer’s Harrowing Experience Highlights Importance of Surf Lifeguards

Tuesday, 8 August 2023

On a warm summer’s day in early January, Auckland interior designer Donna White was enjoying her holiday in the beautiful Mount Maunganui.


“I met my family at a café near the Mount Maunganui Lifeguard Service, and my friend Nicki and I decided to go for swim.”


It was late morning, and the surf was choppy, with waves reaching over a metre.  Being safety-conscious, Donna insisted on swimming between the flags – a decision that would prove to be a lifesaver.


After spending some time in the water, Donna started to feel cold and headed back to shore.  However, just five metres from the beach, a powerful wave lifted her up, knocked her off her feet, and tossed her onto her back.


“I had no control whatsoever.  Nicki thought I was fooling around, but she quickly realised I wasn’t.  I remember her pulling me up and calling out for help.”  And help soon arrived


Within seconds, two surf lifeguards were beside her, talking to her, and pulling her up out of the water as she drifted in and out of consciousness.


“All I saw was faces looking down on me.”


Following a distressed call from Nicki, Donna’s family rushed down to the beach, where they helped the surf lifeguards place her onto the back of an all-terrain vehicle.


She was then transported to the Surf Life Saving club where an ambulance soon arrived.  She was taken to hospital and told she had suffered a T8 vertebral compression fracture, which would take six to eight weeks to recover from.


Donna, who is a confident swimmer, said it was an incredibly humbling experience that put everything into perspective.  “It made me realise that your life can change in an instant.”


A few days later, Donna and her husband returned to the club.  “I wanted to bake them a cake, but I couldn’t because I was on holiday, so I just gave the surf lifeguards a big hug.”


She also set up a donation to the Mount Maunganui Lifeguard Service.


“I’ve set up a regular payment that will go in on the anniversary of this event every year.  It’s not much, but whatever I can do to help.


“I am in awe of what the surf lifeguards do and I cannot thank them enough.  They were all so young, so very impressive and professional.”


A card from Donna was placed in the club’s tower, serving as a reminder to surf lifeguards about the important work they do.


The last paragraph of the card reads, “Take very special care, all of you.  You are worth your weight in gold.”  As these words are read back to Donna, she quietly confesses, “Oh, this is bringing tears to my eyes.”


Remembering back on that day remains vivid and raw.


“I just want to tell people, don’t think ‘oh it won’t happen to me’.  I never thought it would happen to me.  And remember, the flags are there for a reason, and that’s to save lives.”



You can help to save lives this summer.  Click HERE to donate now.