The regular surfing lesson for Waihi Beach primary students was put on hold yesterday when instructor Aidan Comrie was called to rescue three men from a capsized boat.
Just as the class was about to start around 2.25pm, one of the parents witnessed a dinghy with three men on board get hit by a wave as it was coming through the break.
Surfing instructor Aidan Comrie. Picture: Kerri Wheeler
The boat overturned near the northern end of the beach where the rip pumps out past the headland.
“They were all clinging to the boat, no life jackets,” says Aidan. “I think there were life jackets on board but they weren’t wearing them.
“I managed to get the first guy off. I paddled out across the rip, got him in then had to run back down the beach and went out picked up the older one.
“I got hit by a big wave bringing him in, nearly lost him in the surf. Then I went and got the next one.”
He says he took the panicky one first, the older guy second and the more relaxed of the three was picked up last.
There were two men in their 20s and an older man in his 30s or 40s.
“The older guy was trying to get me to take the younger guy in, but you can sort of tell.”
The first one was holding onto his lifejacket in the water but wasn’t prepared to let go of the overturned boat to put it on.
“The boat was only just floating and he had never been on a surf board before,” says Aidan.
“The last one was the easiest one, there was another guy there on a surf board he had managed keep him on the board and started pushing him down the side of the rip, so he was only 20 meters out. The furthest would have been 100-150 metres.
“If I was in that situation I wouldn’t have been too worried. When I first started paddling out, then I started seeing how they actually needed that assistance.”
The paid guards have finished weekday patrols for the summer, and club members were returning from Waihi.
By the time the lifeguards, the police and coastguard arrived, the men were all safe, back on the beach.
“They were pretty lucky. If there hadn’t been anybody around they would have been in serious trouble I think.
“I think it was quite calm when they went out in the morning, but it had picked up. It was just after high tide and they got picked up by a freak wave. They were right in the rip and the boat was getting sucked out further and further. They were getting nailed by waves.”
He says the children thought it was good.
“They went home all excited, it was better than nipper practice.”
Waihi Beach constable Dave Grant says Aidan deserves a ‘big pat on the back’ and that the rescue was a good community effort.
The men in the boat were unharmed.
“They were more shook up than anything. They were caught by changing conditions and the state of the tide. It is just a reminder that the sea is a dynamic place.”