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Right place at the right time, young surfer first on scene for rip rescue



thumbnail 19 MF-Surfrescue1-387JULIA WADE

With recent chaotic weather turning the tide on the ebb and flow of Mangawhai’s surf, a tragedy on a local beach was averted thanks to the swift actions and calm mind of a young surfer and volunteer surf life guards.

On Sunday afternoon, October 4, 12-year-old Jackson Brown and his father Andy were catching waves together at Mangawhai Heads surf beach, when the distant splashing of two girls caught the young surfer’s eye.

“At first I thought they were just mucking around but then I saw they were caught in the rip and thought ‘oh no’,” Jackson says, a keen surfer of nearly six years.

Realising that one of the girls was having trouble keeping her head above the water and looking increasingly distressed, Jackson immediately turned his surfboard in their direction and paddled as fast as he could to reach the girls.

“I asked ‘do you need some help’ and she said ‘yes’ so I got her half up on my board and I just said to her ‘you’re ok, you’re on my board, I’ll get you to shore,” he says. “I was going to help the other girl too but when I turned around to see where she was, my Dad was already with her.”

After recognising the situation, Andy had paddled over himself to join his son.

“I was on another part of the surf break, about 50 metres away from Jackson, and then I saw him in an area where he shouldn’t have been, and I thought ‘why is he there’? Then I saw him with the girl and thought ‘somethings going on here’,” he says. “The girls were frightened but weren’t panicking, probably because Jackson was so calm.”

Meanwhile the unfolding situation had also been spotted by Mangawhai Heads surf lifeguards who had just finished a combined training session with Waipu Cove Surf Club, and were congregating at the surf clubhouse. Leader of the Mangawhai Heads Emergency Callout Squad, Jess Costello, once again jumped back into the water and rushed to the aid of the drifting group, transferring the girl from Jackson to her rescue board and assisting them all to shore. The ten-year-old girls were understandably in shock from the frightening experience, and their father obviously relieved and grateful for the quick actions of all involved.

“The dad shook my hands a lot and said thank you so much,” Jackson says. “I’m really glad I was there to help.”

Naturally Andy is very proud of his son’s quick actions and cool thinking.

“He recognised the situation and didn’t panic, he was calm and very mature… he did a really good job.”

Mangawhai Beach School Year 8 student and former Mangawhai Heads Surf Club member, Jackson Brown has been riding the waves since he was a six-year-old, his calm confidence and quick thinking helping when he was first on the scene after two girls found themselves struggling in a strong rip. PHOTO/SUPPLIED


Shifting sands cause rip

Seasonal changes are the reason why the rip has appeared, says Mangawhai Heads Volunteer Lifeguard Service media publicist and avid surfer Tony Baker, changing the geography of the beaches natural ebb and flow of sand movement.

“What happens normally is the beach fluctuates, we get a big swell, it scours out the sand and dumps it on the off-shore bar, an then we get small swells which slowly builds sand back up,” he says. “However we haven’t had a lot of huge swells for around four to six weeks, the sand has built up around a figure of rocks in the middle of the beach which would normally have been covered with sand but they’ve popped up, and the sand has banked around that, causing some amazing surfing waves.”

The rip, opposite the beach entrance of the lifeguard track, is off to the side of the sand build up, a ‘massive hole’ carved out by fast-moving water.

“The week before the rescue, we had some big tides due to the full moon with the water coming up against the dunes, running out and coinciding with the swell. All that water has to go somewhere so it is just scours out the hole, making it deeper and more pronounced,” he says. “When the girls got caught in the rip, it was a dead low tide so water was just funnelling out really fast. The surf lifeguards did our training there and you could swim in it for 15 minutes without going anywhere, it was quite crazy, a really strong current. If you find yourself caught in a rip, stay on your board or any floatation device if you have one or relax and float on your back, raise your hand for help and most important, try to stay calm.”


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