With just two months’ worth of surf lifesaving training under his belt, Tauranga 13-year-old Ian Pugh relied mostly on instinct when he rescued a man from a rip last Friday.
Turns out those instincts were pretty good.
The Mount Maunganui Lifeguard Service member has won praise from his senior colleagues for the way he handled himself during and after the incident, which saw him paddle out to an elderly man struggling on his bodyboard at the Main Beach and help him back into shore.
Still three weeks shy of being old enough to get his lifeguard award, Pugh was heading out after training to catch a wave when the action unfolded.
“I saw a couple of people out further and one of them looked like he was struggling because the rip was coming across and he was getting swept into the rocks,” says Pugh.
“He was in a spot where the waves kept crashing on him but he wasn’t going anywhere - I went over and asked if he was alright and he said he’d quite like a lift because he was out of breath.”
With the man clinging onto his board, Pugh then negotiated his way back into the beach through the shorebreak, where he was met by club coaches and New Zealand surf lifesaving representatives Hamish Miller and Declan Dempster, French national lifeguard Julien Lalanne and members of the regional lifeguard service based at the beach.
The man, although shaken, was assessed by lifeguards and given the all-clear.
Lalanne, who has been coaching at the Mount for a number of years during his off-season, was incredibly proud of his young charge.
“I was just so impressed with his instincts as much as anything,” says Lalanne.
“Technically, it wasn’t a perfect rescue but the way he saw they were in trouble and went straight in to help more than made up for that. And the most impressive thing was how humble he was afterwards - he just shrugged and said it was no big deal.”
Patrol captain Julia Conway helped Pugh fill out his first-ever rescue incident form and was also impressed with his actions.
“He kept a calm head and did exactly what lifeguards many years his senior are supposed to do,” says Conway.
“It was pretty cool to see someone so young handle themselves so well in that situation.
Conway says the conditions were tricky on Friday, with rescues up and down the coast, caused by strong winds and holes formed by large swells earlier in the week.
She recommended people swim between the flags and use swim fins if bodyboarding.
Bethlehem College student Pugh, who is also a talented runner, swimmer and basketballer, admits he was a reluctant participant when he was first taken to the beach by his family at the start of the season but now is totally hooked, especially with such a successful outcome to his first rescue.
“It didn’t really seem that big a deal but I could see it could’ve got worse if he was out there for any longer. It all happened so fast but it seemed like the best thing to do, to give him a bigger board and get him in safely.”