Teen ti­tan pulls four out of real Hot Wa­ter

Auckland City Harbour News - - NEWS -

BRAVE James Lee has re­turned to school with a hol­i­day ad­ven­ture tale more ex­cit­ing than most.

The 16-year-old’s heroic ef­forts to save four peo­ple from drown­ing dur­ing the break is the talk of the class and his brav­ery has been recog­nised with a plaque spe­cially com­mis­sioned by Mt Al­bert Gram­mar School.

James was at Hot Wa­ter Beach to do some surf life­sav­ing train­ing when the in­ci­dent oc­curred.

He had just climbed into a hot pool when he was alerted to two boys caught in a rip.

‘‘I saw them out there and I in­stantly went. You can tell when peo­ple are in trou­ble. I knew it was a big surf, so that means lots of wa­ter mov­ing and strong cur­rents,’’ he says.

It took him about 20 min­utes to get the boys to shore.

The teen then went to find a se­nior life­guard and re­turned to find a mid­dleaged man was also caught in a rip.

‘‘That man couldn’t swim, so I had to get a boo­gie board and float him on that. I got the pub­lic in­volved a lot be­cause I didn’t have my gear,’’ James says.

‘‘That was the big­gest thing that was dif­fer­ent about th­ese res­cues, I didn’t have a tube and fins so it was a lot more stress­ful and I was pumped with adren­a­line.’’

James got the man back to shore and turned to see another man caught in the same rip. He helped save him too.

The Ti­ti­rangi res­i­dent was visit­ing his par­ents in the Coro­man­del and has been a mem­ber of the Hot Wa­ter Beach Life Sav­ing Club since he was 10.

He says many peo­ple un­der­es­ti­mate the sea.

Hot Wa­ter Beach is one of the three most dan­ger­ous beaches in the coun­try.

Around 80 to 100 peo­ple are res­cued at the tourist hot spot dur­ing the peak sea­son and a fur­ther 40 to 60 are saved by lo­cals dur­ing the off-sea­son.

‘‘Peo­ple dont ap­pre­ci­ate how much of a dan­ger­ous beach it is,’’ James says.

‘‘It’s sim­i­lar to Piha, in that you have a body of land in the wa­ter that cre­ates rips. It’s the same thing on a smaller scale be­hind the hot pools at Hot Wa­ter Beach.’’

It was James’ first off-duty res­cue, but the mod­est school­boy says he just did what any other surf life­saver would have done.

‘‘They would have been able to think on their feet like I did, and peo­ple do that a lot as well. So it was just a mat­ter of that I was the only life­saver there.

‘‘But if I wasn’t, four peo­ple could have died, so that is pretty hum­bling.’’

Hot Wa­ter Beach head life­saver Gary Hinds says he is proud of James and the other team mem­bers who reg­u­larly put their lives on the line.

‘‘Good on him for step­ping up like that, be­cause it’s a big ask of a 16-year-old to go out in the wa­ter with­out a tube and fins and save some­one,’’ Mr Hinds says.

‘‘A lot of peo­ple in their 20s wouldn’t be able to do some­thing like that. It’s a real sign of ma­tu­rity.’’

Mt Al­bert Gram­mar School spokes­woman Estelle Sar­ney says it is the first time the school has com­mis­sioned a plaque to com­mend a stu­dent for out­stand­ing courage.

‘‘Be­cause it’s such a feat we wanted to recog­nise his brav­ery in a spe­cial way,’’ she says.

Photo: BRUCE MERCER

James Lee, 16, says peo­ple dont ap­pre­ci­ate how dan­ger­ous Hot Wa­ter Beach is.

Recog­ni­tion:

Go to auck­land­c­ity har­bournews.co.nz and click Lat­est Edi­tion to watch James tell the story of how he saved four peo­ple in an hour.

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