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Mayhem at Riversdale

And the heroes who saved the day

More than 60 swimmers at the north end of Riversdale Beach on New Year’s Day. PHOTOS/GRACE PRIOR

For Riversdale Beach’s lifeguards, their duty means the difference between life and death every day at Wairarapa’s coast.

When a quad bike travelling at speed flipped at the coast on New Year’s Eve, the lifeguards were the first responders.

The young quad bike driver was flown to Wellington Hospital with serious injuries.

It was the second incident that day that required a rescue helicopter.

Liam Taylor and Elliott Phillips guarding the north end of the beach.

Riversdale Surf Lifesaving junior club captain Liam Taylor, 20, said the first major callout began at about 11am.

The call was for a medical emergency at Riversdale Campground.

Taylor said he had three guards on the beach at the time, as well as the nippers programme running.

Taylor sent James and Jane Quinn to help as first responders, something he said they were the go-to for.

“We then had to organise paramedics, fire, and a rescue helicopter,” Taylor said.

Taylor said managing serious events came down to co-ordination.

“Lifeguards do so much more than people may know; they’re first responders to most serious injury or medical events,” Taylor said.

Taylor said the event lasted about an hour and a half.

“The helicopter takes 40 minutes to arrive, about the same amount of time to drive from Masterton,” Taylor said.

Taylor said once the patient was flown to hospital, they were left with a small amount of downtime before they were called to the serious quad bike crash at the south end of the beach at Uriti Point.

Lifeguards had been alerted by beachgoers that a quad bike had been travelling at high speed and flipped, seriously injuring the young driver.

Taylor said he once more had to call Quinn and organised regional guards to pick her up to take her to the crash.

Taylor then made the call to Rocco Thompson who was patrolling the south end of the beach.

Paramedics were called and lifeguards, including Thompson and Elliott Phillips, both 17 years old, made their way down to the scene.

Taylor said they had lots of assistance with the crash, which was especially helpful because “three guards attending a serious injury sometimes just isn’t enough”.

Phillips said this had been his first serious injury callout, and it had been good to put his training to use.

“We are trained, but I have never been in that kind of situation before; we all did our jobs, and it went well,” Phillips said.

Rocco Thompson watching swimmers from the top of the tower.

This wasn’t the first serious call for Thompson however – he and Taylor had helped in the search for missing divers at Mataikona last year and were awarded for their efforts.

It took 40 minutes for the helicopter to arrive and pick up the crash victim on New Year’s Eve.

The shared sentiment among lifeguards was to be more cautious when driving.

“There is definitely potential for more emergencies this season with the amount of quads side by side driving on the beach,” Thompson said.

“Quad bike accidents are fairly common around the country.”

Taylor said the crash had been a “big eye-opener for a lot of people and a reminder to be safe on roads”.

“Wear helmets, and be responsible.”

The Riversdale Beach Surf Lifesaving Club team are dedicated to their jobs, all coming back season after season to patrol the beach and keep people safe while they enjoy the summer.

Taylor has taken six weeks off his full-time job in Wellington to patrol the beach, something he also spent his summer doing last year.

Taylor said he spent six days a week patrolling the beach, totalling about 50 hours.

He felt as though he was “married to the surf club”.

Phillips said he had been lifesaving for four years, and essentially grew up at the beach.

“I looked up to the lifeguards.

“They were there for us, so I thought, it’s my turn to give back and be there for them.”

Thompson had a similar view, not seeing an end to his career as a lifeguard any time soon.

Taylor described his role as an honour and a great opportunity, especially working at Riversdale Beach

It is understood that the young person who was injured in the quad bike crash is still being treated at Wellington Hospital.

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