Rough seas battering the rocky coastline at Muriwai Beach didn't stop Auckland lifeguard Tai Kahn from dropping out of a helicopter to rescue a surfer clinging to a cave roof.
Mr Kahn, from Northern Region Surf Live Saving, and a team of lifeguards from Muriwai were among 19 individuals and organisations whose search and rescue efforts have been recognised by the New Zealand Search and Rescue Council at Government House.
The lifeguards received the council's highest accolade for their efforts and Mr Kahn said he hoped it showed a lifeguard's job wasn't all fun in the sun.
"When we came out on the scene we were just trying to find out where he was because no one could see him, you could just hear him yelling out," he said.
"He was in one of the caves in the cliff face and the surf just pounds in there."
Mr Kahn said, when he saw that the lifeguards couldn't get into the cave, he decided he would need to leap out of the helicopter.
His current role at the service is more operational but he said he could not imagine doing anything else.
"Our slogan is 'in it for life' and you just can't escape it. It grows on you every time and every time you do something like this it just confirms in you that that's what you want to do and you're actually accomplishing something and helping the community."
Search for Jack hit hard
Mt Maunganui Lifeguard Service president Brent Warner said the camaraderie of lifeguards, and their role serving the community, kept people involved even when the outcome was tragic.
The organisation was acknowledged for their part in the 10-day search for five-year-old Jack Dixon, who was washed away by a large wave during a trip to Shelley Beach with his family in October last year.
Mr Warner said the operation hit close to home.
"It was very close to a lot of our hearts, a lot of us have young children around Jack's age," he said.
"We're also very highly-skilled volunteers and so that kicks a lot of kindred and community spirit in you."
He said conditions were treacherous for days following Jack's disappearance with volunteers putting in about 1500 hours of work, and the award was well deserved.
The ceremony also recognised those who have contributed significantly to search and rescue operations over the years, including Coromandel Peninsula Land search and rescue coordinator Brian Boyle.
Mr Boyle, who first joined search and rescue in 1958, said the most remarkable advancement had been technological.
He coordinates the use of Wandersearch on the Coromandel, which issues traceable pendants to people prone to wandering, cutting down search time significantly.
"We'd been on three searches on the Coromandel; 630 hours was the first one - volunteer hours for one person that we'd called people in from all over the Coromandel for," he said.
"Nine months later, we had a visitor from Auckland - fortunately he was wearing a pendant, one person found him in 16 minutes."
Mr Boyle said New Zealand's search and rescue operations were highly regarded internationally and many overseas organisations had adapted techniques developed here.
The coastguard, police, land and marine search and rescue crews were also among those honoured in the ceremony.