December 30, 2019
Renae Samson was confident. Too confident. And it nearly cost her her life.
The teen, who had taken swimming lessons as a child and grew up with a pool in her backyard, swam at Muriwai on an almost daily basis and thought she knew everything there was to know about the West Coast beach.
So, when the lifeguards packed up for the day and told everyone to get out of the water on January 9, 2018, the West Auckland woman and her partner ignored the experts.
"I thought I knew the beach, I had swum out there almost every day - maybe for the past three or four months. Even in winter I was swimming out there. I thought I knew that beach to a tee."
It was a move that nearly proved fatal that Friday evening.
The couple were in fairly shallow water but as the then 18-year-old went to jump on her partner they suddenly found themselves unable to touch the bottom.
"He realised he couldn't touch the ground, then I realised I couldn't touch the ground and then we panicked.
"It was pretty rough, I think we were in a hole and then we got picked up and it took us out."
She said she knew straight away that they were in trouble.
"If you are knee-deep and go up to waist-deep that's one thing but to go from just above knee to not being able to touch the bottom at all it's quite scary.
"I was freaking out."
As panic took over, everything Samson had learned about water safety went out the door and she couldn't remember if she should go with the rip or try and swim to the side.
Her partner's attempts to reach her were unsuccessful and he was pulled further out to sea in the strong current.
She said her partner was a very strong swimmer too but by that stage they were screaming for help.
No one heard. The lifeguards had gone and they were hoping a member of the public would come see them.
"We were just screaming. I couldn't even tell you for how long - it might have been a minute or it might have been 25 minutes, I have no idea."
Fortunately a surfer came to her rescue but the ordeal was far from over for her partner.
"I turned around and saw my partner get demolished by a wave. I had no idea where he went, he was just gone.
"The surfer was just saying to me, hold onto my board and just paddle."
Once the surfer got her to shore people on the beach helped her while he went back out to find her partner.
"When they saved me I thought they weren't going to find him. There were eight or nine other surfers out looking for him but none of them could find him."
"I was on the beach screaming and I could see that all the other surfers were out there and couldn't see him and they were out really, really far."
The same surfer who saved her eventually found her partner and pulled him onto his board. But it wasn't an easy trip back to the shore. He wasn't wearing a top and it was difficult holding on to him. He kept getting knocked off the board. He had also taken in a lot of water.
Samson said she wasn't sure if he was conscious at that stage but he had used all his energy and "just had nothing left to give" and she feared he might still might not make it.
"He couldn't even pull himself up onto the surf board, he was so tired. He swallowed so much sea water. He got out and was being carried out of the water and he was vomiting up all this sea water all the time."
Lifeguards and paramedics were on the shore once they were back on land.
The Auckland Westpac Rescue helicopter also arrived and flew the couple to hospital.
"I couldn't function properly, I didn't know what was going on, I was vomiting water but no where near as bad [as him]. He was really bad."
"I think for me adrenalin had so much to do with it but he didn't have time for it to kick in. For me it was 'I have just nearly died, I just nearly saw you die' and then when the helicopter was there I was 'this is serious'."
She and her partner, who she has since separated from, were in hospital overnight before being released the next day.
Samson said going back into the water was difficult and it was only during a trip to Australia that she went swimming again for the first time.
"I was so freaked out by it. I almost had a panic attack in the water."
Samson says the biggest message she has for others is to always swim between the flags and only when the guards are on duty.
"And, don't get comfortable because that was my biggest thing; I got comfortable. I was like 'I know this beach like the back of my hand, I know everything about this beach'. I was going there all the time. Don't get comfortable because at the end of the day it's mother nature - don't mess with that."