Coffs Harbour surfing instructor cum impromptu life saver, Lee Winkler.
Coffs Harbour surfing instructor cum impromptu life saver, Lee Winkler. Coffs Coast Advocate

Wink's a hero in surf drama

CHANTELLE McPherson is alive today thanks to a surfing teacher turned impromptu life saver who rescued her from dangerous surf on the weekend.

Chantelle, 12, was swimming at Park Beach just after 5pm on Sunday when she was taken out by a rip.

With official lifeguard duties ending 10 minutes earlier, Chantelle was in real trouble until renowned local surfing instructor Lee Winkler spotted her.

But Lee was already busy saving someone else.

“I saw one guy get into some trouble, and after advising him, I saw his son was in trouble as well,” Lee said.

“I took a board and paddled out and got the son into shallow water.

“But next thing I know the father's shouting and waving and I realise his daughter's out there, too.”

Lee paddled back out on his board and spotted a hand in the water.

“I saw her and told her to relax, but another wave went over before I could get to her,” he said.

“She came back up and I pulled her onto the board. One more wave and she would have started taking water.”

Chantelle and her mother, Sally, came back to Park Beach yesterday to thank Lee.

Chantelle said the experience was 'scary' and seeing Lee coming towards her on his board helped calm her down.

Her relieved mother couldn't thank Lee enough.

“I'm just glad he was there, and for what he said to her as well, she now knows what to do,” Sally said.

“She wants to have a surfing lesson with Lee now, so she can learn even more about being safe in the water.”

The rescue capped off a busy day for Lee, after he helped steer a family of four to safety near the mouth of Coffs Creek earlier the same day.

“All day there were people getting stuck in little holes, getting into trouble,” he said.

“With the high tides there was just a weird feeling on the water all day. All the rips were working hard.”

Lee said the 'wildest' impromptu rescue he's ever done was saving a dog from Coffs Creek last year.

“The owner was throwing a ball out on the outgoing tide, and the dog couldn't get back in after doing it for the hundredth time,” Lee said.

“Winter's probably the worst time because there are no lifeguards and I'm out here alone.”

Lee has one tip for visiting swimmers who aren't aware of the conditions.

“Swim between the flags, that's what they're there for,” he said.



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