A WEDDERBURN dad says the ocean took about everything he had to try and save his daughter and her friend from drowning in Warrnambool in October.
Peter Bewley's family had been enjoying a day out at the beach when the teenage girls lost their footing in the sea and were pulled out to a dangerous surf break.
Mr Bewley managed to get to the girls and try to keep their heads above water when Ballarat man Benjamin Kick and his step-dad Laurence Mason jumped in to help bring them all to safety.
Bravery of the three men was recognised by Life Saving Victoria at Lake Wendouree, Ballarat, on Wednesday morning.
This comes as Life Saving Victoria braces for a dangerous summer with added risks as people venture out of COVID lockdowns to explore the state's coast and inland waterways.
The teenage girls had been wading in knee-deep water at Point Ritchie, Logan's Beach, on October 3 about 2pm with the temperature about 26 degrees Celsius.
A wave knocked them off their feet and they later described this felt like the sand was being pulled from beneath them.
Warrnambool police attending officer Sergeant Thomas Morris said the girls were in the water an estimated 15 minutes but he was convinced any longer and they would have certainly drowned.
Sergeant Morris said this was a beach popular for whale watching, surfing and fishing while locals tended to only swim in the Hopkins River, which on this day was openly flowing into the ocean after heavy rain and this made surf conditions rough.
Mr Bewley swam out to the girls but also struggled against conditions in keeping their heads above water.
"In my opinion, as a local policeman turning up, these men dared to do what others would not. Their actions were courageous," Sergeant Morris said.
"A lot of people were standing up to help, but these three went above and beyond anything expected of them."
Mr Morris described seeing drama off-shore and had at first thought a dog was in trouble. He had been walking along on a family trip when he own dog had darted off.
Then he noticed the girls and Mr Bewley jumping off the rocks.
"It was pretty insane what he was jumping into," Mr Morris said.
"It was pretty intimidating. There was no sand, all rocks...I wouldn't even class what I did as swimming. It was staying afloat and ducking under waves to help the girls through the swell. The girls did well treading water as long as they did."
Mr Bewley and the two girls were treated for hypothermia and had swallowed large amounts of sea water.
LSV general manager Paul Shannon said this story, while a great reunion, was a timely warning for the season ahead.
He said major risk factors were emerging as families sought days out and family holidays to unfamiliar waterways amid a rise in domestic travel.
He said pandemic conditions also increased risks in people seeking more obscure waterways to avoid crowds and risk from physical inactivity, particularly water fitness, during lockdowns.
This incident showed how quickly a seemingly benign day out could change.
"Mother Nature is a powerful thing - sometimes you can just be in the wrong place at the wrong time," Mr Shannon said.
"If you can't save yourself, it bystanders and Good Samaritans you'll have to rely on."
Mr Shannon urged people to plan their day, use the Beachsafe app, know their ability and be prepared to have a back-up water option like swimming in a public pool.
He also urged people to take the time to walk to a patrolled beach and to look after each other.
The message from Mr Kick was, he said, simple: "stay between the flags and make sure when you're entering the ocean, someone knows you're entering the ocean".
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