Josh Hogan and Rhys Brunton, both 16 and from Cambridge in New Zealand, began their adventures with an ordinary time out on the lagoon at Avaavaroa. Rhys was in a kayak, while Josh was snorkelling.
Rhys got flipped a couple of times having been caught side-on and the kayak began filling with water.
Another wave tipped him out and Josh swam to him because he didn’t have a mask or fins.
Rhys managed to get on to the coral, but Josh grabbed the kayak, which now was vertical with only about 30cm sitting above the water.
He let the current pull him out and he sat behind the breaking waves. At one stage he thinks he was 200 to 300 metres out.
“I was glad I had flippers, a snorkel and goggles. The first thing I did was tighten them up,” he said.
“The main thing was thinking about the waves and trying to stay away. When the big waves came that’s when I started to get a bit scared.”
The waves were up to five metres, he estimated.
Josh reckoned he was floating about outside the reef for about an hour and a half before he saw the welcome sight of the Strike Time motoring towards him.
The fishing charter boat had answered an emergency call and its captain, Tom Vea had made the run from near the Edgewater.
Vea said: “It was too rough and they were too close to the reef. They got sucked out.
“Josh made the right decision to go out, rather than fight the current.”
Vea said the teen also made the right call when he decided to stay with the kayak.
“The thing about it is he made the right decision to stay with the kayak. He wasn’t moving anywhere because of the current.
“A lot of people panic and would have left the kayak, but that’s your saviour.
“Even a sinking kayak is better than nothing.”
Vea said Josh was also lucky in that Strike Time was the only boat out on Sunday in that area.
He added: “He was not really in any danger of going any further out. With that current you’ll go round and round and round.”
Vea’s colleague and captain of the Marlin Queen, Junior Ioapa, also went down to pick Josh up.
“We’ve done a few rescues like this because we are concerned with safety. If anything happens we are always here to help.”
Ioapa said it was probably his sixth or seventh rescue of people who have drifted out of the lagoon.
“Sometimes we pick people up who are lucky … sometimes we pick people up who are not lucky.
“He was so lucky.”
Ioapa said the teen had got sucked way out and then drifted back into the reef.
“It’s natural for that passage. When we rescue people from Avaavaroa we know exactly the spot to look for them.
“In that area they always sucked back to same area.”
He said the young man had swallowed sea water and “was very happy to see us”.
Because he was so close to the reef a line had to be thrown to him so he could be dragged away from it.
Ioapa said it was a very dangerous area.
“The undertow is very strong. He got sucked down three times. He was so lucky he had flippers on and he fought back up. The third time he got the kayak.”
The boat captain said the boys had missed the danger sign at Avaavaroa, so he recommended that all resorts lock their watercraft up on rough days.
Josh said the family went out for dinner that night “which was quite nice because I was pretty hungry”.
He said he’d been for a couple of snorkels since then but “kept to waist-deep water”.