Surfers taught water rescue techniques in bid to save lives this summer

Sunshine returned for much of the country today and with it renewed calls to take extra care in the water this summer.

Last year's drowning figures were the worst the country's seen in 14 years, prompting the surf lifesaving community to ramp up new initiatives to help prevent them.

Surfers at Auckland's Bethells Beach were out in full force on Saturday but catching the perfect wave wasn't their priority.

They were taking part in Surfers Rescue 24/7, a course developed in New South Wales to arm recreational surfers with water rescue techniques and basic CPR skills.

"Dawn and dusk they're quite often in the water when surf lifeguards aren't there and really as a surfer you've got the perfect tool. You've got the floatation device," Surf Life Saving Northern operations manager James Lea said.

More than 100 surfers have already jumped on board with the initiative having witnessed emergencies at the beach themselves.

"We've been at Muriwai Beach at Te Arai on several occasions where people have drowned. It's a really intimidating experience, just realising that is the reality of visiting the beach in New Zealand," said surfer Katy Guildford.

"I've seen a couple of things, especially down at the beach, sometimes you see an ambulance down at Muriwai which is pretty harrowing," added surfer Michael Barnett.

And figures show recreational surfers play a huge role as first responders in the water, performing over 60 percent of ocean rescues in Australia.

"Surfers have a really good understanding of how the beach works and the different conditions because it changes quickly with the sand movement. So in terms of their local knowledge, absolutely key for rescue," Lea said.

But Lea has a message for beach-goers to keep them out of danger in the first place.

"What we're seeing this summer is people really underestimating the environment they're going in to and they're overestimating their ability," he said.

"I think that's the mixed bag with summer that we've had, we get the excitement and the weather's up and people are just rushing into the water. We just urge people to take that step back first."

A timely message as the sun finally re-emerges.