'It was intense ... she kept asking if she was going to die'
A SYDNEY businessman who saved two girls from a rip at a Gold Coast beach said he wouldn't have been able to live with himself if he didn't spring into action.
Robert Medaris, 53, a tourist from the New South Wales capital, was on an early morning walk along Surfers Paradise beach - before lifeguards started their shift - when he proved not all heroes wear capes.
Wearing his boardies, a Gold Coast tourist T-shirt and with his thongs in hand, he made the split-second decision to jump in after the two girls, believed to be teenagers, as they drifted out to sea.
The surf wasn't big, but it was consistent and he estimated one girl was about 80 metres offshore.
"It was pretty intense," he said. "As I walked away I had tears in my eyes because I thought 'if I didn't get that right it could have been bad for the three of us'."
"I couldn't live with myself if something happened to (those girls) and I didn't do anything."
Mr Medaris said he heard the girls screaming for help about 6am Thursday, but at first thought they were playing as he only saw them minutes earlier.
But then he saw they had drifted apart and jumped into action.
"I thought 'I have to conserve my energy here because there's two girls'. I thought the girl closer in has a better chance of making the beach. The girl further out had absolutely no chance of making it back. I had to make a tough call and basically swim past the first girl.
"I was definitely out of my comfort zone going out that far, one because I'm paranoid about sharks."
Mr Medaris performed breaststroke to get to the swimmer further out so he didn't lose sight of her and precious moments.
"Just before I approached her I made it clear to her 'you're going to be safe, don't panic'."
He grabbed her hand and took her to shore before doubling back for the second swimmer.
Mr Medaris said she was "absolutely exhausted" from battling the waves and collapsed into his arms.
"I had to hold her up to walk her out of the water. That girl kept asking if she was going to die because she'd obviously taken in so much of the water."
One of the girls received oxygen on the beach, before both were taken to hospital in stable condition.
"I basically had no choice because that girl who was so far out she was going to drown. She wasn't going to get in without assistance. It's just a moment of truth where you decide you're going to step up," Mr Medaris said.
A witness to the rescue said Mr Medaris should be awarded a medal for his heroics.
Sue Sims, who lives on the 18th floor of a Surfers Paradise building overlooking the ocean, was having her morning coffee watching the water when disaster almost struck.
"I was watching them (two girls) swim. They were okay one minute, next they were gone," she said.
"I heard these girls scream 'help, help me'. And then I realised they were getting taken out. I was ringing triple-0.
"It started to get a few people running and I saw this guy (run in).
"He got the (girl) furthest out first and brought her in, and then went after the other one. It was scary to watch.
"Without that man, and I don't know who he was, those girls were gone."
She said the ordeal only lasted a few minutes "but it felt like ages".
Ms Sims said the man "deserves a medal".
Gold Coast chief lifeguard Warren Young said the incident highlighted the importance of swimming at patrolled beaches and between the flags.
Lifeguards patrol the beaches from 8am to 5pm but are working longer hours from Saturday for the Christmas period.
"Even though it's a small swell and looks benign, there's residual currents … they must have got caught by it and some bystanders went to help them," he said of the near-drowning.
"Thankfully, things turned OK. But it just reiterates the importance of waiting until there's lifeguards on duty, because even though it looks benign there's still some current moving along the coast and conditions can be dangerous even if it doesn't look that way.
"We just ask people to be patient and just don't swim when there's no flags up, it really is so important."
Originally published as 'Deserves a medal': Man's heroic rescue of drowning teens