One wrong move by rescuers could have led to paralysis or death for Woonona teenager Lewis McLeod after he dived headfirst into the surf, hit a sandbank and broke his neck.
Fortunately, two of the Woonona surf lifesavers who pulled the 18-year-old from the water on February 9 had just received their spinal management certificates and took every precaution.
Patrol captain Tory Johnson said Lewis was carried out of the water face down and he made the call not to roll him on to his back on the sand.
"He told me that he'd dived head-first into the sand so I decided not to try and roll him over," he said.
"We slid a rescue tube between his forehead and the sand, and packed beach towels under his shoulders and chest to eliminate movement as much as we could.
"We kept him in that position until ambulance officers arrived and then we could do a spinal roll and secure him into a neck brace and get him on a spinal board."
The lifesavers and two paramedics then transported Lewis into an ambulance.
"We were later informed that his spinal sheath had been torn, spinal fluid had escaped, his C5 vertebrae had shattered and was pressing against his spinal cord.
"The slightest movement would have killed him, or left him a quadriplegic."
Lewis will wear a neck brace for three months but he knows how lucky he is.
"I dove straight in the water and remember seeing the sandbank and I hit my head and my neck bent back," he said. "I kept trying to push myself off the sand but I couldn't move."
Mr Johnson praised Lewis and his mates for swimming between the flags that day.