We’ve all had those classic first date jitters.
But two Gold Coast teens experienced a different kind of fear when a romantic day at the beach turned into a near-death experience after they got caught in a rip current.
Liam Towner, 19, had asked out Emily McClymont, 18, after first meeting on social media.
He wanted to take Emily somewhere nice for their first meeting on January 18 and selected Dreamtime Beach – popular among his friends due to its rock pools.
Liam Towner, 19, and Emily McClymont, 18, are still together after nearly drowning on their first date at a Queensland beach
Liam met Emily on social media and after a few weeks asked her out on a date to Dreamtime Beach
The pair had been sunbathing when they decided to take a dip in the sea, hanging out in a shallow area where the water barely reached their thighs.
When the first big wave came the teens were fine. But after the second one hit, Liam and Emily were dragged out to sea.
‘The swell just sucked us up,’ Liam told Daily Mail Australia. ‘It took me out as far as possible and Emily got caught in between two rocks.’
At first Emily was ‘pretty unsure of what was happening’ and didn’t immediately begin to panic, she said.
But Liam knew ‘straight away’ that they were both in danger.
‘We were holding on to each other and I told Emily to stay afloat no matter what,’ he recalled.
When the first big wave came the couple were fine. But after the second one hit, Liam and Emily were dragged out to sea and quickly caught up in a rip current
‘She managed to get pushed over to some rocks, but I couldn’t really see her and I got swept out further straight away.’
‘I didn’t think it was that big of a deal until Liam started freaking out,’ Emily added. ‘We got separated almost instantly, it was very fast.’
Another waved helped push Emily back to shore, but she couldn’t see Liam anywhere.
While Emily was pushed to shore, Liam was caught in the current for 20 minutes
‘I thought “What the hell is going on?'” she recalled. ‘It didn’t feel real.’
A wave had pushed Liam 10 metres further away than Emily, sending him in in the opposite direction.
‘I was trying to climb up on the rock, but one wave was too big and sucked me straight around a massive cliff wall,’ he said.
The strong current kept dragging Liam under the water as he tried to battle six-foot waves.
‘I just wanted to keep staying afloat,’ he said. ‘I was swimming for my life, it was absolutely horrific.’
‘I had absolutely nothing left in the tank after the first 15 minutes, it was just so exhausting. I would get up and take one breath and then the next massive wave would come and chuck me under the rocks, it was just unimaginable.’
Close to passing out and feeling confident he ‘wasn’t going to make it out’, Liam said it was the future – and Emily – that he was thinking about.
‘I couldn’t see that Emily was in between the rocks, and I felt sick in the stomach thinking about what I’d done to her,’ he said.
‘I thought about what I could have had in the future and what I was leaving behind. How it would affect my family and Emily’s family for the rest of their lives.’
But after 20 minutes Liam was able to get out of the rip and found himself in knee-deep water at Fingal Head Beach, where lifeguards got him safely to shore.
But after 20 minutes Liam was able to get out of the rip and found himself in knee-deep water at Fingal Head Beach, more than 2km away
‘I was struggling to breathe,’ he recalled. ‘I was still conscious but I wasn’t there. I don’t know how I managed not to pass out.’
‘I wanted to find Emily because I thought she was still out there, that’s what I kept trying to tell people.’
Meanwhile Emily was still at Dreamtime Beach more than 2km away, waiting with lifeguards, paramedics, and police for any news on Liam.
‘I was freaking out,’ she said. ‘I thought he wasn’t going to make it. It took 10 minutes after Liam got on shore for us to realise it was him.’
‘As soon as I heard it was Liam, it was the best feeling knowing he was okay and that he was conscious.’
Liam and Emily are now sharing their story with the hope it will teach others to be more aware of their surroundings and to swim between the flags.
‘It was a very eye-opening experience,’ Liam said. ‘We were in thigh-deep water and didn’t think it held much danger.’
‘We should’ve checked the surroundings before doing anything.’
While it may have been absolutely terrifying, the couple’s first date brought them ‘ridiculously closer’ and they are currently together
‘We’re both alive and aware and happy now, it could’ve been a lot worse than it was,’ Emily added. ‘We were extremely lucky.’
Liam said that at first he was feeling down about the incident and couldn’t stop thinking about it, but now he is appreciating every full breath he can take again.
‘There are no tips on how to survive, because in all honesty I shouldn’t have,’ he said.
‘Just keep pushing, just do the best for your loved ones and family, that’s the only reason I made it. I made it out for Emily and my family.’
While it may have been absolutely terrifying, the couple’s first date brought them ‘ridiculously closer’.
‘It definitely sped things along,’ Liam said. ‘And sealed the deal I would say.’