A Bermagui lifesaver who worked to support his community throughout summer's bushfires has been named the state's top lifeguard.
On Saturday, Will Vaughan-Smith took out Lifeguard of the Year at the2020Surf Life Saving NSW Awards of Excellence.
The awards celebrate the outstanding achievements of volunteer surf lifesavers across surf sports, education, administration, membership and lifesaving, and were hosted virtually this year due to COVID-19 social distancing restrictions.
"It's great, it's a very unexpected win," Mr Vaughan-Smith said on Monday.
"I didn't even tune in to the show. I thought I probably won't win, so there's no point in me tuning in!"
Mr Vaughan-Smith, who is employed as a lifeguard with Bega Valley Shire Council, said the award was for his efforts during summer's bushfires.
Mr Vaughan-Smith assisted at Bermagui and Camel Rock, making sure the beaches were closed, handing out water, reassuring people and helping to communicate with the outside world.
"It was full on," the 24-year-old said of the bushfire period.
"I was just doing what anyone else in my position would have done.
"I felt very lucky to have a job and be doing something, rather than just having to sit around and wait."
Once the evacuation period ended in Bermagui he evacuated himself to Bega but continued to help others at Merimbula.
"I thought rather than sitting around and waiting in Bega, I might as well go to work in Merimbula," he said.
He hadn't long returned to work in Bermagui before having to evacuate again later in January when fire neared the town, but said it was easier the second time around.
"It was less stressful because there weren't as many tourists and people in town, I think a lot of them had been scared off," he said.
"We'd already done it the first time so it was a lot easier, we knew where to go, who to call and what to do."
He said the lessons he could pass on for other lifeguards in disaster situations like the bushfires was "keep a cool head and be patient with people".
A Bega Valley Shire Council spokesperson said the summer beach lifeguard program and the volunteer surf lifesavers are very important to summer in the Bega Valley.
"Never was this clearer than during last summer's fire disaster when they collectively went above and beyond to support the various other emergency services," the spokesperson said.