Years of teaching cardiopulmonary resuscitation to school students and teachers came to the fore when Stan Davies was at hand after a mate collapsed in the surf.
The pair were in the same heat of a Sunday morning longboard competition at Cottesloe when Mr Davies was told John Laming, a friend of four years, was in trouble.
"He had no signs of life and he was blue as blue," Mr Davies said.
"I started to resuscitate him, got him going and then we lost his pulse again.
"In fact, we lost him a couple of times."
Three times Mr Laming was brought back to life as Mr Davies pummelled his friend's chest for about 20 minutes.
"Others wanted to drag him to the grass but I knew time was of the essence so I said, 'no - don't move him. We'll do it here on the rocks'," he said.
Mr Davies, 61, a retired physical education teacher and Cottesloe Surf Life Saving Club member since he was nine, taught resuscitation techniques at schools for 30 years.
He knew effective CPR meant firm pressure on the sternum.
"You need to push it in 35 to 40mm to squeeze the heart and this gets the blood going again," he said.
Mr Davies persevered until an ambulance arrived and took Mr Laming to Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital.
Two weeks later doctors inserted a defibrillator but otherwise he escaped his near-death experience with no permanent damage.
"To look at him now you wouldn't know he's been dead three times," Mr Davies said.
Mr Laming, 61, said doctors were unsure whether he had a heart attack before he fell unconscious and swallowed water or immediately afterwards.
He remembered nothing of the crisis but paid tribute to Mr Davies and others involved in his rescue for their "excellent actions".
"If they hadn't done so, we'd be talking a different story," Mr Laming said.
"In fact, I wouldn't be talking at all." Mr Laming, of Cottesloe, has nominated Mr Davies, of Daglish, for the St John Ambulance Community Hero Awards.
Formerly the Bravery Awards, the two categories are community (for the public) and service (for St John staff and volunteers).
St John Ambulance WA chief executive Tony Ahern said Mr Davies was the embodiment of a community hero.
"This demonstrates just how vital knowing first aid is," Mr Ahern said. "It can mean the difference between life and death."
Nominations for the awards close next Friday and acts of bravery between December 2012 and this month are eligible.Details at stjohnambulance.com.au