A man who ended up falling in the sea trying to pull a girl aged 10 to safety says he "acted on instinct".
Stephen Gill, 52, was walking with his wife on Redcar beach on Saturday when they spotted a girl in the water and realised she was screaming for help.
He and another man threw a rope to the child and fell into the water before managing to pull themselves and the girl to safety.
Cleveland Police said those who tried to help the girl were "heroes".
Mr Gill said the 10-year-old and her friend aged 11 had spotted big waves and went to look.
They both got washed into the water from a ramp, however the 11-year-old managed to pull herself out.
Mr Gill, an accountant, said: "It was windy and a high tide and we saw water going over the barrier and thought 'that's cool we'll go have a look'.
"We saw a young girl swimming in the ocean and thought that was unusual, then we realised she was floundering and screaming for help. She was being washed against some steps by the power of the waves.
"I found a rope and jumped over the barrier and threw it to the girl."
He said that the girl grabbed the rope, but he could not pull her out because she was a "dead weight."
By this stage another man was trying to help and they both ended up getting pulled into the water.
Mr Gill said: "I was holding on to the guy and he was holding on to the girl and we managed to pull ourselves out on to the steps.
"It was total instinct, there was no thinking about it, it was all adrenaline.
"I'm just so pleased she's okay.
"My wife is so proud and called me a hero - that feels weird."
Police said the girls suffered bruising and were cold from being in the water, but were otherwise unharmed by their ordeal.
They were checked over by paramedics but did not need hospital treatment and were left with their parents.
PC Stewart Shepherd of the Cleveland force said: "There's no doubt their quick-thinking meant a far less serious outcome and I would describe these men as heroes."