For every person who loved Hamish Rieger, one shell was placed on top of his casket.

By the time Hamish was carried from his family church for the final time, his casket looked like the beach he loved so much.

The 17-year-old, who died last Saturday after being swept off a rock by a large wave, was farewelled at a requiem mass at St Thomas More Catholic Church yesterday before a crowd of close to 1000 friends and family members.

The church was jam-packed with others forced to sit in the foyer and outside the church entrance.

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As they entered, a song written about Hamish by family friend Peter Fountain played with a slideshow of photos showing Hamish's smiling face.

The coffin was loaded onto an IRB and driven through a guard of honour. Photo/Andrew Warner
The coffin was loaded onto an IRB and driven through a guard of honour. Photo/Andrew Warner

The service was officiated by Father Michael Gielen, Deacon Henk Gielen and Hamish's uncle, Father Robert Rieger, who is based in Rome but flew back to New Zealand as soon as he heard of his nephew's death. Father Robert baptised Hamish as an infant.

After the service, Hamish's coffin was carried outside and laid in an IRB. As people approached the coffin to say their goodbyes, each laid a shell on its lid, soon covering its surface entirely.

The crowd was littered with the bright yellow and red uniforms of Surf Lifesaving New Zealand lifeguards, a mark of respect to one of their own. There were about 300 members of the lifesaving community at the service.

Although today is a sad day, it shouldn't be one. Today should be a celebration and reflection of your life, which was full of jokes, smiles and hard work.

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Respects paid, the crowd parted as past and present Mount Maunganui College students, led by family friend Danny Kayes, put their hearts into a passionate haka, leaving barely a dry eye in their wake.

Hamish then left his family's church for the final time on the back of the IRB as his fellow lifeguards, joined by police officers and police dogs, lined the driveway in a guard of honour. One of these was Justin Pickering, this year's head boy at the college and one of Hamish's best mates, who was wearing a white shirt and his red lifeguard shorts. Justin played water polo with Hamish and was a proud and constantly-amused classmate.

Read more: Lifesavers' tribute for Hamish Rieger

"Hamish, you are a close friend, a teammate, a coach, a legend, a person I have huge respect for, and ultimately a champion smack-talker.

"Although today is a sad day, it shouldn't be one. Today should be a celebration and reflection of your life, which was full of jokes, smiles and hard work.

"Not everyone gets to have or be a great friend but Hamish, you were a good friend, a great friend, and that is worth more than gold."

A friend pays her last respects. Photo/Andrew Warner
A friend pays her last respects. Photo/Andrew Warner

Hamish's elder brother Oliver was humbled by the outpouring of support coming from extended family, the surf lifesaving ranks and the wider community.

"Most of you will remember Hamish for his relentless enthusiasm for life, his boundless energy and his ever-present trademark smile - what's obvious is the void he's going to leave.

"Both large things and little will act as triggers for our grief, in all parts of our lives. This is particularly true for Mum and Dad - even though they've handled things amazingly over the last week, there are some tough months ahead and they're going to need all of you to continue the incredible support that you've shown this week."

Kent Jarman, from Mount Maunganui Lifeguard Service, has had a long association with the Rieger family and fondly remembered when Hamish first came under his wing.

"Hamish turned up on my patrol as a round-faced rookie around five years ago, definitely on the cheeky side but also very keen to learn. By the time he left my patrol - and despite all the icecream he used to eat - the round face had disappeared but the willingness to learn hadn't. He found his niche within the ranks and developed into a very capable lifeguard, with skills and experience well beyond his years."