A 53-year-old man has become Northland's first suspected drowning death of 2016 after he died while body surfing at Long Beach in Russell.

The man died after getting into difficulties while body surfing about 4pm on Saturday.

Two men and a woman, who was believed to have been an off-duty ambulance officer, tried to resuscitate the man for around 15 minutes until emergency services arrived and took over.

A witness said they were "taking it in turns" to provide CPR, but the man died at the scene.

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Russell-Orongo Bay Holiday Park owner Angela Armitage said guests had returned to the park "traumatised" after witnessing the incident.

"What drew people to it was the woman screaming," she said. "The wife was screaming so they went over, and when they realised what was happening they helped to comfort the wife.

"The wife was traumatised and so were the guests."

Long Beach resident Steve Rawlings said: "I believe he was found face-down in the water and pulled out by his family and then he was in the ambulance. Fire trucks were blocking the road and stopping people from going further down the beach."

Mr Rawlings said he had walked to the beach after hearing fire trucks racing past his home. He said the beach had been busy because the surf was up and people were body boarding. Normally, the beach was calm.

A witness said he believed the man and his family were from Auckland. Police are investigating.

At least 12 people drowned in Northland last year. The last incident involved an 82-year-old woman who was found dead in a pond in Kerikeri on Boxing Day. NZME