Suzy Fewtrell screamed when she saw her husband floating face-down in the water after being caught in a "freak wave".
The couple, who are based in Shanghai, were swimming with friends at Otama Beach in the Coromandel on Valentine's Day when Paul was temporarily paralysed by the wave.
"He said he heard me scream his name so he held on for a bit longer," Mrs Fewtrell told the Herald.
"We all ran straight to him but we were struggling to turn him because the waves were quite strong and he was a dead weight.
"Plus we wanted to turn him really carefully because we were worried he had broken his neck."
Then, out of nowhere, a tall, well-built Caucasian man in a blue singlet turned up at the beach, ran into the water and helped the group.
"It's a really quiet beach so he really did come out of nowhere," Mrs Fewtrell said. "There was a wedding being set up further down the beach but they couldn't see or hear us.
"The man was really strong. He grabbed Paul from under his arms and helped us carry him to the beach. Paul came to quite quickly. He used to be a flight attendant so he's done lots of first aid training. He was instructing us on what to do."
Mrs Fewtrell ran to the wedding party where someone called emergency services.
"A lot of them came down to the beach to try and help. I felt calm but quite a few people went into shock.
"Then an off-duty paramedic and his wife, who's a doctor, walked past. The paramedic was really good at keeping everyone calm and he called emergency services again and told them to send a helicopter.
"The helicopter came after about 30 minutes and the man in the blue singlet helped the paramedics with the stretcher."
Mr Fewtrell began to get feeling again in his legs and toes in the helicopter. He was flown to Thames Hospital and then Middlemore Hospital. He had three prolapsed discs in his neck and his spine was severely bruised.
"He has a neck brace and has begun walking again but not well. In three weeks, we have to go back to the doctors to see if he needs an operation," Mrs Fewtrell said.
"Paul is feeling pretty lucky right now. He knows things could have been a lot worse."
Mrs Fewtrell would love to thank the man in the blue singlet and the paramedic and his wife.
"We wouldn't have been able to get Paul out of the water if it wasn't for the man in the blue singlet. I don't know who any of them are or where they came from but thank you, we appreciate your help so much."