Liam Lawrence was seconds from disappearing under the water, and thinking about how his chubby-cheeked baby girl was going to be fatherless, not even a year into her life.

Rick Waite was kite surfing in the ocean off his Muriwai home, and thinking about catching the wind back to shore for the night.

But something on the beach caught his eye: It was people waving frantically. One was Lawrence's partner, who had joined him at Muriwai with their baby daughter.

A kilometre out to sea, 22-year-old Lawrence was fighting for his life, all the time thinking about his 5-month-old daughter, Akaiyah.

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He had become caught in an early evening rip, lifeguard patrols had ended for the day and few people remained at the beach when the drama unfolded on January 17.

"I was just thinking about my daughter. She's only 5 months old. But then I was thinking 'today's the day [I'm going to die]," Lawrence told the Herald.

"It was only five or 10 minutes [in the water], but it was an exhausting five or 10 minutes. I reckon I had about 30 seconds left in me.

"I was starting to go under."

The rescue took place at Auckland's Muriwai Beach. File photo / Greg Bowker
The rescue took place at Auckland's Muriwai Beach. File photo / Greg Bowker

Waite said as he came to Lawrence's aid, tacking several times to get close, a desperate Lawrence told him how serious the situation was.

"He was saying 'I can't hold on much longer, bro'."

He threw Lawrence part of his safety leash, and told him to hold on as he rode the wind ashore. Lawrence did.

"He held on like a champ, like his life depended on it," Waite said.

It did, Lawrence said. "I just knew he was my only hope."

On the beach the pair shared a "bro-ment", said Waite, who is from the United Kingdom but works in New Zealand as a television location manager.

"We had a high five and a hug. He was very grateful."

It was a long hug, Lawrence said.

"I just said 'thank you'. He was my saviour."

'There was nothing heroic about it'

The life-saving rescue was second time lucky for Waite. He also performed successful CPR on a person in Henderson Mall a year ago but he was adamant he did what anyone else would.

"There's nothing heroic about it. He held on, we got ourselves to safety and everyone got home to dinner that night."

As for Lawrence, he had learned a lesson about overestimating his abilities in the water.

Growing up swimming at Auckland's West Coast beaches, he thought he would be okay swimming after lifeguard patrols had ended for the day, he said.

He would not make that mistake again, and hoped his terrifying ordeal would remind others to also take care in the water.

"Just stay in the shallows, or when the lifeguards go home, stay out of the water. I was feeling confident. Too confident."