A prominent sports advocate rushed into the ocean to rescue three tourists caught in a rip at Waimarama Beach.

Damon Harvey, chairman of Sport Hawke's Bay, was early for a meeting on Friday afternoon so the keen surfer went to check out the water.

He noticed two men and a woman, who were all in their early 20s, struggling in the water behind the reef in the boat channel.

Then one of the men in the water was up on the rocks of the reef, waving for help.

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Once he saw the swimmer's arms in the air, Mr Harvey threw on a pair of boardshorts and was in the water in 30 seconds.

"It is just amazing, I mean your adrenaline. It is quite a big rush," said Mr Harvey. "I don't think [the situation] was life-threatening for them, but it could easily have been. If no one had been there I think they would have been in a lot more trouble."

He said it was the woman who was in the most distress. "[She] was struggling as she had taken on a bit of water," he said.

"We managed to get her back up on to the rocks and then back up on to the reef, and then I walked her along the reef a little bit until it got a bit shallower."

He said the tourists, were "pretty freaked" about the whole episode.

"They were playing around on the sand and they were wanting to cool off in the water," he said. "But what they didn't realise is that the reef sucks people out - surfers use it all the time to get out the back.

"So as soon as they got in a little bit deeper they were gone."

Mr Harvey put his confidence to run into the water down to the fact that he had been surfing the beach since he was 15 years old. He is also a board member of Surfing New Zealand.

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"And it wasn't a big swell," he said.

"The only problem was that it was really windy. So the wind wasn't helping them in, it was sweeping them along and down the beach, so that is why they sort of got in trouble."

Mr Harvey could see how tourists would find themselves in trouble like that as there was no real marker on the beach to work out the safest place to swim.

"They didn't know where to swim on the beach. They didn't realise that [it was] not the best place.

"You can't see the sea from the surf club, and so they would have kept driving until they found this carpark that perches right over the beach and thought it was a great spot."

Waimarama Surf Life Saving Club chairman Kim Nilsson agreed that part of the beach did look inviting to swimmers who were not familiar with the area.

"Swimming in the boat channel obviously looks good because it is hidden behind a reef," he said. "But it always has a rip going out. That is why surfers use it as an express train out to the back of the waves."

He said that with the beach currently patrolled only on weekends, it was best for tourists to ask a local where the best place was to swim.

"If there are no patrols on the beach, go to the local shop at Waimarama and ask a local," he said.

This time the tourists were lucky that Mr Harvey was in the right place at the right time.

It all happened so quickly that following the rescue Mr Harvey got a hug and a handshake, but no names.

"By that stage I was in a rush to get to my meeting so we got changed and I just left," he said.