An eagle-eyed rescue helicopter crew member ended a nearly seven hour ordeal for a surfer who was swept about 8km to sea after being carried out by a strong offshore wind and outgoing tide.

Police, Coastguard and a helicopter were involved in the search and rescue operation, which began at 10.20am at the mouth of the Tukituki River in Haumoana.

Coastguard skipper Henry van Tuel said the man was "lucky to be alive" and his survival was down to his being "young, fit and wearing a wetsuit".

The sea was "extremely rough" with a 3.8 metre swell, and in some areas it was breaking, meaning it took the vessel about half an hour to get from the Coastguard base in Napier to the scene at Haumoana and to start a search pattern, Tuel said.

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"He had been in the water since 6.30am, surfing close to the river mouth but the river swept him out to sea and when he was out the wind took over."

Van Tuel said the wind was blowing 40km/h.

"It was certainly challenging. I'm sure he was quite capable but obviously got tired and with the force of the river with all the rain that's been in the river, it swept him out to sea."

A couple of hours into the search, a chopper was available and was deployed in blustery wind conditions. It was then when things progressed quickly, finding him at 1.10pm.

"In one of [the helicopters] sweeps, out of the corner of their eye, they saw something in the horizon, went to investigate it and it was the guy on the surfboard. They confirmed it was him, circled above him and brought us in to rescue him.

He said the helicopter crew also had trouble seeing him.

"He was on a surfboard, but that was a lighter colour unfortunately so it blended in with the sea. It was just his black wetsuit that we saw, but we only saw him from 100m away."

"When we got him on the boat he was still talking, and shivering, but he was quite lucid. We dried him off, got him warm, gave him a bit of water, and a couple of lollies to bring his sugar levels up. If he had been out there for much longer, it would have been a different story."

A search and rescue operation took place yesterday at the mouth of the Tukituki River in Haumoana as a surfer was swept out to sea. Photo / Duncan Brown.
A search and rescue operation took place yesterday at the mouth of the Tukituki River in Haumoana as a surfer was swept out to sea. Photo / Duncan Brown.

The man also complained of sore eyes and his rescuers washed them with fresh water.

He was taken to Hawke's Bay Hospital suffering from hypothermia. The water was about 13C.

A Hawke's Bay District Health Board spokeswoman said he was in his 30s, and was in a stable condition, as of last night.

Earlier, searchers had been unsure whether the surfer was in the water, or had changed plans to surf this morning and was at an unknown location on land.

It is understood the alarm was raised after his friend, who was meant to meet him at 7.30am, could not find him upon arriving at the beach 15 minutes later.

Van Tuel noted the importance of this.

"It is really important that if people are going out in those kinds of conditions, they let someone know where they are and what time they will be back and if they don't turn up, to notify police."

Hawke's Bay Surf School owner, and experienced surfer, Bronson Primmer said the weather was 20 year episode.

"It's the best bar we've had almost ever."

However, he said that came with dangers.

"Hawke's Bay is an easy place to learn to surf but when the elements are up, like they have been with the weather, you can't be complacent. You have got to be aware of your surroundings."

On Saturday, he witnessed a similar incident, where a surfer tried to paddle from the river mouth to the bar.

"We lost him in the binoculars so we rang the police again but then we saw him and he came round to Te Awanga."

Primmer said at the height of the storm last week, they had a 1200 cubic metre (1.2 million litre) per second flow coming out the Haumoana River mouth and it was still high.

A search and rescue operation took place yesterday at the mouth of the Tukituki River in Haumoana as a surfer was swept out to sea. Photo / Duncan Brown.
A search and rescue operation took place yesterday at the mouth of the Tukituki River in Haumoana as a surfer was swept out to sea. Photo / Duncan Brown.

MetService Meteorologist, Andrew James said weather yesterday had been "pretty nice" and a few degrees warmer than the 12C felt last week. This week, Hawke's Bay will see a "marked improvement".

"The low pressure system that has been hanging around to the east of the country, driving that rain towards Hawke's Bay over the past wee while moves off," James said.

He said a "building ridge" over New Zealand creates "much more settled conditions".