The teenager thrown from a car as it plunged over a cliff at Red Beach early yesterday was a New Zealand touch rugby representative with his heart set on playing professional league.

Ryan Gibbons, 19, was "cheeky, fun-loving and athletic", his father, Malcolm, told the Herald last night.

"He had a soft side, but he also had a mischievous side."

Ryan was a passenger in the car when it left a road in the camping ground and went over the 25m cliff. The driver, a friend, suffered only minor injuries.

Police said that had Ryan been wearing a seat belt, he would probably have survived.

The accident has rocked the popular camp ground where the Gibbons family have holidayed for years.

Pinewood Motor Park board member Mary White said yesterday: "It is terrible, terrible. It is someone we all know very well that has been in the park for many, many years.

"I have known the young man who was driving since he was a baby, and his life has changed forever now."

Ryan Gibbons' devastated mother, Karen, told the Herald of the moment she found out her son was dead.

"The police came around in the early hours ... You have that gut feeling," she said. "You don't expect to be told that your kid is dead. It's something that happens to somebody else, it doesn't happen to you."

Malcolm Gibbons said he had not come to terms with his son's death.

"He was here for a reason and he's been taken for a reason. For me, I'll spend the rest of my life trying to work out what that reason was, why he's been taken."

Ryan and the driver had spent the day fishing.

The families do not know what the pair did later that night.

"Ryan left at 7am to go fishing, that's the last I heard of him," said Malcolm Gibbons.

"He was laughing at the fact that he had bait with him, but no fishing rod. He hoped someone would have a rod he could use."

Ryan worked installing HRV systems, but was training to become a professional league player. Failing that, he wanted to become a firefighter.

Ryan played league for the Hibiscus Coast Raiders, and represented New Zealand in under-11 and under-19 touch teams.

The family have not been to the crash site, but did go to see his body.

"I don't want to go there yet," Malcolm Gibbons said. "It's something that's going to take me a few days to think about.

"I thought seeing him would make it real. It did at the time, but it doesn't seem real now."

Malcolm Gibbons' partner, Janet Cole, added: "When you see him you can see it's final, but when he's not here it's hard."

Mr Gibbons said it had not sunk in that his son was dead.

"It's surreal. There are times when you think that he's out with his mates and he'll be bowling in at six o'clock to raid the fridge. Then you realise that's not going to happen ever again."

Karen Gibbons wanted people to learn from her son's death.

"Our message to young kids is stay within the speed limit, don't speed and don't be distracted when you're driving."

Ryan's funeral service will be held at the Hibiscus Coast Raiders clubrooms at midday on Monday.