A Bay of Plenty firefighter hailed as a hero for mounting a speedy jet ski rescue last night believes one of the two men he plucked from rough surf would have survived only minutes longer.

Maketu fire chief Shane Beech used his jetski to collect two surfers, in their 20s, at the Kaituna Cut - where the Kaituna River meets the sea near the coastal town of Maketu - shortly after they lost their boards and were swept away by a rip just before 5pm.

Tauranga resident Terry Mayes - who was fishing for snapper and had been at the same spot on January 3 when a Rotorua woman fell 6m and died - was astonished to watch the two surfers walk past and head straight for the wild surf.

One was not wearing a wetsuit.

"I was thinking, 'idiots'. You have to ask yourself why? You can see the water is dangerous," Mr Mayes told the Bay of Plenty Times.

He said the surfers lost their boards and a rip took them before onlookers sounded the alarm.

Police were quickly on the scene and the Maketu Fire Brigade and Maketu Coastguard, which assisted with an IRB, arrived soon after.

Mr Beech said he had launched his jet ski at the rivermouth entrance.

"At that stage, they were probably about 80m to 100m apart. The first one, who wasn't wearing a wetsuit, was the most distressed one, and I managed to get him on to the sled. Then I headed towards the other guy, got him on the back, and headed for shore."

Mr Beech said the surfer without the wetsuit was in a "pretty bad way" when he reached him.

"I'm pretty sure he was hypothermic. He'd been in the water for a long time. I'm talking 20 minutes, and he was just floating and getting smashed by the waves."

Asked how much longer the man might have lasted in the water, Mr Beech said: "You're talking minutes."

Ashore, the man was placed in the recovery position by firefighters to clear the saltwater from his lungs, before St John paramedics arrived. Mr Mayes hailed Mr Beech: "You've got to hand it to the firefighter on the jet ski - he was the one who whipped out there and saved them at the end of the day."

Kyle Dobson, of Te Puke St John, said both men were taken to Tauranga Hospital.

Mr Beech said the Kaituna Cut was a well-known trouble spot for boats rolling, but incidents involving swimmers or surfers were not as common. He estimated at least 20 incidents had occurred there in the past six months.