Hamish Rieger spent his last lifeguard shift helping a 5-year-old with a blue-bottle jellyfish sting, and helping one of his mates out of the surf who'd dislocated his shoulder.

It was all in a day's work for the 17-year-old who dedicated most of his spare time to the Mt Maunganui Lifeguard Service as a senior lifeguard.

But Hamish lost his life to the waves that he spent every day scouring, after a massive wave swept him out to sea as he and two mates sat on rocks at Leisure Island, Mt Maunganui, on Saturday night.

After about 16 hours missing at sea, his body was spotted by a member of the public about 11am yesterday.


Hamish's parents, Greg and Donna, yesterday thanked everyone involved in the search for their son, including the around 150 surf club members.

"Getting him back means a huge amount to us. Now we'd respectfully request space so we can concentrate on supporting each other through this time."

Mt Maunganui Lifeguard Service president Brent Warner said its younger members were being supported.

"The Rieger family is hugely involved in our club and Hamish was a talented young lifeguard ... who was on patrol earlier in the day," Mr Warner said.

"This is an extremely traumatic time for all club members, but doing all we possibly can to look after one of our lifeguarding families."

Family spokesman Jamie Troughton said Hamish was someone who lived "life to the max every day".

"He's a great young kid," he said. "He was a unique kid. No one had a bad thing to say about him."

On Saturday, he worked a full shift as a lifeguard and helped treat a 5-year-old who had been stung by a bluebottle jellyfish.

A friend of Hamish's, who did not want to be named, said he also helped a friend out of the water on Saturday after suffering a dislocated shoulder.

"Things haven't sunken in yet. It's unreal."

The pair had been in the same water polo team since Year 7, but he said Hamish just loved keeping fit.

"He was a bit of a fitness freak, really. For the past two years he's been on this massive buzz and running and stuff like that.

"As a senior he just volunteered at every event which I think is pretty massive.

"That's something that we'll always remember Hamish for is that he was the biggest volunteer."

Good friend Jonah Dobson described Hamish as "one of my closest, most trusted friends" who loved the beach.

"He's a universally liked guy and there was never a dull moment with him around," he told the Herald.

The Mt Manganui Lifeguard Service paid tribute to Hamish writing "it's with aching, weeping hearts we farewell one of our members".

"Our beautiful ocean can be a cruel mistress but at least she gave Hamish back to us today. To the Rieger clan, who have contributed so much to our club and our movement over the years, we offer our total, unconditional love and support."

Surf Life Saving New Zealand lifesaving manager Allan Mundy said the surf club was "completely gutted" by the loss of Hamish. He warned large swells would continue at the Mount for up to 10 days, peaking on Wednesday with a 3m swell.