The "man in a blue singlet" who helped rescue Paul Fewtrell after he was caught in a freak wave in Coromandel is reluctant to be called a hero.

Tony Bedford, a recreational officer in Auckland, was at Coromandel's Otama Beach on Valentine's Day when he saw someone in trouble in the water.

"I looked out and saw someone was in trouble.

"It definitely didn't look like they were playing," he said.


The 57-year-old, who had recently bought a bach in nearby Whitianga, said there was a wedding party nearby and he yelled out to call an ambulance.

Paul Fewtrell, the struggling man, managed to tell Mr Bedford he couldn't feel his arms and legs.

"He was really concerned he couldn't feel his arms and legs and we had to be careful we didn't grab him by the neck as he had a neck injury," he said.

Mr Bedford said he thought Mr Fewtrell was paralysed at that stage.

"We got him on to a boogie board and got him out of the high tide mark."

He was flown to Thames Hospital and then to Middlemore Hospital.

He had three prolapsed discs in his neck and his spine was severely bruised.

"He has a neck brace and has begun walking again but not well," Paul's wife Suzy Fewtrell said. "In three weeks, we have to go back to the doctors to see if he needs an operation."

On Sunday Suzy took to her Facebook page in hopes of finding Mr Bedford.

"I really need to find the gentleman in this photo in the blue singlet.

"... He helped save a life and we REALLY want to personally thank him," she wrote.

The very next day, Mr Bedford was identified as the "unsung hero".

However he downplayed his part in the rescue, saying there were two others also helping Paul.

"I think the media went too far with the whole 'man in the blue singlet.'

"I'm sure he would have done the same if roles were reversed."

He said Mr Fewtrell called him this morning to thank him.

"We just spoke about it and he was really nice."

Mr Fewtrell said it was really good to speak to Mr Bedford to "thank him on the spot".

"We would probably catch up with him over a beer," he said.

Mr Fewtrell said his road to recovery was going well and he hoped to be fully well again soon.

"I started with no feelings in my arms and legs but I'm walking again.

"It's not certain I will make a full recovery but there's a good chance," he said.

The doctors had told him there were about five patients with spinal injuries admitted at Middlemore Hospital in the past couple of months but only two, including himself, were able to walk again.

"I was lucky and I'm definitely grateful," he said.

He would spend about six weeks in a neck brace.

The couple were still searching for the off-duty paramedic and doctor who also helped rescue Mr Fewtrell.