An 18-year-old tourist suffered a serious spinal injury while swimming in the surf at Opotiki on Christmas Eve.

The Trustpower TECT Rescue Helicopter service said the incident happened at 7pm.

The man suffered a "very serious neck injury" and was taken to Whakatane Hospital.

He was picked up by the chopper service at 10.30am today and flown to Waikato Hospital for further assessment and treatment.

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The helicopter was called due to the nature of the injury and distance by road to Waikato Hospital.