The thoughts through a Napier man's mind as he came close to drowning were of his family, good life moments, and his unborn child.

Mohammad Alziq has praised the lifeguards at the popular Ocean Beach who saved his life on Sunday after he was swept out to sea, and hopes his story will remind people to always be cautious around water.

The former chef was enjoying his first time at the beach with his friends, young family, and parents who were visiting their son from Jordan after he was seriously injured in a crash on the Napier-Taupo road last May.

While his young sons played in the sand, Alziq went to join his father, Subhi, standing in knee-high water between the flags.

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A formerly strong swimmer, the 37-year-old was cautious about going in the water - he is unable to swim well due to knee and shoulder injuries sustained in the May crash.

This meant when a wave suddenly dumped over him and began pulling him out to sea he struggled to stay afloat.

"The waves were rough, over two metres. I felt myself moving further and further off the beach but I just tried to float to the top."

Unable to swim with his injuries, he started screaming out for help.

"I got so tired, but when I got pulled down, something told me to just try. To push myself up. Then this big wave would come smash me and I'd go down. I couldn't get back up again. It really was scary, I couldn't fight it."

He thought he was seconds away from going under when he was spotted by a surfer who kept him afloat while lifeguards raced out.

On the beach, his friend, Tareq Assad, said they had seen someone in trouble, but knew Alziq would not go in the water so did not realise what had happened until he was pulled from the IRB.

His wife screamed out, "Oh my god it can't be", Assad said. "He was very lucky the lifeguards were so close, any longer and it could have been bad news."

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Alziq was given oxygen onshore, and taken to Hawke's Bay Hospital, then discharged that night.

Even during his car accident, Alziq said he had not felt the type of fear he had while struggling to stay afloat on Sunday.

"It's like you're slowly dying. It was so sad. I was thinking 'Oh my wife is pregnant, I'm going to die and not see my [child]'. I had a lot of things in my mind. If you think you will die you start [thinking] of everything good in your life."

The Napier resident and his family thanked all those who helped. "If I'm honest if they were not coming to rescue me, I would have [died]. I couldn't fight any more to stay alive."

Ocean Beach Kiwi SLSC director of lifeguarding Matt Mannington said weekend conditions had not been good for swimmers. He was told Alziq and another person who had drifted out to sea were being "hammered by big, multiple sets coming in".

"Unless they were strong swimmers I think they were going to be in trouble. We had a good patrol on that day. They were really experienced so that was lucky."

The lesson was to always check the conditions before going near the water. If caught, Mannington said people should go with the rip, and swim across it if possible.

This comes after the supposed drownings of three people at Hawke's Bay beaches during January. One person died after being caught in a flash rip at the nearby Waimarama beach.