A surfer has been located in the water after a search and rescue operation which began at the mouth of the Tukituki River in Haumoana and ended with a helicopter spotting the missing man.

The search involved police, Coastguard and a helicopter which spotted the surfer and directed a Coastguard vessel to him. The man was 8km out to sea, carried out by a strong offshore wind and outgoing tide.

A police spokesperson said he was found about 1.30pm, clinging to his surfboard and had waved to his rescuers as they approached.

Coastguard skipper Henry van Tuel said he was lucky to be alive and his survival was down to his being "young, fit and wearing a wetsuit".

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The sea was "extremely rough" with a 3.8metre swell, and in some areas it was breaking, meaning it took the vessel about half an hour to get from the Coastguard base in Napier to the scene at Haumoana and to start a search pattern.

"In one of [the helicopters] sweeps, out of the corner of their eye, they saw something in the horizon, went to investigate it and it was the guy on the surfboard. They called us up and we recovered him from the water, dried him off, got him warm, gave him a bit of water, and a couple of lollies to bring his sugar levels up."

van Tuel said the surfer was complaining of "very sore eyes so we washed his face with fresh water."

"When we got him on the boat he was still talking, and shivering, but he was quite lucid.
If he had been out there for much longer, it would have been a different story."

Hawke's Bay Today understands the man was wearing a full length wetsuit and had been in the water for seven hours before being found.

The police spokeswoman said the man was not believed to be injured but would be checked by St John Ambulance staff as a precaution.

Earlier, searchers had been unsure whether the surfer was in the water, or had changed plans to surf this morning and was at an unknown location on land.

A search and rescue operation is underway at the mouth of the Tukituki River in Haumoana as a surfer is believed to be missing. Photo / Duncan Brown.
A search and rescue operation is underway at the mouth of the Tukituki River in Haumoana as a surfer is believed to be missing. Photo / Duncan Brown.

A police spokeswoman said they were called to the scene at 10.20am this morning.

It is understood the alarm was raised after his friend, who was meant to meet up with him earlier this morning, could not find him upon arriving at the beach.

The spokeswoman said a Coastguard vessel had been launched and Maritime New Zealand had been broadcasting messages to boats in the area for sightings.

The helicopter was deployed in blustery wind conditions.