"We don't give up, eh Dad? We will keep trying."

Shon Turfrey's 5-year-old daughter's words kept circling through his mind, as his hopes of being found in a mass of water quickly faded.

Speaking from his home in Napier yesterday, Ava Turfrey wouldn't leave her dad's side; clinging, climbing and kissing him. "She's my little sidekick," Turfrey said.

Just 34 hours earlier, an early morning surf at the mouth of the Tukituki River in Haumoana turned into a seven-hour ordeal as a strong offshore wind and outgoing tide pulled him 8km to sea.

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"It's a bit surreal... the fact that I am here breathing," he said, lethargic and sore from the previous days' events.

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Shon Turfrey, from Napier was swept out to sea whilst surfing at Haumoana on the Cape Coast yesterday.

"Everything happened pretty quick. I started from the higher point in the river and tried to come across and then got caught on the inside of the bar. I did some duck dives to get out through the swell and that's when I realised I was being pushed quite far back," Turfrey said.

"That was pretty early on and that's when I knew I was in trouble because the swell wasn't breaking, I had already been pushed past that point."

He soon realised his "paddle power" wasn't getting him any closer to the shore.

"If anything, I was staying still or going slowly backwards."

The 34-year-old has surfed since he was young and often went out to that particular spot. There were other people on the beach at the time, but he believed because of how quickly it happened, no one would have realised.

As Turfrey was "bobbing up and down" on the sea, he started to think about all the possibilities, wondering if his friends would realise he was missing, despite having an extra surfboard in the car.

"I knew that was going to be a sticking point for police and things."

Some moments, all Turfrey could do was lay low so the wind wouldn't blow him out further.

"I couldn't really rest, I couldn't sit on the board, at some points I felt like I just wanted to sleep or put my head down to try and recoup, but because the sea was choppy ... it was just constantly at you. That was the battle."

His friend, Dylan Williams was meant to meet him at 7.30am but could not find him upon arriving at the beach 15 minutes later. However, it was only at about 10.30am, when it sunk in that "something isn't right" and he decided to call the cops.

Hawke's Bay Rescue Helicopter crew member Shaun Walters was the first to spot him, as police, the coastguard and Maritime New Zealand frantically searched for him. He was expecting the worst.

"The fact that it was so long between when he went surfing and when we got the call, we were looking for a floating surfboard."

Walters got the call from pilot Jeremy Bruce on his day off. And as their main helicopter was doing a patient transfer in Wellington, they used the back-up chopper, with no hoist.

"When you are searching like that, it is the out of the ordinary you are looking for, not what you expect.

"When we were doing our laps in our search pattern, following a trap line, just out of the corner of my eye I saw something black about a mile or two away from us," Walters said.

He soon realised it wasn't a log and had to be Turfrey. "When we saw him waving we were like 'oh man, he's alive, that's awesome'."

"We got on the radio pretty quick so the coastguard came out. We circled above him until they tracked to us. They basically could see us, they couldn't see him, so they aimed for the helicopter."