A Whangarei surfer who survived a great white shark attack plans to keep the tooth that lodged into his battered board, and the fragments that were plucked from his arm, as souvenirs.

Speaking to the Herald from his hospital bed today in Whangarei, Andrew 'Nugget' Brough, 25, described his close encounter with the marine predator, which happened about 6pm yesterday.

Moments after being bitten he noticed blood gushing from his wetsuit and knew he was in serious trouble.

"That's when it all set in," he said. "Oh, it's a shark."

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Brough had been paddling for barely half an hour at Baylys Beach near Dargaville with his best friend Tohi Henry when the drama unfolded.

"I was sort of facing sideways to the beach and I just like got hit in the face," he told the Herald from Whangarei Hospital, surrounded by family.

"Something come up and hit me in the face, obviously bit my arm... but my initial reaction was [had] a surfer come into me?"

It was then that he saw the shark's body, in all its glory, flip over his board and start thrashing underneath him.

Brough said he started yelling to the other three surfers around that he had been attacked by a shark as he started paddling for his life.

As he was paddling for his life to shore, about 150 metres away, he noticed blood in the water and gushing out of his wetsuit and thought, "Oh, I'm in a bit of trouble here".

When he got to the beach, he said a Whangarei firefighter had seen what had happened and had rushed over to help, along with Tohi. A resident also chipped in, transporting Brough up the road in his ute to a vacant lot to wait until emergency services arrived.

"I was worried… Am I going to bleed out? I couldn't feel my hand," he said. "I knew it was bad. I went to close my fist and my finger went inside a wound quite deep," he said.

Paramedics arrived a short while later. They cut him out of his wetsuit, stopped the bleeding and covered up his wounds before Brough was airlifted by the Northland Rescue Helicopter to Whangarei Hospital.

Last night, he underwent surgery on his arm.

"I had a shark tooth actually lodged inside where it hit me in the bone [through the board]," he said, pointing to the tooth fragments in an X ray scan.

Brough said he was lucky he didn't break a bone and that the shark "only had one go at me".

It wasn't until after surgery that he found out about the tooth lodged in his board.

Holding the tooth in a little container, he said he planned on "chucking it back on the board and onto the wall".

"Bit of a reminder every day to never take life for granted," Brough said.

He's set to have further surgery on Sunday, where he'll be getting about 40 stitches in his arm alone.

"I'm quite lucky that if my board hadn't been there, then it would've been all over," he said. "It was a brand new board too."

Brough joked that he wanted to have a beer with Australian surfing legend Mick Fanning after surviving the attack. Fanning survived an encounter with what is suspected to be a great white during the J-Bay Open finals in Jeffreys Bay, South Africa in 2015.

Brough's mum, Tracy, told the Herald the family was still very much in shock.

At hearing the news, she said she felt like she'd been hit by a sledge hammer.

Since establishing he was going to be okay, Tracy said they had "shed a lot of tears… and of relief."

She said Brough had only recently moved back from living in Western Australia for seven years.

"And this happens to him at home," she laughed.

Beaming, though clearly still in pain, Brough said he "100 per cent" planned on getting out on the water again – even as soon as he was discharged.

"Can't let something like this stop you from surfing. It could have been a car crash."

Baylys Beach resident Ken Cashin had been keeping an eye on the waters since watching the incident unfold on the beach below his property yesterday evening.

He had watched a couple of surfers jump on their boards around 9am and head out into the waves.

"The surf today looks absolutely wonderful," he said.

"I think surfies would have quite a bit of fun this morning."

Cashin said it had been hard to tell just how bad the man's injuries were from his spot on the hill, though he had witnessed the man moving around following the attack.

Dargaville Volunteer Fire Brigade deputy chief Michael Ross said the victim was bitten in several places by the shark but was "walking and talking".

"It's got him in the hand, the elbow, a little bit on his mouth. He was definitely in pain and there was a bit of blood.

The shark left a memoir in Brough's surfboard - one of it's teeth. Photo / File
The shark left a memoir in Brough's surfboard - one of it's teeth. Photo / File

"I've lived here 45 years and I can't remember the last person who's been bitten by a shark out here," Ross said.

Ross and the police said they did not know what type of shark attacked the man.

But Department of Conservation marine scientist and shark expert Clinton Duffy said it was an "unmistakable" great white shark attack - probably a "reasonably-sized" one.

He pointed to the spacing between the teeth marks on the surfer's board and said the tooth left wedged in the board was from the lower jaw of a great white.

"The tooth [in the surfboard] is from the lower jaw of a great white and the bite pattern also shows it ... it's unmistakable."

Duffy said he would need to have a measurement of the tooth to know for sure the shark's size and if it was a juvenile or an adult.

"It's hard to say, but it looks like a reasonably-sized fish."

Even a juvenile great white was big - females matured at 4.5 to 5.2m and about 1800kg and males at 3.6m and 800kg.

Duffy said great whites were common around the Northland coast year round, but most inshore sightings were in summer.

Most people survived great white attacks because the attacks were characterised by a bite and release, he said.

Surfers ready to leave Baylys Beach near Dagaville after being told to get out of the water following the attack. Photo / Josie Scott
Surfers ready to leave Baylys Beach near Dagaville after being told to get out of the water following the attack. Photo / Josie Scott

There had been two or three other great white attacks off the Northland coast in recent years, among 113 unprovoked attacks on people by all types of sharks in New Zealand waters since 1840.

The shark "wouldn't even know" it had lost a tooth and a replacement would soon grow in its place, Duffy said.

Duffy said the shark had likely moved on from Baylys Beach.

A police spokeswoman said the man was surfing at the time of the attack and received bites to his arm and hand.

"He paddled himself to shore following the attack. A man helped him after the attack by giving him a ride up the beach in his ute."

The man was collected by the rescue helicopter outside a shop on Seaview Rd, which happened to be called Sharkeys Takeaways, she said.

In records dating back to the 1850s, there have been fewer than 50 unprovoked, recorded attacks in New Zealand.

The last fatal shark attack was in Muriwai in 2013.