"We'll stay here until his body comes up," said Tevita Palu, gazing out at the expanse of grey sea at Whatipu Beach that swallowed his cousin on Saturday.

A rip tide along the notoriously dangerous coastline west of Auckland dragged out 16-year-old Leka Pasiaka and he has not been found three days on.

His family now holds a vigil on the Whatipu shore, with a dozen or more cousins. Leka's sister is camping on site, a few hundred metres inland from the beach.

A lone boat also floats on the choppy surf close into shore.

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"That's his father I think. They said he was going to come," one of Leka's older female cousins, Vaita Katon, told the Herald yesterday.

A student at Auckland's Avondale College, Leka got into trouble in the Whatipu sea around 1pm Saturday.
Leka's sister raced into the water to help, but to no avail.

"She swam out to him and they both got dragged out together," said a witness at the scene, Leah Lutau.

"The young boy released her, he said go, he pushed her away. Then she was drifting in the water as well.

"She managed to swim in, and then he just went under until we couldn't see him any more."

Family member Sela Molipeli keeps a watch for 16-year-old Leka Pasiaka who is missing at sea after getting caught in a rip at Whatipu Beach. Photo / Jason Oxenham
Family member Sela Molipeli keeps a watch for 16-year-old Leka Pasiaka who is missing at sea after getting caught in a rip at Whatipu Beach. Photo / Jason Oxenham

Emergency services were called by 1.30pm, with the nearest manned beach, Karekare, sending jet skis and inflatable rescue boats. A Westpac Rescue Helicopter also joined the search.

By 3.45pm, the boats were pulled from the water and emergency services left for the day.

Today, with far diminished hopes, Leka's family continue to gather on Whatipu Beach.

A tribute including a bandanna and Leka's name spelled in rocks sits near the base of the huge black cliffs encasing Whatipu Beach, and running much of the length of Manukau Heads.

A large message, "COME BACK LEKA", is carved in the wet sand.

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A small police presence remains at Whatipu campground as the search continues.

Family members keep a watch at the remote Whatipu Beach. Photo / Jason Oxenham
Family members keep a watch at the remote Whatipu Beach. Photo / Jason Oxenham
Saulala Jr Fononga, left, and Litani Jr Katoa write a tribute to their cousin Leka Pasiaka. Photo / Jason Oxenham
Saulala Jr Fononga, left, and Litani Jr Katoa write a tribute to their cousin Leka Pasiaka. Photo / Jason Oxenham

Palu, a 39-year-old cousin of Leka, flew in from Melbourne on Monday morning.

"I don't really know what happened, I just came yesterday from Australia. That's my first cousin," Palu said.

"My Mum and his Mum are sisters. I grew up here with him, I knew him well.

"He's a nice person, not a troublemaker.

"I stayed here last night, back in the motel. Woke up in the morning and came here. I know there is a lot of family coming.

"I'll hang around here for a few days. I'm supposed to start work on Thursday, but whatever."

One of Leka's older female cousins from Auckland describes him as "a good boy, a smart boy".

"We got here to the beach at five this morning, just wait, support," she said.

Second cousin Vaita Katoa from Auckland says his mother and sister have been back and forth from the beach repeatedly over the last few days.

"His Mum's been here, I know the mum is very stressed out," Katoa said.

Family members Sela Molipeli, left, Saulala Jr Fononga, Litani Jr Katoa, Sini Latu, Vaita Katoa and Pasita Katoa on the beach. Photo / Jason Oxenham
Family members Sela Molipeli, left, Saulala Jr Fononga, Litani Jr Katoa, Sini Latu, Vaita Katoa and Pasita Katoa on the beach. Photo / Jason Oxenham

The disappearance of Leka, comes nearly a decade after Warriors NRL star Sonny Fai drowned off west Auckland's Bethells Beach on January 4 2009 - just over 20km north of Whatipu Beach

A black sand beach on the north side of the Manukau Heads known for its strong currents, Whatipu does not have its own surf lifesavers.

It is also isolated, an hour's drive from Auckland, down a windy, unsealed road.

A sign erected at its entrance warns that swimming is not advised due to strong rips, large waves, unstable cliffs and concealed waterways.

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The "swimming not advised" sign at Whatipu Beach where 16-year-old Leka Pasiaka disappeared after getting caught in a rip. Photo / Jason Oxenham