One moment they were splashing in the surf. The next, Darren Lloyd and his partner's father, Perry Meehan, were fighting for their lives.
Only Lloyd would make it to shore alive.
Today he and Meehan's widow, Jody, shared their grief in an interview with Stuff, and sounded a warning for beach-goers after the Hamilton father died while swimming at Coromandel's Onemana Beach on Boxing Day.
"We just went in for fun and it all happened so fast," Lloyd told Stuff.
They were in waist-deep water outside the flagged area when three or a four large waves sent them struggling.
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Lloyd tried to keep Meehan, 60, afloat as his partner, Emily, went for help, Lloyd told Stuff.
"I was trying my hardest to keep him above the water as well as myself ... but he was just taking in too much water."
A lifeguard arrived to help and the pair got Meehan to shore, where CPR was performed.
But Meehan was later pronounced dead at the scene.
Jody Meehan told Stuff she wanted to remind people to be careful in the water and swim between the flags.
Meehan is one of four to die since the holiday drowning toll began on Christmas Eve.
Two drowned in Northland on Christmas Day and a fourth person, a woman in her 60s, drowned when a boat overturned at Houhora, in the Far North, today.