As Paora Ropiha struggled to make his way to shore in the middle of "shark country", he told himself he couldn't die - he needed to find his dad, who had drifted out to sea in the surging waters.
His father would eventually be rescued 9km from the shoreline, while Ropiha was found 1km from the beach.
Earlier on Sunday morning the 21-year-old builder, his father Winton and 13-year-old brother Wiremu had headed out in kayaks from Turihaua, north of Gisborne, to dive for seafood.
During the 30 minutes they were underwater the calm sea became choppy and the anchored kayaks dislodged and were drifting in strong winds.
Ropiha's brother and their father's friend, who was in a dinghy nearby, managed to make it back to shore and raise the alarm, sparking a search and rescue operation involving Police, Coastguard and the Trust Tairawhiti Rescue helicopter on Sunday morning.
Ropiha and his 52-year-old father stripped off their diving gear, separated their kayaks and tried to paddle towards the shore but kept getting pushed backwards in the wind.
"The whitewash from the peaks of the sea - the wind was pushing it that hard that it felt like a water blaster in your face," Ropiha said.
Their kayaks were drifting apart and as his father went to turn he capsized into the water.
Ropiha put on his flippers and mask and started swimming, dragging his kayak behind him, while his dad tried to paddle on his kayak.
After swimming for half an hour, Ropiha hopped onto his kayak for a breath and to get his bearings but realised his dad had disappeared.
"I was in shark country - you couldn't see anything but blue water."
At one stage he hit a wall and had to give himself a pep talk. "I just said to myself it's not my time. I'm not going yet - not like this."
Ropiha was eventually rescued by Coastguard, about 1km from shore.
"I told them to go and get my dad first and they said 'no' - they told me I had to get in the boat."
After pulling him on board they started a grid search for Winton.
Ropiha said he was getting anxious and was trying to block out some dark thoughts as he could only see whitewash smashing against the boat during the 90-minute search.
"The thoughts of never seeing him again, the thoughts of if he had fallen off his kayak and his kayak drifted away we found the kayak but not him - all those emotions were going through my mind at that time."
At the same time Winton, who had been blown about 9km out to sea, was worrying about his son.
The wind was blowing him further out to sea and his main concern was trying to stay on his kayak.
He wasn't initially too worried about his son, who grew up around the water and was heading towards the reef where he would be protected.
However, that changed when he saw the rescue helicopter approach and hover over him before flying away.
"I thought the helicopter had seen me because it hovered and I waved but it took off.
"What I was worried about was were they looking for my son [knowing I was safe]."
Not realising they hadn't seen him Winton, tried to focus on staying afloat until help arrived.
"I was like 'I'm not going to die today', it was just about staying on the (kayak) as I had my wetsuit and I was warm".
When the Coastguard boat finally appeared more than an hour later his thoughts were not about himself but whether his son had been found.
"As it was getting closer I was counting the people in the boat, then I spotted my son and that was the relief for me. I was really worried it was him they were looking for."
Ropiha was equally happy to see his father: "I was breaking down with relief".
As they approached the kayak, Winton said to him: "Are you alright my son?"
"We broke down and hugged each other and thanked our rescue crew," said Ropiha.
He said the Coastguard were heroes and had saved their lives.
Coastguard skipper Adrian Brown, who was one of the three crewmen involved in the search, said it was the best rescue he had been involved in during his 13 years in Coastguard.
He said both men had been relatively good shape despite Winton being in the water for hours - something he put this down to his thick wetsuit.
The relief on the boat was immense when they spotted Winton and the father and son were overcome with emotion as they re-united.
"They were very, very, very happy."