Paige Hareb sat in the water with two broken ribs on her right side. Struggling to breathe, she began drifting toward a heavy shore break at Zippers in San Jose del Cabo, Mexico.

A free-surf in preparation for a major World Surf League qualifying series (QS) event last month took a terrifying turn for the 28-year-old Kiwi when, after catching a wave, she was picked up by the following one and slammed sideways into a boulder.

She got to her board and began to paddle in, but realised she was in trouble. Hareb's friends were surfing out the back of the break, and there was only one person around – a local surfer on the white-sand beach. She waved her arm to signal for help.

He waved back.

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"It was a bit scary there when the Mexican guy was just waving back at me instead of coming out and helping me," she recalled.

The man finally got the message, paddled out on his board before passing it to the Kiwi in distress and towing her in. On the shore, a doctor was called to examine her injuries and said there was a possibility she might have punctured a lung or her liver – so she was initially refused painkillers, which made for an excruciating ambulance to the hospital ride over bumpy, uneven roads.

Hareb was later found to have broken ribs nine and 10 on her right side, an abrasion on her right lung and some liquid inside it. As a result, she had no choice but to withdraw from the competition, a smaller one in South Africa the week later, and the next Championship Tour (CT) event – at Jeffreys Bay in South Africa – which starts on Friday (NZ time).

After having to rest for a couple of days while the liquid in her lung subsided, Hareb flew home to Taranaki to begin her recovery. She was working hard to be back in the water for the Supergirl Pro in California – another major QS event – in late July.

She said at the moment she was about a week ahead of schedule, and was confident of being back in time for the Supergirl Pro, which was the start of a crammed time of the year with four events spread across the USA and Spain within two months.

"Missing Mexico, I was pretty guttered. If I miss Supergirl, that'll be devastating," Hareb said. "I'm just lucky I got a couple of good results at the start of the year and I'm still sitting in a really good spot. If I can get back for that one it should be all good."

It was a bad time of the year for Hareb to have picked up a major injury, with the QS looking like it will be vital in her bid to hold onto her spot on the CT.

The Kiwi has not seen things go her way on the CT this year – falling out of all five competitions in the second round. However, she currently sits in 13th place on the QS leaderboard with 6900 points – having competed in just three events of the series. With the top six securing automatic qualification spots, Hareb was well in contention, despite missing the event in Mexico.

"Everything's kind of on track still."