Nic Brenton-Rule has no memory of what led to his near-drowning, but believes a dent on his surfboard may be a clue.
The Port Waikato father of one spent almost six minutes unconscious in the sea off Whangamata before being pulled to safety on March 1.
Now the 42-year-old is keen to thank the men who helped him dodge death for the second time in his life. He survived a brain tumour eight years ago.
Mr Brenton-Rule is now in Auckland awaiting an MRI test to see whether there is any cancer-related reason which may have caused him to black out while surfing.
He says he owes his life owes his life to four fellow surfers. The first, Scotty Barnett, 61, found the experienced surfer still connected to his surfboard.
"At first I didn't see anything untoward," Mr Barnett said.
"All I saw was a surfboard and I presumed someone's leg rope had come off so I continued to catch a wave."
But when he turned and paddled back out he saw the lone surfboard again.
"I found it odd that it wasn't tumbling about in the surf so I went over and saw the man's body. It must have been under water for close to six minutes."
Mr Barnett called for help from three nearby surfers as he struggled to keep the wetsuit-clad Mr Brenton-Rule afloat.
Among them was off-duty lifeguard Sean Butler who immediately began shouting orders to those around him.
"Ash [Pollock] was the strongest surfer so I sent him in to get help while Rhys [Cochrane] and I paddled straight over to the guys. We helped get the man up on his board, there was foam coming out of his mouth the whole time, so it was pretty clear his lungs were full of water. At first I thought he might have a broken neck," he said.
Mr Butler, 20, said in seven years of lifeguard duty he had never been involved in such a rescue.
"He was barely breathing, it was very laboured, but we just knew we had to get him in."
Together Mr Butler and Mr Cochrane, 21, started the slow task of taking Mr Brenton-Rule back to the beach by trying to keep his body on the board.
Mr Barnett steered the trio from behind.
"It was difficult, the sea was pretty rough," he said.
Exhaustion was also taking over and they were grateful when Mr Pollock, 23, arrived back in the sea for the final few metres to shore.
"We got him up above the high tide mark and into the recovery position, there was still water and foam coming from his mouth and he was unconscious," he said.
Within minutes ambulance staff arrived, then the Auckland Westpac rescue helicopter crew who stabilised Mr Brenton-Rule before flying him to Waikato Hospital where he was placed in an induced coma.
Back on the beach the enormity of the events were starting to sink in for the four rescuers who were hoping the man they helped would live.
"We figured he could be brain damaged.
"We couldn't believe it when we heard he was out of hospital within a couple of days," Mr Butler said.
His surf-lifesaving boss, Hot Water Beach guard Gary Hinds, was full of praise for the rescue team.
"It just goes to show how far their skills can take them. I'm really proud of them."
Mr Brenton-Rule, a self-employed builder, is also full of praise for the men who saved his life.
"I'm going to go and brush up on my own first aid skills," he said.
"I'd certainly like to pay it forward some time."
Drowning due to an accident in the water, loss of consciousness or a sudden medical condition.
A drowning person is physiologically incapable of calling for help.
Their head bobs up and down in the water with no time to breathe or call for help. Incapable of voluntarily arm movement, they cannot wave for help.
They remain upright in the water but do not kick or tread water.
The struggle only lasts for 20 to 60 seconds before sinking.
In colonial times drowning was known as ‘the New Zealand death'.
- © Fairfax NZ News