A coroner has found a man who drowned in Titahi Bay north of Wellington in January had severe asthma and could not swim.
The body of Albert Alapati, 24, a student, was not located for five days after he was caught in a rip with three others.
A surfer who entered the water to help Mr Alapati, also had to help a woman who was in difficulties.
He told the coroner he got her to hold his surf board while he held Mr Alapati, but the rip pulled Mr Alapati away.
Coroner Garry Evans said she owes her life to the surfer's brave actions.