Search and rescue teams have ended their search for the day without finding any sign of five-year-old Jack Dixon, who was swept into the sea at Mount Maunganui yesterday.
Jack was with his grandmother, aunt and three cousins when he and two of the cousins, aged 12 and 14, were hit by a massive wave at Shelly Beach by the base of Mount Maunganui yesterday morning. His cousins were able to cling to rocks but Jack was dragged into the water.
Police, life savers and the Coastguard have been searching for him since but to no avail. They will resume at first light tomorrow.
About 70 people gathered at the beach at the base of Mount Maunganui in the rain this evening, in a candle-lit vigil.
Earlier this afternoon, Jack's parents, Wayne Dixon and Karen Spargo, released a statement saying they were shocked, upset and lost at what had happened.
"We know there is so much community support, and we're truly touched," they said.
"Jack will be missed by everyone who knew him.
"We just want him to come home."
Jack, who turned five last month, was fond of bikes, Lego and rugby, his parents said.
Eastern region Surf Life Saving manager Lee Sefton told Checkpoint the search for Jack included the water around rocks and outcrops.
"Our guys have been working this now for the past day ... so they're very familiar with the area, they're familiar with what we're trying to achieve," he said.
"They're highly motivated and they're just keen to bring Jack home to the family."
Long-serving Mount Maunganui lifeguard Kent Jarman said conditions had improved but the search was still difficult.
"A lot better than yesterday. We're down to about a metre swell.
"However, that's still quite difficult in the area. Because the angle of the swell is coming in from the east, it's still making life difficult to search the immediate area where we lost the young boy yesterday."
The search would continue for as long as it took to find Jack, he said.
"As you can imagine, we'd like to have seen completion to this yesterday but it may take a couple of days. We'll just keep plugging away.
"We've got a good team of people here and we've got a bit of a roster system going so no one's getting too tired."
Jack's parents thanked searchers and the community for their efforts; a steady stream of people has been dropping boxes containing cakes, coffee and tea to the search headquarters.
Tauranga resident Trixie Parkes said she felt it was the least she could do.
"It's a local, it's where we live, so we'd hope everyone else would help us if the same thing happened to my children."
On the beach, candles, teddy bears and toy cars were left in hollows in the sand following a candle-lit vigil last night.
At least seven surfers had to be rescued yesterday in the same area where Jack was swept away.
Mr Jarman said he had never before seen conditions in which surfers were having to be rescued one after another.
A crew found one teenage surfer close to drowning while searching for Jack yesterday, he said.
"When they got to where this boy had been in trouble all they found was his board floating upright on the surface with him under the water, so if they hadn't been there we could well have had another drowning."
Two of the surfers rescued from the sea questioned why the beach was not closed.
"We have closed the beach when the conditions have been extreme but that's more for the swimming public," Mr Jarman said.
The warm weather and school holidays attracted many school-age surfers without enough experience, he said. "We don't close the beach to surfers because generally surfers are quite capable of looking after themselves."