More than 36 people needed help after "flash rips" at Waimarama Beach on Sunday, which left one male dead.
Police were called to the beach on Sunday evening after a group of three were swept out to sea.
Nearby residents saw the group in trouble and raised the alarm and a number of surf club volunteers responded along with volunteer fire crew.
CPR failed to revive one of the male swimmers. A female was flown to Hawke's Bay Hospital and a second male was also treated by ambulance staff.
Local senior Waimarama surf lifesaver Phil Harmon described the conditions as rough. There had been two rescues and 36 assists on the beach that day.
There had been what he called a number of "flash rips" which came up during the day, depending on the tides catching people out.
He emphasised the 'swim safe' and also urged people to know their ability and limitations in the water.
Police thank the members of public who went into the water to assist and raised the alarm. Without them, police believe that there would have been more deaths.
The matter will be referred to the Coroner.