Police have named a man who drowned at Gisborne's Makarori Beach on Saturday as Paul Wakelin, and say his brother, John, is missing presumed drowned.
Senior Sergeant Maui Aben said Paul Wakelin, 23, drowned attempting to save his 18-year-old brother and a friend when they became caught in a rip on Saturday morning.
The third young man - a 20-year-old family friend - was saved by a local surfer.
"Police are continuing to search for John," Mr Aben said.
"Family are assisting with the search effort."
The brothers were from Gisborne and the trio had been fishing from shore when the two younger men decided to go for a swim, police said earlier.
They got into trouble immediately in the 1m-plus surf, and Paul Wakelin went to help them.
Mr Aben said it was an absolute tragedy for the family.