A LISMORE surfer who drowned at Turners Beach was on a week-long holiday in Yamba to celebrate his birthday.
Ken McLean paddled out into the surf on Wednesday afternoon after a seafood lunch on his 54th birthday, while his partner and family members relaxed on the beach.
Clarence Valley lifeguard supervisor Greg Wyllie said he was surfing in one to two foot waves when he was presumably hit in the head by his board, and was found floating in the water by nearby boardriders about 3.50pm.
"He was surfing on his own within 20 metres of three other surfers and at some stage he caught a wave and fell off his board and the board hit him in the bridge of the nose," Mr Wyllie said.
"The three surfers and a lifeguard all responded in a synchronised manner to the man, who was face down in the water, within two minutes, and brought him to shore unconscious."
His sister Rhonda Shone, who was on the beach at the time, said it all happened extremely quickly.
"I had just walked out of the surf and saw Ken on his board, and then I saw people running down there, and thought something big must have happened," she said.
"Then I saw it was him."
Despite the best efforts of the lifeguard on duty and two off-duty paramedics who attempted to resuscitate him using CPR and a defibrillator, Mr McLean could not be revived and was pronounced dead in the ambulance at 4.35pm.
Ms Shone said she and her brother had both grown up in the water, and that he was a keen "surfer, fisherman; anything to do with the water".
"The worst part about this is Ken's partner, her first husband drowned too," she said.
Mr McLean's death is the first confirmed drowning on a patrolled Clarence Valley beach in more than 18 years.
"I just want to say thank you to everyone who assisted, from the surf lifesavers and off-duty paramedics to the girls who brought him in," Ms Shone said.
"There were too many names to remember but everyone was just amazing and it's greatly appreciated by the family.
"Whoever is reading this, we would like them to make a donation to the Surf Life Saving Club, even if it's just $2. It could save someone's life."
Mr Wyllie also commended the actions of the lifeguard on patrol for her professional conduct and dedicated efforts to save Mr Mclean, who worked in Yamba on and off for the past couple of years.
"The actions of the life guard on yesterday were highly commendable, and it was a quick response by lifeguard and surfers within paddling distance, who both got to the patient at the same time. The team that we have on hand here do an outstanding job and do work well under pressure."