BACK ON DRY LAND: Megan, Aaron and Kaleb Hart with Sofia Pietribiasi at Woolgoolga beach.
BACK ON DRY LAND: Megan, Aaron and Kaleb Hart with Sofia Pietribiasi at Woolgoolga beach. TREVOR VEALE

Boy caught in a rip thought it was 'the end'

YOUNG Kaleb Hart thought he was a goner when he got caught in a rip on Australia Day.

"I thought it was the end," the 12-year-old said.

He was swimming at Woolgoolga main beach, across from the old Marine Rescue building, about 7pm but thanks to the efforts of his host sister - since dubbed a true Aussie hero - he was kept afloat until a board rider stepped in.

Sofia Pietribiasi is an 18-year-old exchange student from Italy staying with the Hart family from Woolgoolga.

She has had a few surfing lessons at the local beach and, while she is a confident swimmer, she is not used to the waves.

"I live near Venice about an hour from the beach but we don't have crashing waves," Ms Pietribiasi said.

According to host mum Megan, the two had already developed a brother/sister bond and their recent ordeal has only brought them closer.

Ms Pietribiasi is halfway through a 12-month placement and has a brother at home the same age as Kaleb.

"Kaleb had already gone under a couple of times and Sofia was holding him up but I could see they were both getting very tired," Ms Hart said.

She and husband Aaron were watching from the shore and jumped into action looking for a board to assist the pair.

Older brother Isaac, 14, was also caught in the rip but was able to swim out of it and return to the shore.

As Ms Hart looked for help on the beach, Mr Hart scrambled along the rocky headland calling out, reminding them to swim across the rip, not against it.

"That's exactly why people drown," Ms Hart said.

"We've come to this beach a hundred times and it just goes to show how wary you need to be."

A surfer, known only as Eddie, was quick to come to their assistance and paddled out just in time and helped them back to safety.

"The man said he wasn't a confident swimmer but he'd give it a crack - such an Aussie thing to say," Ms Hart said.

When they got back to the beach Kaleb broke down in tears and gave Ms Pietribiasi a huge hug.

With the encouragement of his parents he has been back in the water catching waves with the local Disabled Surfing Association.

Ms Pietribiasi recently turned 18 and her mother flew in from Italy for a surprise visit.

Mr Hart would like to see an angel ring installed at Woolgoolga, similar to the one at Red Rock.