TEENAGER Nathan Rheinburger shows off the surfboard he used to save two teenage girls from drowning at the weekend.
TEENAGER Nathan Rheinburger shows off the surfboard he used to save two teenage girls from drowning at the weekend.

Teenager battles rip, cramps to save girls

A 16-year-old surfer battled a raging rip and four foot swell to save two teenage girls from drowning at Yamba over the weekend.

Yamba's Nathan Rheinberger was heading in from a surf at Turners Beach on Saturday afternoon when he spotted two swimmers stuck in a rip in the middle of the beach.

“I saw a couple of girls swimming about 100 metres out from the other swimmers,” Nathan said.

“Then I saw people waving them in, so I ran over and jumped on my board and paddled out to them.

“I didn't really think about it, I just paddled out.”

With no life saving experience behind him, the young surfer said he just followed his instincts.

When he reached the swimmers he asked them who was feeling the worst, thinking he would help one ashore and then return for the other.

“But they both looked at me at the same time and I knew they were both in trouble,” he said.

“One was as white as a ghost and the other was going under the water.

“I wasn't sure what to do but I knew I couldn't leave one of them behind because they were both in shock.”

Fighting the crashing waves and strong current, Nathan managed to pull one girl onto his surfboard.

He then held onto the back of the board and supported the other girl under his free arm.

“As the waves were coming I was pushing one onto the wave and dragging the other with my arm,” he said.

Out of breath and still in the rip, Nathan said he started to get cramp in his leg.

He pushed through the pain and kept manoeuvring them across the rip then towards the beach.

Finally in waist deep water Nathan's friend, Tim Horan helped to pull the girls ashore.

Nathan recognised the girls as Year 10 students from his school, Maclean High.

But as they were thanking their rescuer, Nathan saw an elderly couple about to swim in the same rip.

“So I ran down and told them that I had just rescued some girls from the rip and I didn't really want to do it again,” he said.

“So I asked them to move down the beach.”

When Nathan's mother, Annette Jackson heard of the rescue she was extremely proud of her son but also relieved there was a happy ending.

“It didn't surprise me that he did it,” Ms Jackson said.

“It's just his nature and I'm very proud of him.”

Northern NSW Lifeguard co-ordinator Stephen Leahy praised Nathan for his quick thinking and courageous actions.

“The surfer did everything right and is an absolute credit,” Mr Leahy said.

Mr Leahy said rescue attempts should only be made if people are competent swimmers and have rescue equipment to assist them, such as a surf board.

Surf conditions are expected to worsen over the next 24 hours and beachgoers have been urged to swim with caution.

“I wasn't sure what to do but I knew I couldn't leave one of them behind.”

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