Was he caught in a rip? Maybe not likely, since you say it was small. I was down in VA last week at an unguarded beach (it gets "patrolled") and there was ~waist high "close in" shore break and I went in the water to cool off and swam out just past the break to get a side perspective of the short boarders and body boarders that were catching waves off a peak. Suddenly I realized I was in a current pulling me away from the break line and shore so body surfing was not a near term option. This was not to long after I had eaten something, so that could have affected my swimming and wind, as I did not feel at full power. I was a little unnerved at first, but I did not panic and swam side ways out of the current towards the surfers and a wave breaking a bit out side a bit eventually drove me in.
You never know, it does not really take a lot to create a difficult current and it really wasn't evident from the shore, but I sure felt how difficult it was getting back in.
I knew that if I really got in trouble, I could have called over to one of the bro's in the line-up for assistance. It just makes me think that it is always good to keep an eye out for someone else, especially if their leash snaps and they lose their board, as they could be cramping up or injured. It's the right thing to do and you never know one day it could be any one of us.
Just with in this week, a young lad drown on the north end of VB. When we were rearing our kids we spent a great deal of time on the beach and in the water (because that's where I want to be, ALL RIGHT?!). Our kids never entered the water without something strapped to them.