Knowing how to spot rip currents can save your life. I can say that from experience. Once upon a big winter storm, a violent rip current put a friend and I in serious danger.
While surfing the jetty during a large winter swell, a rip swiftly took us out to sea. After paddling for 45 minutes straight against the current in the open ocean, I knew we were in trouble. If it wasn’t for a large rouge wave that eventually pushed us in, I might not be writing this today.
Rips are those strong river-like currents that pull you out to sea. They can be your best friend in some situations, but a living nightmare others. One of the most crucial things to understand as a surfer is recognizing currents and channels, and using them to your advantage.
How to Spot a Rip – Waves coming toward the beach refract towards shallow water (typically over the reef or sandbar you’re surfing). Once the water reaches land it piles up over the shallow areas. With nowhere to go except back out to sea, the water will flow back out through the deeper water surrounding the reef or sandbar (this is the rip).
Don’t be like me. Be smart and learn how to identify and manage rip currents. Watch this video below by UNSWTV and follow these few Do’s and Don’ts when dealing with rips:
Video Produced: Mary O’Malley
Camera and Editing: Shaun Dougherty
1) Don’t panic – Good practical advice. Panicking will just drain you and lead you to bad decisions, works when applied to any situation really. Come to think of it, has panicking ever really helped anyone?
2) Swim against the rip – Reread my story and you will see why. Rips can move faster than you can swim. Bottom line is the ocean always wins, fighting the current will only result in exhaustion and a frightening situation.
1) Put your hands up – also known as the international sign for “GOD SOMEBODY PLEASE HELP ME!” Even if you’re an accomplished surfer you can get in over your head sometimes. If this happens, try to signal for help. A little embarrassment is nothing compared to the alternative.
2) Swim towards white water/ shallow water lateral to you – This is where observation and the ability to identify the rip are key. You want to swim lateral to the beach and current, aiming for where the waves are breaking. One might think that calm water means still water. Not true. Calm water means deep water. Deep water nearshore means a channel.
Learn more about the ocean and how to be prepared for the sport with our Science of Surfing series: