Rip Currents

One thing every surfer must know about is rip currents. Every year many people drown because they don't understand the force and danger of rip currents. Being a surfer you will, for sure, be called upon to help swimmers in distress who have be swept out by a rip current.

What is a Rip Current?

A rip current is when waves come into the beach they bring a lot of water with them. This water needs to escape back out into the ocean. The water usually goes along the beach to either end and then goes in a channel out the back or in the middle of the beach through a break in a sandbar.

You can usually tell a rip current by

  • no waves breaking
  • choppy water even though the rest of the sea is calm
  • waves breaking either side
  • a line of seaweed or other, moving out to sea
  • a difference in water colour
  • lack of foam sitting on top of the water
what a rip current looks like

Facts About Rip Currents

  • Rip current speeds vary. Average speeds are 1 metres per second, but they have been measured as fast as 4 metres per second......faster than an Olympic swimmer!
  • Rip currents can be very narrow 10 metres wide, or more than 50 metres wide.
  • Sometimes rip currents end just beyond the line of breaking waves; however, they may continue to pull hundreds of yards offshore.
  • Rip currents do not pull people under the water, they pull people away from shore.

Why are Rip Currents Dangerous?

Rip currents are dangerous because they can move very fast out to sea. Any swimmers caught in the current can easily be taken out past the breaking waves or further. Rip Currents can pull even the strongest swimmer out to sea.

They are moving out to sea all the time, but when the tide is changing from high tide to low tide this is when they can be at their strongest.

What to do if You are Caught in a Rip Current

  • Stay calm, don't panic, you have a much better chance if you are calm and thinking clearly. It also helps you to conserve energy.
  • If you are on a beach with lifeguards, call for help and/or put your hands in the air, which signals you are in trouble.
  • Relax and float and don't try to swim against the current, it is the worst thing you can do and is the reason why many people drown. Float or tread water and let the rip take you until the pull is not so strong. They will go about 50-100 meters behind the breaking waves.
  • Once the rip is not as strong, start to swim away parallel to the beach until you are out of its pull. If swimming parallel isn't working, float until you are out of the current.
  • When you are out of its pull and you can see the breaking waves, start to swim diagonally towards the beach
  • If you get tired during any of these steps, just float and relax and take some deep breaths
how to escape a rip current
photo from NOAA

Watch this quick video "Rip Current Survival Guide"

Surfer's Friend?

Now for the good news...YES! rip currents are the surfer's friend! When you are sitting watching the waves before you paddle out, look for the rip currents. Usually good waves can be breaking either side as well. Paddle out through the rip current and then across to the waves. Sometimes you can get out to the line-up without getting your hair wet.....

Large Rip Current

Next >>> Reading Waves and Parts of a Wave

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