Have you ever been caught in a current and felt like you were out of control? When I was about 13 I spent the summer with my cousins in Los Angeles. On a trip to Santa Monica beach I vividly remember being smashed down by the surf while I was body surfing. I was twisted and turned by the waves, dragged out to sea with the sand scrapping my stomach and back. I frantically tried to get a foot-hold but it seemed forever (probably less than a minute) before I could connect my feet with the ocean floor and stand up. I was shocked to realize I was only knee-deep in water. It made a lasting impression on me and although my 8-year old practically has gills I watch both of my kids like a hawk when we are in the ocean. But I never knew how to distinguish dangerous surf or safe surf until today.
A colleague on LinkedIn referred me to a fantastic web-site, http://www.scienceofthesurf.com. If you live near the ocean or are taking your kids anytime soon (and I know that in chilly Chicago we are counting the days to spring break!), make sure you check out this web-site with it’s award-winning video. Dr. Rob Brander is a senior lecturer at the University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia. The Australians know their stuff when it comes to water safety and surf rescue. Here’s a summary of what I learned: a rip tide is a strong narrow current that takes breaking water out to sea, they are deceptive because it’s smooth water – no waves breaking, no white water. As an inexperienced surf person I might automatically assume that was the safest place for kids, rather than the most dangerous. Rip tides can flow faster than an Olympic swimmer, much less a child. If you are caught, don’t panic, the tide will take you out to sea, not pull you under. Put your hand up for the lifeguard to spot you and swim towards the white water. Do not swim against the tide, it will wear you out. Watch your kids constantly and teach them what to do.
The most important message – always swim near flags or a lifeguard station and when in doubt, ask an expert about the safest place to swim. I can’t wait to get to the ocean on my spring break, but I feel a bit safer knowing what to look for.