Rip Currents – Have a safe swim

Dsc02382I always love swimming.

I grew up in the province with a big river near our house.  It’s there i learned to swim and dive from the hanging rope bridge. I love swimming – beach, river or pool. In fact, i consider bathing a luxury , so much so that on Sundays here in Nigeria, i lock myself for 2 hours in bathtub, just soaking there and enjoying the warm water and the soap suds.

Anyway, this post is about near-drowning experiences i had with water. My first experience was when i was 5 years old. We lived in Tacurong, Cotabato then. We have a deep road canal in front of the house without cover. One day, heavy rain came and flooded the street. Water was flowing along the canal, higher than the street level. Me and my late brother were having a good time in the rain.  We were running around when all of a sudden i stepped into the canal – -i immediately sank and carried by the raging water. Flailing my hands and bobbing up and down, i was gulping flood water as i scrambled for something to hold on to. I was choking and terrified, unable to breathe — until my my brother pulled me out of the water. The memory still haunts me whenever i see flooded streets, knowing there are some open manholes or canals there.

A bit older and wiser, i finally learned to swim in strong currents. I also learned to float effortlessly. I like to ride the big waves on the beach or dive into the swell before it breaks.  I was even foolish to swim underneath the bridge foundation where water has made a hole on the foundation. Looking back, i was sure it’s very dangerous because the passage under the cement foundation is narrow and all sides have sharp ‘talaba’ and some metal rods. If i get entangled or ran out of air, i will be trapped underneath. But then, those were the youthful days.

But some people just never learn.

Here in Nigeria, me and my colleagues go to the beach once a month. We go to Eleko Beach in Lekki, Lagos. The beach is facing the Atlantic Ocean so the swell fo the waves are really huge. It can tower up to 10 feet before it crashed in thunderous and violent surf.  My friends prefer to stay in shoreline, and i will be there on the break line (where the waves always break ) because i love the feeling of being lifted and thrown by the waves, or just dive underneath the wave in its highest swell before breaking.  It worked fine for awahile because it’s high tide. So everytime the waves crashed, it will throw me closer to dry land. Also, the waves seems to curl from right to left. So if i start swimming on th right side of the cottage, after 15 minutes, i will be on the other side. This is because the waves’ current is going sideways in violent roll and surf.

But this last time we went, the tide is low, so i have to go farther behind the breakline to get some good waves. Stupid idea.

As i was showing off my swimming skills, it’s late when i discovered how violent the waves can be. Because it is low tide, when the giant wave crash or break, the back surge is very strong it can sweep you off your feet even if it is knee-deep only. And this is what happened. I was getting trashed underneath the breaking waves and before i can have a chance to gulp for air, another big wave slammed on me.

I was drinking seawater and running out of breath. I felt weak also struggling to stay afloat. I felt like some unseen giant hands just kept pushing me below the water. I was having  difficulty staying a float becoz, to my horror, i was trapped in the breakline area, so wave after wave comes crashing on me. I tried to dive underneath the next wave but because i was on the breakline, turbulence underwater pulls me down.

I took a frantic look to the shoreline to see if they will see me drown (frankly, i thot i will drown by then). I was far from the shore. I look at my right and saw a colleague also in the breakline area, i tried to swim towards him. But the waves came and kept trashing me. As i was starting to panic when i saw another big wave breaking. I couldnt dive underneath bcoz im out of breath, so i waited for the wave to crash and try to ride it and not fight the undercurrent. Fortunately, the wave broke an arm’s length from where i was and the big splash lifted me and threw me to knee-deep area. Wearily, i scrambled to high ground. My knees shaking and out-of-breath. I felt i ran 3 laps in an oval. I looked at my colleague, he was also crawling back to dry land. He then told me he had quite a struggle back there and he felt like being dragged under the waves.

Well, at least we made it out of danger. But the experience scared the heck out of me. I remember i told another friend i’m going to the beach. And she told me not to taunt or tease the sea. I told here then i was a good swimmer and ive done it before — wave diving.

Lessons learned.

I went to my friend, Mr. Google, for some comfort on beach hazard. This one i got from Medicinenet.com

Why Rip Currents Form
As waves travel from deep to shallow water, they will break near the shoreline. When waves break strongly in some locations and weakly in others, this can cause circulation cells which are seen as rip currents: narrow, fast-moving belts of water traveling offshore. (more info) blue rule
Why Rip Currents are Dangerous
Rip currents are the leading surf hazard for all beachgoers. They are particularly dangerous for weak or non-swimmers. Rip current speeds are typically 1-2 feet per second. However, speeds as high as 8 feet per second have been measured–this is faster than an Olympic swimmer can sprint! Thus, rip currents can sweep even the strongest swimmer out to sea.Over 100 drownings due to rip currents occur every year in the United States. More than 80% of water rescues on surf beaches are due to rip currents.

Rip currents can occur at any surf beach with breaking waves, including the Great Lakes.
blue rule

Diagram of Rip Current motion going out then back to shore to left and rightWhere Rip Currents Form
Rip currents most typically form at low spots or breaks in sandbars, and also near structures such as groins, jetties and piers. Rip currents can be very narrow or extend in widths to hundreds of yards. The seaward pull of rip currents varies: sometimes the rip current ends just beyond the line of breaking waves, but sometimes rip currents continue to push hundreds of yards offshore.

Diagram courtesy of the NWS Southern Region Headquarters

blue rule

How to Avoid and Survive Rip Currents
Rip Current Warning Sign
Learn how to swim!

  • Never swim alone.
  • Be cautious at all times, especially when swimming at unguarded beaches. If in doubt, don’t go out!
  • Whenever possible, swim at a lifeguard protected beach.
  • Obey all instructions and orders from lifeguards.
  • If caught in a rip current, remain calm to conserve energy and think clearly.
  • Don’t fight the current. Swim out of the current in a direction following the shoreline. When out of the current, swim towards shore.
  • If you are unable to swim out of the rip current, float or calmly tread water. When out of the current, swim towards shore.
  • If you are still unable to reach shore, draw attention to yourself: face the shore, wave your arms, and yell for help.
  • If you see someone in trouble, get help from a lifeguard. If a lifeguard is not available, have someone call 9-1-1 . Throw the rip current victim something that floats and yell instructions on how to escape. Remember, many people drown while trying to save someone else from a rip current.

blue rule

Rip Current Myth
A rip current is a horizontal current. Rip currents do not pull people under the water–-they pull people away from shore. Drowning deaths occur when people pulled offshore are unable to keep themselves afloat and swim to shore. This may be due to any combination of fear, panic, exhaustion, or lack of swimming skills.In some regions rip currents are referred to by other, incorrect terms such as rip tides and undertow. We encourage exclusive use of the correct term – rip currents. Use of other terms may confuse people and negatively impact public education efforts.

http://www.ripcurrents.noaa.gov/overview.shtml

BOTTOMLINE

Never taunt waves or get over-confident in beaches with big waves or rip current.

Never let children go to water unattended.

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