The leading danger for surfers, bodysurfers and handboarders isn't sharks. It isn't jellyfish either. It actually isn't even an animal at all. It's rip currents. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reports that over 100 drownings due to rip currents occur every year in the United States, and that more than 80% of water rescues on beaches are due to rip currents. Slyde's rip current survival guide will answer all of the questions you have about rip currents, how to spot them and how to get out of one.
A rip current, according to NOAA, is when waves break strongly in some locations and weakly in others, causing circulation cells. These circulation cells cause narrow streams of water to move quickly away from shore, forming the rip currents.
According to scientific research, rip currents can be found at just about any shore break. Wherever there are breaking waves, there could possibly be rip currents. They can form at sand bar breaks, or near solid structures like piers or jetties.
Yes and no. Most rip currents are measured at speeds between 1 and 2 feet per second, but there are exceptions. While most weaker rip currents are mostly dangerous to weak swimmers, even good swimmers can have problems. NOAA reports that rip current speeds up to 8 feet per second have been measured, which is faster than an Olympic swimmer can sprint. This means that even a strong swimmer may not be able to swim out of a very strong rip current.
How strong or fast a rip current is will typically depend on the tide and surf. High tides and more powerful surf conditions tend to make rip currents stronger and more dangerous.
While some rip currents may pull a swimmer further than others, it is unlikely that one could pull someone miles out to sea. According to NOAA, rip currents will pull swimmers out just past the surf, or possibly as far as hundreds of yards offshore.
There are a few identifying characteristics of rip currents that you can keep an eye out for next time you're heading out for a session. These include:
While these will likely indicate that there is a rip current present, sometimes there are no identifications at all. NOAA reports that polarized sunglasses can help surfers spot these clues.
Always follow these safety guidelines to help prevent an unexpected run in with a rip current: