Become familiar with the ocean and different conditions is key to progressing as a surfer.
To the inexperienced surfer, or the average beach-goer, rip currents can be dangerous.
However, if you know how to spot a rip and navigate it safely, you can actually use it to your advantage to get back out to the line-up quicker.
What is a Rip Current?
A rip current describes a narrow channel of water that’s moving fast back out to sea.
Rip currents often form between sandbars or near structures where waves are breaking.
Rip currents can vary in size and speed. Lower energy, slower rip currents are likely to occur naturally at most beach breaks and around reefs. Higher energy, faster rip currents often occur during heavy storms and larger surf.
How to Spot a Rip
There are a few different ways you may be able to identify a rip current.
Since the water in a rip is moving fast back out to sea, there are often some noticeable differences between the rip current channel and the surrounding areas.
- The rip channel will have fewer breaking waves than the areas to its sides.
- The rip current may be a different color than the areas outside it.
- The texture of the water in the rip may appear different as the water is funneled in the opposite direction of the breaking waves.
- You may notice sediment, sand, and seaweed flowing back out to sea in the rip.
When in doubt, you can ask your local lifeguard or look for indicator flags on the beach.
What to Do if You’re Caught in a Rip
The danger with rip currents in when people try to fit them. Not even the strongest swimmers can swim back against a rip current. Doing so will lead to fatigue, panic, and drowning.
Rip currents are escaped by swimming parallel to the beach – i.e. up or down that beach rather than back to shore.
If you are caught in a rip, remain calm, and swim towards the sides of the channel towards the breaking waves.
If you’re a strong swimmer, a good surfer, and an experienced ocean user, you can use a rip channel to get out and into the line up more quickly. Even in this case, you should never try to fight back towards the beach against the rip to get out of it.
If you are inexperienced or out-of-shape, you should avoid swimming and surfing near the rip.