Have you ever been to the beach and thought maybe the waves look too big and you might get sucked under? Or been silently afraid that you might drown or a wave will take you away? Fear not, the following water safety advice will keep you surfers and swimmers feeling relaxed and more aware of your surroundings.
Ocean conditions are not always perfect when you choose to surf or swim. The ocean water will get at some point what is called a riptide, due to changing ocean conditions, weather, and shifting sands. The biggest myth about a riptide is that it will pull you under, when in fact it is a channel of water moving out to sea.
How can you identify a riptide before you go surf or swim?
A riptide is a channel of turbulent water that is moving quickly out to sea. The area is usually visibly swirling with sand and sediment from the beach, changing the color of the water. You can look for a disturbance in the waves on the shoreline, which has an unusual amount of foam, and even trash moving in a straight line out to sea. Also stop to check if other surfers and swimmers are having difficulty maintaining their positions in the water. This might be an indication that they are in or near a riptide.
Keep in mind, in many cases, you can’t see the riptide and the ocean may seem calm. So what can you do?
How to avoid getting caught surfing or swimming in a riptide?
First, ask the lifeguard if there are any areas that you need to be aware of before entering the ocean. And if there is not a lifeguard on duty, before you enter the water, take a few minutes to observe the waves and the movement of the water. Remember, you may enter the water where it is calm and suddenly the ocean conditions shift. Stay calm and follow these directions.
How do I get out of a riptide?
The most important thing to remember is to stay calm. When we panic, we exert more energy and we need all of that energy to take care of ourselves in these situations. Don’t fight the current. Don’t try to paddle away from the direction you are being pulled. Paddle your surfboard or swim perpendicular to the current or parallel to the beach. Once you break free of the current you will feel that it is no longer as difficult to move. The best advice is to swim to shore and rest, or if you are surfing, sit on your surfboard and take a break for a few minutes.
If you can’t get out of the current, relax, wade in the water or stop paddling your surfboard, and let the riptide move you outwards towards the sea. The force of the riptide will lessen and then you will be able to swim or paddle back to shore. And definitely – if you have tried all of the above and you can not get out, wave your arms, yell and get attention of someone on the beach.
General Water Safety Recommendations
- Never swim or surf alone
- Make sure you know how to swim before you enter the water
- Ask locals and lifeguards about ocean water conditions
- Look for signs and flags that warn of dangerous ocean water conditions
- Do not play or joke around in the water in a way that would put your life or someone else’s at risk
- If you are with children, stay close to them and never let them out of your site for any reason
- Do not try to rescue another swimmer if you are not a strong swimmer yourself, or if you are not in good physical condition
- Get help from a lifeguard immediately if you see someone that needs to be rescued
- If there is not a lifeguard available, call 9-1-1
- Throw the victim something that floats life a boogie board, life jacket, beach ball or even your surfboard
If you are joining a surf camp or a similar program, you will want to make sure all of the staff are water safety certified. For your own purposes, take the time to learn basic First Aid and CPR. You never know when it might save someone’s life.
A special thank you to the Costa Rican Tourism Board for this incredibly important water safety advice. Feel safe knowing you are informed and know what to do the next time you go surf or swim in the ocean.