Riptides: What You Should Actually Be Watching Out for This Summer
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Riptides: What You Should Actually Be Watching Out for This Summer

Before you call the all-clear on dorsal fins, make sure you aren't diving into a rip current.

Riptides: What You Should Actually Be Watching Out for This Summer
Fox News

When my family turned on the local news the other night, I assumed it was yet another shark attack, this time in my own neck of the woods. Between the Discovery Channel’s “Shark Week” and the eight shark attacks that have taken place in North Carolina since the beginning of June, you can bet I scan the ocean for dorsal fins before dipping in a single toe.

This time, though, it wasn’t a shark attack that captured our attention, but a rescue of another sort that had taken place just down the road from my family’s Nantucket home. Earlier that day, 16-year-old Erynn Johns and her father, Derrick Johns, were swimming at Surfside beach when they were caught in a rip current. Despite the fact that Erynn is an athletic soccer player and her father a former marine, Erynn’s GoPro – which rested on a selfie stick that she managed to keep hold of the entire time – shows how seriously the two struggled to get back to shore, even with the aid of few good samaritans. You can check out the video here.

The story hit close to home for my family, and not just because of its proximity. Last year, my brother and I were caught in a rip current at the very same beach. Swimming with friends, I didn’t even notice that the ocean was starting to suck me out until I decided I wanted to get out of the water. Suddenly I realized that moving back towards the beach was immensely difficult, and that my younger brother was having an even harder time and beginning to panic. I would repeatedly swim forward a foot or two, then grab my brother’s hand and try to pull him towards me, but every time I did I drifted backwards again.

I didn't realize we were caught in a rip tide, even when lifeguards entered the water to rescue us. Luckily, unlike Erynn I did not have a selfie stick in my possession during the ordeal (and definitely couldn't have held on to it if I did – props to Erynn). So, no one will ever have to see the footage of me pathetically clinging to my little brother’s ankle as he was towed to shore, until a second lifeguard forced me to let go. Apparently you aren’t supposed to drag someone down, inhibiting their rescue, when they are in distress, especially if that someone is your family member.

Only once safely back on the beach was I informed by a very good-looking lifeguard that there was a clearly visible rip current through the water. “Try to stay on the sandbar where all the other people are,” he advised me. Yeah. In retrospect, that makes a lot of sense.

Since neither my brother nor I sustained any harm, it was mostly just an embarrassing day in my memory. And not just in memory; the embarrassment from that incident continues to be relevant, as it prompted my mom to purchase her own lifesaving equipment online, which she now totes to the beach as though we’re all on an episode of “Baywatch.”

Before you worry about sharks, you should worry about rip currents. Despite what this summer’s news would have you believe, shark attacks are quite uncommon while riptides are very common. Since July 1, Nantucket lifeguards have already made 135 rip-related rescues. Even strong swimmers can find themselves victims. While rip currents can be as narrow as 10 to 20 feet, they can be as wide as 200 feet, and can extend well beyond the surf zone surf zones. If the sea is particularly rough, as in the Johns’ case, victims can be dragged underwater as they’re dragged out, depleting oxygen as well as energy.

However, the scary currents don’t have to sneak up on you like in the movie "Jaws," if you learn from my mistakes and take a look at the ocean before diving in. A rip current is often visible as a channel of choppy water, and can be noticeably different in color from its surroundings surroundings. In my experience, I noticed after the fact that the waves around the rip were breaking at diagonal angles rather than straight onto the shore. And if you are caught in a riptide and recognize the situation as such, don’t waste your energy trying to swim directly against the current, as much as you may want to. Instead, swim parallel to the shore until you’re away from the pull. Most importantly, while maintaining composure is difficult in any scary, dangerous situation, you’ll conserve energy if you stay calm.

In the case of a shark attack, however, I probably wouldn’t stay calm. So once you’ve checked for rips, you can return to scanning for dorsal fins.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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