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Wednesday, October 24

Beware rip currents

Palm Beach

Reading the terrible story of the parents who drowned in Portugal trying to save their kids I was reminded of my own experience of rip currents.

Here's what they are:

A rip is a strong current of water running out to sea. Waves normally wash up onto the beach and ebb back into the sea. In some places the ebbing water forms a strong channel pulling out to sea. On many beaches the force of this escaping water can drag you far out to sea.
As I found out on my first venture into the sea in Sydney, at idyllic Palm Beach at the top of the North Shore, on the fringes of Ku-Ring-Gai Chase National Park.

Like all the other Sydney Beaches it's public and used by lots of ordinary people, even though the surrounding suburb is millionaire's row.

I'd got burned, literally, at Bondi. Like most arriving Brits I'd venture. When we travelled around we went first to Palm Beach. Somewhere I'd recommend, though it's not on the tourist trail.

Palm Beach, showing the rip

Even I couldn't resist swimming and, bobbing around, I eventually noticed 'Oh, the shore seems a way off'. I had just floated out in the rip, from the middle of the beach, not realised and not fought - which is probably what saved me (alongside the bloke on a board who pulled me onto the board and back to the beach, with my trunks half off).

The advice is:
If caught in a rip, don't panic. Tread water or float. Once out past the breakers, swim parallel to shore and catch waves in. Or signal for help and wait for a lifesaver to rescue you. If you are a strong swimmer you can swim at 45 degrees across the rip into the wave area, then catch a wave back to shore.
I really didn't realise the seriousness of what happened at the time but when I did it gave me a big fear of deep water. Stories like this bring it all back.

So if you're heading off to a beach, be wary of rip currents :}

To avoid rips, look out for:
  • A darker colour because the water is deeper
  • A calm rippled surface, generally with smaller waves
  • Debris or foam floating on the surface out to sea
Here's the rip at Tamarama (aka Glamarama), next to Bondi.

Coastal (most) Aussie kids all know this, coming from a fairly beachy culture, but Brits like these parents, a similar age to me, aren't taught it.


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