Don’t swim against the tide

Last week, “rescuers” were searching for the body of an 8-year-old boy believed to have drowned off a N.J. beach. Authorities said the victim and his 10-year-old brother — who tried futilely to save him — apparently had been caught in a riptide.

Yours truly was caught in a riptide once, and it was sheer luck that I survived. I wrote about this before, but it bears repeating now that summer’s here and folks are flocking to the shore.

Last summer, eight people reportedly drowned in N.J. riptides. Three of these deaths occurred in a single week in September — the same week that saw the rescue of at least 150  swimmers along the Jersey coast.

Last week, during a TV report on the missing little boy, a reporter, noted that the children were thought to have been swimming near a jetty visible in the distance, “but you probably can’t see the riptide from here.” My guess is you probably couldn’t see it even if you were standing ON the jetty. Unless you knew what to look for. And most people don’t.

My own near-death experience happened off Puerto Rico. I’d gone down to the beach — alone — about 6 a.m. No lifeguards; no one there at all, except a single jogger running in the opposite direction about a half-mile away.

When I stepped in the ocean, it was extremely cold, so I decided I wouldn’t swim; I would just wade in the shallows. I was about knee-deep when I knelt down to splash some water on me, and then a wave — a minuscule, gentle wave — knocked me over. I couldn’t stand up and the next thing I knew I was being swept farther and farther out.

At the time, “riptide” didn’t even occur to me. Neither did I know the rules for escaping one: Stay calm. Never fight it. Do not try to swim straight back to shore, but rather swim “PARALLEL to the shore until you are out of the current” … or “float calmly out with the rip …  When it subsides, just beyond the surf zone, swim DIAGONALLY back to shore.”

That advice [capitalization emphasis mine] came from a website, which is also full of information on how to recognize one. I am sure there is a wealth of other info online.

Experts call these killers “rip currents,” so Google either that or riptide.

Common advice is to stay calm.

I did everything wrong. I was not calm. And I was ignorant. I kept trying to swim directly toward the shore. To no avail. That I survived is a mystery. (Thank you, Guardian Angel?) All of a sudden, the pull of the current subsided and I was able to reach the sands, where I threw myself down like a beached whale.

Do not be me. If you intend to swim in the sea, even off a beach with lifeguards, and even if you are a strong swimmer (strength doesn’t matter), arm yourself now with as much information as possible on how to survive a riptide.

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