Did you know that about 100 people a year in the US die from being pulled out to sea by rip currents every year? That’s a LOT more than from shark attacks or jellyfish stings. In fact, sharks – the thing everyone is afraid of – only kill about 6 people a year globally.
Most people caught in a rip panic and try to swim directly back to shore. Given that the tide travels faster than an Olympic swimmer – speeds up to 8 feet per second – that’s a shortcut to fatigue and drowning. Conventional wisdom would have you swim parallel to shore until you escape the current’s pull but contemporary research says that’s also not always such a great idea either. Since 80 to 90% of rips flow in a circular motion, you only have a 50/50 chance of making the right parallel choice – not an easy task when you’re caught in the current. Go the wrong way and all you’re doing is swimming into the flow – again, a shortcut to an exhausted, watery demise.
So what to do? You’re in a life-threatening situation, all your primal instincts are screaming for you to DO SOMETHING!!! The options are limited and may even hasten the inevitable. Well, research by Jamie McMahan, a rip current expert at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, suggests “doing the unthinkable: giving in and going with the flow… It’s a radically simple finding—one that challenges our primordial instincts and everything we think we know about beach safety.” McMahan recommends, “If you can relax—and it’s a long time, for maybe three minutes—you’re generally going to float back to the beach.” CATCH: even that doesn’t work for everyone – most people, terrified for their lives, aren’t going to be mindful enough to relax and see what happens. And because rips appear to be as diverse as the people they like to kill, other research has found that “sometimes swim parallel is great, sometimes it doesn’t work. Same for floating.”
Surf Life Saving Australia (in a country probably more intimate with the danger of rips than any other) acknowledges that “rips are a complex, dynamic hazard and the multitude of variables—swimming ability, current strength, circulation, wave size—make the threat nearly impossible to solve with one-size-fits-all advice. No single “escape strategy” is appropriate all the time.” Seems like survival is contingent on multiple factors that are unique to each person and situation. Sounds a bit like LIFE.
So in the end, your rip current options are as follows:
- Stay calm and conserve energy
- Stay afloat as best you can and signal for help
- If the rip isn’t too strong, attempt to swim parallel to shore
- Let go, embrace your terror, and float with the rip – you will either be transported back to the beach if it’s a circular current, or you’ll end up past the breakers and you can swim at an angle back to the beach
And now you know how to survive a rip current. You’re welcome. 😉 But why am I talking about this on a “Women Move It Forward” blog?
It started with a post I was writing in a support group on Facebook. I was talking about how I believe I’m doing all the right things and yet am still feeling overwhelmed, out of control, like I’m drowning and not making any headway on a particular aspect of my life. As I was writing I could feel my shame and fear well up. After all, I’m a coach! I’m supposed to have my shit together so I can help other people get theirs together too! What kind of a fraud would dare to position themselves as a resource for others when she is struggling herself? How on earth am I ever going to embrace abundance if I can’t let go of this need?? What if I drown?!
And as I wrote, I could hear my inner coach laughing. I know I’m a good coach. I know I help people – they wouldn’t write me glowing testimonials otherwise. Back to our rip current analogy – I’m a good swimmer! I’m also good at helping others learn to swim! But guess what, I got caught in rip current and started to panic. Even great swimmers drown in those things, remember. My inner coach asked, “if it is too difficult to swim sideways out of the current, what would happen if you tried floating or treading water and just let nature do her thing? You’ll wash out of the current at some point and can then make your way back to shore. Or what if you turned around and swam in the other direction? Have you signaled for help? How are you conserving your energy?”
As she talked, I felt a sense of survival start to grow. I began to get present and look at my circumstances with a more mindful eye. She’s right, I do need to conserve my resources, ask for help and try something different. Even if that’s just floating for a while as I regroup. I can assess my unique skills and strengths to figure out which approach is going to work best to break free from my own personal rip current and get back to shore.
I feel less panicked; more resolute. I am grateful (and much better informed about rip currents, should I find myself at the beach anytime soon). For now, I’m trusting my buoyancy and going with the flow as I assess the situation and make the right plan for me. I can practically feel the shore under my feet as I let go of the fear – all is well. All is well. Trust the process.
~ * ~
(Rip current info from various resources on the interwebs, but for this post I pulled mainly from this one: https://www.outsideonline.com/2089696/everything-you-know-about-surviving-rip-currents-wrong)