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How To Not Get Caught In A Rip Current At The Beach

Santa Monica Beach. (Photo by Suzanne Danzinger from the LAist Featured Photos pool on Flickr)
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Summer is a time for margaritas, pool parties, and rolling your eyes at all out-of-town friends who say "Isn't it always summer in L.A.?" L.A.'s heat waves have already arrived way ahead of schedule, so you're probably equally excited to spend days at the beach. Ways to impress your crush: sending videos of the dancing hot dog spinning over the sand. Ways not to impress your crush: getting caught in a rip current and needing to be rescued or, you know, dying.

But wait, what is a rip current exactly? Well, it's not a riptide, first of all. A riptide is both the Vance Joy song that creates traumatic sense-memories of white culture in 2014, as well as a specific tidal current that occurs when ocean water moves through an inlet. A rip current, however, is a uniquely dangerous beach phenomenon. According to the National Ocean Service, rip currents are "powerful, narrow channels of fast-moving water that are prevalent along the East, Gulf, and West coasts of the U.S., as well as along the shores of the Great Lakes." Take that, claims of coastal elitism! The midwest and coasts all share the danger of sudden currents moving at speeds of up to 8 ft/second.

Rip currents are also in full force in Southern California right now. According to ABC, Huntington Beach lifeguards rescued around 200 swimmers over the weekend and Los Angeles County lifeguards rescued around 300 swimmers. Jason Young of the Orange County lifeguards told LAist they rescued around 60 swimmers in the region of South Laguna and Dana Point.

Young explained how rip currents occur when "incoming wave actions recede back into the ocean based on contours of the beach." In layman's terms, this means water always wants to retreat to the lowest point. "Anywhere where we have little channels or troughs in the sand, where waves withdraw, are places where rip currents can happen," he said, because these dips in the sand create strong pulls in the water. Rip currents can form anytime, but currents "become more severe and stronger when we have higher surf because there’s higher energy," Young said.

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The surfs through mid-week are in the 4-to-7 foot range, and combined with the hot weather, make for a high possibility of rip currents. It's possible to stay safe at the beach and in the water despite their high number, however. The best advice is to speak with a lifeguard at the beach. Young explained how, over the weekend, Orange County lifeguards made 3,336 preventative actions and around 5,000 safety contacts with beach goers. They're hired to inform and protect beach goers, and they'll have pertinent information on spotting rip currents day-of.

What happens if you get caught in one, though? National Weather Service points out the most important factor: staying calm. Exhausting your energy trying to fight the current will make it harder to stay afloat. Instead, swim with the current, parallel to the beach. Once you're out of the current's pull, start swimming at an angle away from the current until you reach the shore. Hopefully you'll be able to channel some mindfulness and get to shore safely, rather than being one of the more than 80% of beach rescues related to rip currents, according to CBS.

National Weather Service has a high surf advisory in effect through 10 p.m. Wednesday for Los Angeles County and Ventura County coasts.

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