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Lifeguards Rescued 5,000 Swimmers From Dangerous Rip Currents This Weekend

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Over 5,000 swimmers had to be rescued from dangerous rip currents and giant swells this past Labor Day weekend.

Soaring heat and a long weekend brought more than 3.2 million people to beaches across L.A. and Orange counties, reports the L.A. Times. But many of those beach-goers looking to cool off were caught off guard by strong rip currents and big waves reaching 7 feet and higher, and needed to be pulled from the waters by lifeguards, despite warnings to stay out.

Across L.A. County, 2,036 swimmers were rescued—a big spike from last year's Labor Day weekend, when 1,207 people needed help. The numbers could have been higher this weekend, but lifeguards warned or stopped 101,635 people from braving the rough waters. Strong rip currents were considered to be what led to the drowning of one swimmer last Thursday near Avenue 19 in Venice. Lifeguards were able to rescue two friends of the Venice swimmer who were out around 200 feet from shore when currents pulled them out further. They weren't able to save one of them, a man whose body was pulled from the water an hour later.

At Orange County beaches, lifeguards rescued 3,600 swimmers from beaches around the area, reports the OC Register. More than 1,700 of the rescues over the long weekend took place around Laguna Beach, while hundreds of others took place around Newport Beach and Huntington Beach. While many of them were considered "scary rescues," there were no reported deaths related to the currents in the region. “A lot of people plan to go out and wade in the water, and the current affects them and they panic. A lot of people misjudge and overestimate their ability,” Huntington Beach Marine Safety Lt. Mike Beuerlein told the Register. “A lifeguard has been there every time."

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Earlier this summer, lifeguards had to rescue more than 400 people from waters around L.A. County in a single day of strong rip currents.

Rip currents often form near jetties and piers, and at breaks in sand bars. They can quickly catch even strong swimmers and surfers off guard. Currents can sometimes reach an average speed of 1- to 2- feet per second, and reach up to 8 feet per second, faster than an Olympic swimmer, according to the National Weather Service.

If swimmers find themselves being pulled away from shore by a rip current, they are advised to not fight the current or swim directly to shore. Instead, swimmers should paddle parallel with the shoreline to break free from the current's pull and then swim at an angle away from the current and towards the shore.