Recently Outside Magazine published an article title Everything you Know about Rip Currents is Wrong. It’s worth a read. The thesis is that if you get stuck in a rip current the best chance of surviving is remaining calm and going for the ride. Rip currents circulate, so you’ll be taken out and then brought back in. Theoretically this may be true, but it’s dangerous advice for a few reasons.
In beach breaks, like Playa Guiones, you have rip currents normally when there is larger surf. And waves are more powerful in rips. Surfers line up on the corner of rips to surf, as the sucking water creates a powerful section or barrel.
Most folks can tread water for a long time, but when you couple treading water with taking powerful sets on the head and getting held under things are very different. If you were to follow the circulate advice, you’d have to stay above water long enough, taking waves, to get back around, or get rescued. This could take a while as the push of the surf will be against the rip. And best case, you’d be deposited out back in the lineup and still need to swim though the impact zone to get in. (Though there’d likely be surfers able to help, a crowded beach would change the odds in favor of just staying afloat)
We have had 3 or 4 drownings in Nosara, in rips, and in the last two, the person has been dragged towards the lineup, had a few waves crash on them and then not been seen again. They happened very fast.
Depending on the level of ocean comfort and swimming, the only option may be getting out of the rip before you get to the impact zone.
A few other notes on rips here:
– They tend to be very wide and move down the beach. On big south swells they form on the north end of the beach and slowly move towards the south end. If you pick the wrong direction to swim, you might just be moving with the rip. So, I would change “in the direction of breaking waves,” to against the direction the rip is moving.
– Rips don’t go straight out, here they angle towards the direction they are moving.
– Not all rips are the same. There’s a big difference between the way water moves in Guiones and Ostional, beach breaks, and in Garza, reef breaks. The currents in Garza are both wave and tidal.
The best advice is don’t paddle out if you don’t want to swim in.
If you do find yourself caught in a rip current, try to get someone’s attention before you get sucked out too far. Make sure to swim around other people, and in front of surfers, to have the best chance of rescue.
Remain calm. It seems simple, but you need to breathe deeply and slowly. Short panicked breathes will increase your heart rate and oxygen consumption.
Before you head out to the beach, check the surf report. Wave heights over 3ft and wave periods over 12 seconds will be strong waves. If you’re not a comfortable ocean swimmer, don’t go out.
There are tide pools in Garza bay at low tide that no matter how big the surf is, they are always calm. Maybe that’s a better option.