Caught in a Rip Current

feet in surf

On the edge of panic, I struggled against the rip current that pushed me away from the sandy beach. My 5’ wife and 6’1” son watched.

A wave knocked Dale, my wife, into the surf. She retreated. Mark was rescued by friends, from a rip current, on a previous vacation.

Outward flowing ocean water – a rip current – flows faster than swimmers swim. About 100 people a year drown and 80% of beach lifeguard rescues, in the United States, are caused by these perilous flows. Swimmers usually drown due to exhaustion.

There were no lifeguards on our slice of paradise, that sunny day.

I remember the feeling of the sand giving way under my feet. Then, it was gone. Dale and Mark saw my head disappear and reappear between breaking waves.

Later, she told me, “The time between appearances got longer and longer and your head sank lower and lower.”

I know what to do when caught in fast outward flowing currents, but, at that moment, it seemed stupid. The warm sand of that North Carolina beach kept slipping away. I had to swim for it.

Thankfully, I heard my son yelling in the distance, “Swim that way.” He pointed to a path parallel, not toward the beach, where he stood.

He knew what I knew, but refused to acknowledge. Rip currents are usually just a few yards wide, at most. I did what didn’t feel right, swam sideways.

Wasted effort became useful. I was out.

Sobered and embarrassed, I plopped in a beach chair, heart pounding.

Three words changed everything, “Swim that way.”


  1. Watch for wasted effort.
  2. Show compassion on struggling people.
  3. Explain what’s important.
  4. Say what’s obvious.
  5. Point the way – sometimes the sideway.

Everything you ever wanted to know about rip currents.

When is sideways better than straight ahead?

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