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Jul 6, 2010 5:07 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

Helping swimmers spot rip currents is focus of beach group

Jul 6, 2010 5:07 PM

As Hamptons visitors flock to the beaches to escape the scorching heat, beach experts are again issuing warnings about the dangers posed by rip currents in the ocean surf.

For the second year in a row, the Eastern Long Island Coastal Conservation Alliance has chosen to spotlight rip tides in its annual “Beach Hazards” flyer, inserted in this week’s edition of The Press. In conjunction, the group will be running a photo contest through the 27east.com website, with a $500 first prize awarded to the photographer who captures the most demonstrative photo of a rip current at an East End beach.

Last year, ELICCA focused on how swimmers who find themselves caught in a rip current should react. This year the group’s advisories hope to help beachgoers avoid ending up in the dangerous grip of a rip current to start with.

Rip currents, which kill an average of 100 people each 
year nationwide, can be devilishly hidden amid the white 
tumult of breaking surf, even enticing swimmers to their seemingly more placid waters.

“The difficult thing is explaining how to spot them—it can be difficult even for professionals,” said Dr. Stephen Leatherman, director of the Laboratory for Coastal Research at Florida International University in Miami and an adjunct professor at Stony Brook University School of Atmospheric and Marine Sciences. “They can be areas of light brown water or very dark in color. Sometimes they appear to be almost nothing, a place with very small waves that looks like the perfect place to go swimming.”

Rip currents form along ocean beaches as water from waves hitting the shore rushes 
seaward again. Different from the undertow of breaking waves retreating back to the water, rip currents are sub-surface rivers of water, a hundred feet wide or more, flowing seaward beyond the shore break, usually through a gap in near-shore sandbars. They are particularly strong during times of heavy surf, which can also make them seem a 
particularly appealing as a 
place to swim since the offshore flow of water can diminish the size of the breaking waves.

Dr. Leatherman, who is better known on television as “Dr. Beach” when he releases his annual “America’s Best Beaches” list, and 
ELICCA did a survey at two prominent local beaches last 
summer, asking sunbathers what their primary fears when they go into the water are. Sharks, crabs and jellyfish topped 
the list. There has never been a shark attack on a swimmer on Long Island, and crabs and jellyfish are simply a nuisance, he said—it is rip currents that are the real danger facing swimmers. Yet, despite increasing publicity in recent 
years about the hazards they pose, researchers are not 
seeing any decline in the number of deaths each year in rip currents.

“That’s what really bothers us,” Dr. Leatherman said of the number of deaths and the 
50,000 saves by lifeguards each year attributed just to rip currents. “Prevention is really 
what we’re after at this point. If we can help people to spot [rip currents] and not get into trouble in the first place, it is the only way to really keep those numbers down.”

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I would say the title to this article is incorrect, for if these people were truly "swimmers" we wouldn't have to be so worried about them drowning when caught in a rip. Perhaps bathers or waders would more appropriately describe them.

OH NO!!! I used 'these people" I hope no one thinks I'm being racist against those who can't swim.... wait the unswimming among us aren't a race and neither are illegal aliens! 8-)
By ICE (1214), Southhampton on Jul 10, 10 7:37 PM
ICE you are not being racist because everyone already knows that a white person has never been killed by a rip current. Some people truly need counseling and medication.
By deelove (140), Bridgehampton on Jul 11, 10 10:50 AM
How does an article about rip tides become a discussion about racism? Are you people bored or what? BTW, a lot people drown because they don't know how to swim irrespective of the presence of riptides; I am really tired of the media automatically assuming that a drowning death was the result of a riptide. We have had incredibly calm ocean water up until about 5 days ago and people were drowning right and left and there were absolutely no riptides so ICE is right about the fact that these weren't ...more
By realdeal (23), Southampton on Jul 13, 10 3:31 PM
I was being sarcastic about my use of the phrase "these people" which when used to describe illegal aliens usually brings about accusations of racism. I was just stirring the pot a bit, why? Amusement, why? Bored, you nailed it!

As for your post I totally agree, if we were to keep stupid people out of the water there would be far fewer drownings! I say this from my position of being aware and
comfortable in the ocean on red flag days with real riptides formed from large groundswells. ...more
By ICE (1214), Southhampton on Jul 13, 10 10:43 PM