Go With The Flow

Go With The Flow

In the very educational video below, Dr. Rob Brander of the School of Biological Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of New South Wales in Australia explains rip currents.

While rip currents are dangerous for the average beach-goer, strong swimmers with ocean experience and a competitive zeal can utilize rip currents to their benefit. Dr. Brander‘s video below provides some great visuals to understand how the experienced ocean swimmers use rip currents to their benefit.

The benefits are available both while starting a beach ocean swim and as they approach and come through the surf zone towards an on-the-beach finish.

As Dr. Brander explains rip currents are the outflow of the water that has accumulated near the shore due to waves. Simply put, the rip currents are strong, narrow currents that flows from the shorelines through the surf and then offshore. Before the start of an ocean race, especially when there is sizable surf, an experienced ocean swimmer observes the waves and water flows near and at the start and finish. They carefully check out any locations for sandbars, breaking waves, smooth water and whitewater.

At the start, the best ocean swimmers ride the rip current out in order to utilize the power and speed of the rip currents. On the way back in, they avoid swimming into the rip currents and try to catch waves back in, riding the waves for as long as possible, kicking strongly as they bodysurf to the finish.

The rip currents flow in deeper water next to a pier, sandbar or shallower water where the waves are breaking. So, at the start, if you see no waves breaking, no whitewater and a visible flow of water going out, take it for a ride in order to gain an advantage over your competitors.

On the way back in, the strategy of the experienced swimmer is reversed. They avoid the deeper channels – if apparent – and swim towards the shallower water, especially if they can catch a wave. The start and finish at the Waikiki Roughwater Swim in Honolulu, Hawaii are perfect examples of where many winners utilize the rip currents both at the start and finish.

At the start, they try to swim out in the middle of the deep-water channel and toward the finish, they rarely swim straight down the deep channel directly in front of the finish line at the Hilton Hawaiian Village. Rather, they head towards the surf zone on one side or the coral reef on the other side coming into the finish, depending on the conditions and their position relative to their competitors.

One of the important points that Dr. Bender makes is that rip currents are not undertow or rip tides. As he says, there are no such things as an undertow – the rip currents are not pulling you underneath the water and they are not tides. He also explains the different types of rip currents including the fixed rips which are stuck betweeen sand bars and stay in the same place for days or weeks, flash rips where water flows out quickly from the shoreline where whitewater is often seen going out from the shoreline, and permanent rips that are rip currents flowing generally all the time.

Caution: Using the rip currents is a specialized skill and knowledge that only strong, experienced swimmers should look for and utilize in competitive situations. For the rest of the ocean-going public, rip currents are to be avoided for safety reasons.

But for the strong, competitive, experienced swimmers, we say, “Go with the flow.”

Copyright © 2009 by Steven Munatones
Steven Munatones