December 2014 Durban, South Africa

Do you ever wonder why there's always 'no swimming' and 'keep away' signs next to structures such as piers, groynes and jetties on beaches? Most people think it's because they can get hurt falling on them, or bumping into them, which is true, but these structures are also magnets for rip current formation. Often longshore currents get deflected offshore when they flow into these structures, or wave refraction and shadowing processes cause circulating rips to form next to them. This Google Earth picture shows rip currents on either side of some piers on the beach in Durban, South Africa. The piers stick about 150 m into the water. Those rips are huge and no doubt flowing pretty quickly! Best to keep away from structures when you're swimming, even in lakes when there's breaking waves.

Check it out in Google Maps or if you have Google Earth on your device, view it in Google Earth

 

Post a picture of a rip current on the Science of the Surf Facebook page and if yours is chosen as Rip of the Month, you win a free copy of 'Dr Rip's Essential Beach Book'!

Pictures can be taken from any angle, on any beach, but must include a short description describing the photo/rip. This is a great idea for kids, students, nippers, parents , surfers and budding marine scientists to get involved in!

October 2014 Lacanau, France

I am presently on sabbatical doing rip current related research at the University of Bordeaux with Bruno Castelle, who is one of the best in the business. He provided me with this amazing photograph taken by Julien Lestage of a coastal town near Bordeaux called Lacanau. The last winter saw France have an incredible series of storms (just like the UK) with massive amounts of coastal erosion. If you look at this photograph, you can see in the distance that the beach and dune have been scalloped with large embayments. Each of these embayments was eroded out by the action of rip currents during the storms. So while rip currents are dangerous to people, they are also a main cause of beach erosion. The coast here has a large tide range and the biggest storm occurred during a spring high tide which also helped maximise the erosion. You can actually see that the rip currents are still present opposite the embayments, appearing as narrow dark gaps between the breaking waves.

 

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August 2014 Carolina Beach, North Carolina, USA

I'm in Wilmington, North Carolina for most of August as part of my research sabbatical for the second half of 2014. Amongst the many rip current related projects I'm involved with, the one that's most fun is helping out Spencer Rogers from the North Carolina Sea Grant and his grad student Cobi Christiansen from the University of North Carolina Wilmington doing rip current experiments using GPS drifters. No-one has used these drifters to monitor rip current flow behaviour on the US East Coast. Spencer and Cobi want to find out how North Carolina rip currents behave in terms of how often they re-circulate within the surf zone or eject water (and drifters) offshore of the surf zone. This picture of Cobi was taken by his Dad (Curt) at Carolina Beach the last week of July and is perhaps the best example of drifter retrieval I've ever seen! The rip wasn't great, flowing slowly at a very strong angle to the beach, but the team is on call for the rest of the month, including some experiments at the Outer Banks in mid-August. The drifter is a nifty new design created by the rip guru Associate Professor Jamie MacMahan from the Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, CA. Best part of the day was perhaps the excellent media coverage of the experiment which was shown on Good Morning America.

 

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July 2014 Patong Beach, Phuket, Thailand

Not too long ago, I posted a picture of rip currents at neighbouring Karon Beach. However, I recently visited some Phuket beaches myself during the monsoon season and was amazed to see beaches and surf conditions that, to me, looked just like south-east Australian conditions. Lots of waves, bars and rips. Despite the efforts and presence of lifeguards on many beaches, a lot of people drown in rip currents each year in Phuket, most of them tourists. In general the rips are about 150 to 200 m apart on the surf beaches and sit in channels. They therefore appear as dark gaps between the whitewater, but are a little different than what we have in South East Australia for several reasons. The sand is so fine-grained that the relief of the channels isn't as pronounced so the 'dark gap' visual signature can be a little tougher to identify. On the flip side, the fine sand ends up being transported offshore by the rip into sediment clouds which actually help spot the rips. I took this picture from my hotel balcony at Patong Beach (I asked for a high room just for this reason!). The rip is the small dark gap just to the left of the tree (and in front of the two parked cars). You can see the clouds of sand being taken offshore. It's subtle, but definitely a rip. All of the rips really started to take off around low tide. So if you go to beaches in Phuket....please take care. There are waves, and rips, but there are also good lifeguards. Swim between the red and yellow flags.

 

Stanwell Park beach with two rips

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June 2014 Perranporth Beach, UK

Perranporth Beach is a beautiful beach on the incredibly scenic Cornwall coast and is very popular with tourists, surfers....and scientists. It has become the focus for many rip current related scientific endeavours of late, primarily conducted by the University of Plymouth (see their fantastic rip current website at www.ripcurrents.co.uk), and more recently by Southampton University and PhD student Sebastian Pitman, who was nice enough to send me this picture. Perranporth has a large tide range so the shoreline and surf conditions shift pretty rapidly over the space of a tidal cycle. In this picture the rips are the dark green channels that you can see extending along the beach, starting from the one in the foreground against the rocks. One interesting characteristic about these rips is that due to the rapidly shifting shoreline position, the rips tend to 'turn on and off' quite quickly, which offers challenges to bathers and lifeguards alike.

 

Stanwell Park beach with two rips

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May 2014 Stanwell Park, NSW, Australia

This is not the first time I've used a picture from this beach because it's close to where I live, but it's the first time I've ever used a picture of an actual rip current that almost resulted in a drowning. There are two rip currents in this picture. One is the dark gap between the sandbanks pretty much straight out from the creek inlet. The second is the wider dark gap to the left of the photo. It was almost low tide when this picture was taken and you can see that there are deeper alongshore channels feeding into the main rip channel from both directions. Both bars are shallow and almost exposed and the waves aren't that big. Basically, to someone without a good knowledge of what rips look like, it looks relatively safe, but the setup is in fact extremely dangerous with wave breaking around low tide being enhanced, driving the flow of water from the feeders to the rips and beyond.

The day before this picture was taken, a local went for an evening swim only to find himself carried offshore in the rip on the left. A bystander went to help him and also got in trouble and both were ultimately saved by 3 nearby surfers. It was an extremely close call as the initial victim had passed out and slipped underwater for several minutes. Thanks to the surfers ability to find him and their experience with CPR, he was saved, but a helicopter needed to be called to the scene. This picture was taken by Genevieve Swart who is an editor of the local 2508 District News magazine who have an in-depth story on the incident in their recent issue

However, there's a lot in this story. It was the first day the Council Lifeguard hours had been reduced. If they had been there, no doubt the man would have been rescued more quickly. Almost all rip current drownings happen in the absence of lifeguards. The man was also saved by the actions of bystanders, yet one of the bystanders got into trouble himself. This raises the question: how well are we educating people how to react and respond correctly when they see someone in trouble in the surf? Finally, the man who got caught originally did all the right things. Once he realised he was in a rip, he relaxed, stayed calm, floated on his back and faced the waves and yet he was overcome by breaking waves and still got in trouble. This really shows that every rip current experience is different. No single piece of advice will work for all people in all situations. It really comes down to learning how to spot rips and avoiding them.

 

Stanwell Park beach with two rips

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April 2014, Pearl Beach, NSW Central Coast, Australia

While there are different types of rip currents, rip currents are most definitely NOT undertow. Rip currents do not pull people under, they just take them for a ride. But the term ‘undertow’ is almost always associated with rips. Well, maybe it’s because of some smaller rips called ‘swash rips’. Swash is a term used to describe the combination of the uprush of water up a beach once a wave has finally broken and its associated backwash down the beach. Well, sometimes that backwash can be pretty strong and can knock people over and drag them offshore a bit. This is more likely to happen on steep beaches with beach cusps. Beach cusps are crescentic features with higher horns that have coarser sand/sediment and deeper embayments with finer sediments. Where they occur (generally on steeper beaches) they tend to be spaced pretty regularly along a beach. Beach cusps can be tiny, just cm’s apart, or tens of metre’s apart. In the case of larger cusps, the backwash caused by big waves can create reasonably strong, but short-lived rips that go just beyond the shoreline. However, to a non-swimmer, that can be dangerous. I actually think the act of getting knocked over and pulled out has generated the sensation of being pulled under and hence being caught by the ‘undertow’. They are definitely a totally different type of rip. This picture is from Pearl Beach on the NSW Central Coast, just north of Sydney. It’s a classic steep and reflective beach with beach cusps and while not really dangerous, you can clearly see the clouds of sand (the swash rips) regularly spaced down the beach. They’d last for a few seconds every time there’s a big backwash. Picture courtesy of Professor Andy Short.

 

A sequence of regular rips

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March 2014 Karon Beach, Phuket, Thailand

Most people think of beaches in Thailand as places of calm water bliss and that's what the tourist brochures show. But you may be surprised to know that all of Thailand's beaches can get waves, mostly during storms, but in the case of the West coast, during the southwest monsoon season which runs from May to October. There's even surfing to be found around Phuket during the monsoon! And with waves, you get rips. And with rips you get drownings. A LOT of people, mostly tourists, drown in rip currents in Thailand and Karon Beach in Phuket is particularly notorious. This is a picture of Karon beach taken from a blog http://www.phuket101.net run by Willy Thuan. It's one of the first pictures that comes up when you run a google search for 'Karon Beach'. Looks great, but there are waves and there are a series of semi-regularly spaced deep channels (dark gaps) all the way down the beach. Those are rips and it's no wonder people get in trouble. So please be careful on beaches in Phuket, especially between May and October.

 

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February 2014 Yanchep Lagoon, Western Australia

Western Australia has some stunning beaches. Beautiful white sand, turquoise waters and of course sharks! But sharks aren't nearly as big a problem as rip currents. Since 2008, 17 people are known to have drowned in rip currents in WA as opposed to 7 fatalities due to sharks. Yanchep Lagoon is a gorgeous beach about 1 hour north of Perth. It's fronted by a limestone reef which creates a nice 'safe' lagoon for kids and families, but there is almost always a strong longshore current that runs along the beach. If you don't pay attention you can be swept past the reef and out through the gap in what is a pretty notorious and consistent rip. You can see from the dye where the rip is heading, but you can also see a big 'bowl' carved out in the beach. The rip is pretty permanent and has eroded it out. I was lucky enough to be invited out by Channel 7 News in Perth in January to do a 2 part story on the rip current hazard on Perth beaches. Part 1 of the video can be seen on Yahoo!7 News.

 

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January 2014 South Coast, NSW, Australia

Pattern recognition. Spotting rip currents is all about seeing patterns in the surf along the beach. What's different about this beach? Well, there's a pretty obvious green gap heading out from the shore, then a sandbar with whitewater, another green gap, another sandbar and so on. While not all rips (the green gaps) are as obvious as the ones on this beach, it's not hard to see patterns...you just have to look for them. This beach is somewhere on the South Coast of New South Wales, I think it could be Tathra Beach. I found it while trolling the web, but the South Coast has spectacular beaches, most of them unpatrolled by lifeguards and most of them with tourist parks plonked on top of them. Learn how to spot those rips folks.

 

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December 2013 Australia

This Rip of the Month might not show you what a rip looks like, but it should show you just how important and dangerous these common hazards on Australian beaches are. A few months ago, we published a fairly simple study in the scientific journal Natural Hazards and Earth Systems Science called ‘A new perspective on the Australian rip current hazard’ (PDF). We compared the best available long term datasets for fatalities in Australia caused by natural hazards such as rip currents, bushfires, cyclones, floods and sharks. On average 21 people drown in rip currents every year (top graph A). This is more than the average number of fatalities per year from bushfires (6), cyclones (8), floods (5) and sharks (1) COMBINED! And it’s an underestimate. Those rip drownings are incidents that were confirmed as being cause by rips, the actual number is probably much higher.

The rip current database only goes back 9 years and when you compare the fatalities over the same time span, bushfires are #1 as shown in the bottom graph B, but only because of the terrible loss of life (173) during the Feb 2009 fires near Melbourne. Over the long term though, rips are definitely the biggest killer. And yet, they really don’t get the respect or attention they deserve. They should, there’s an estimated 17,000 on Australian beaches at any given time. You can read the original research article at http://www.nat-hazards-earth-syst-sci.net/13/1687/2013/nhess-13-1687-2013.html

 

Two bar graphs indcating the number of deaths per year and total deaths in Australia for due to shark attack, floods, bushfires, cyclones and rip currents. Rip currents per annum are greater than the others. Overall bushfires have claimed more lives, but rip currents come in second.

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November 2013 Plettenberg Bay, South Africa

This is simply an extraordinary photo. I have always been interested in rip currents in South Africa. I know the coastline is very similar to the Australian coastline and that there must be a lot of rips and a lot of drownings. In fact, just this May a terrible accident occurred with 6 members of the same rugby team drowning in a rip near Port Elizabeth. But I was never able to find out much about what was being done to educate people in South Africa about rip currents. Then a few months ago I was contacted by Torsten Henschel and Andrew Ingram from the National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI) in South Africa and they sent me this link to a fantastic rip current safety video. One of the best rip videos I've seen I think and I was amazed how similar the beaches looked to Australian beaches! Andrew sent me this picture from Plettenberg Bay on the East Coast of South Africa. It's a popular holiday destination with plenty of rips...how many can you count?

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October 2013 Boomerang Beach, NSW, Australia

I've never really thought about it, but that could be the quintessential name for an Australian beach! Fortunately, it's actually tucked away along the mid-north coast of NSW and never gets many crowds. Which is probably a good thing because it's an unpatrolled beach and usually has lots of rips....a bad combination. This picture was taken during the field trip for my 3rd year undergraduate course 'Coastal Geomorphology' at UNSW. One of the students, Josh Park, turns out to be an amazing photographer and snapped this picture of a purple dye release I did at the southern end of the beach in a rip current against the rocks. These 'topographic' or 'headland' rips are fairly permanent features and tend to flow fast and far, but not on this day. I released the dye basically at the shoreline and it slowly, slowly crept out. But in general, unless you're a surfer, it's not a good idea to swim against the headlands. The thing is, the stairs look like they are leading people right to it, which I guess they are!

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September 2013 Salinas Beach, Castrillon, Northern Spain

I keep telling people that the most common type of rip current is one that sits in a deep channel between two shallow sand bars and that they are found over the world. And people keep telling me I'm wrong, but this series of rip currents along Salinas Beach on Spain's northern Atlantic Coast looks pretty convincing to me! This picture was sent to me from Ignacio Florez of the Salinas Lifeguards, who were interested in some advice on conducting beach safety education. I think the same type of advice and knowledge of rips we teach on the east coast of Australia would be just as relevant on this stretch of coast in Spain. The picture was also taken at low tide and it looks like the tidal range might be over 2 m. I wonder how much the people who live or stay in those apartment buildings know about rips?

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August 2013 Haeundae Beach, Korea

This is a rather incredible photograph sent to me by rip current scientist Joo Yong Lee from Sungyunkwan University in Korea. It's of Haeundae Beach, which is the most popular beach in Korea. Not long before this photo was taken, virtually hundreds of people were swept into a rip current in the middle of the beach and carried offshore. People go to the beach and use the yellow inflatable rings for fun, but unfortunately these rings floated them into the rip! After everyone was rescued, a human chain of lifeguards and police kept all the swimmers out of the vicinity of the rip. The rip is the darkish sweep of water heading out through the middle of the cordoned off gap. Amazing stuff. As a result of some serious mass rescues at this beach, the Koreans launched a large program into measuring and monitoring rip currents at this beach and they are hosting the 3rd International Rip Current Symposium in 2014.

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July 2013 Park Beach, Coffs Harbour, NSW, Australia

Yep, this is the same beach as the ROTM from May, but this rip is just south of the tidal inlet at the south end of the beach. I took it from the plane while coming in for landing at Coffs Harbour airport and it's a beaut. You can see the 'twin' feeder current channels merging into the main part of the rip - the rip-neck channel, which pushes out about 10-20 m past the line of breaking waves. This is pretty much a classic rip current that we find on the east coast of Australia and there's lots of them. I was in Coffs to work with the Australian Professional Ocean Lifeguard Association (APOLA) who have got funding to develop a beach safety pamphlet for backpackers (in 10 languages). When I showed this picture to them, they told me that there's a nearby backpacker hostel...and the backpackers all walk straight to this unpatrolled section of beach and go swimming straight in the rip! The tidal inlet is interesting as well. Flow during an ebbing tide creates a pretty strong rip as well - a tidal rip; and it pays to stay away as these can flow considerable distances offshore.

Aerial image of a twin feeder current channels merging into a rip.

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June 2013 Rockingham, Western Australia

A few weeks ago I was at the Australian Professional Ocean Lifeguard Association (APOLA) conference at Bondi and one of the lifeguards from the Gold Coast City Council (Brett Paull) asked me to have a look at some pictures a paraglider friend of his (Scott Patman) had taken near Rockingham, which is south of Perth on Australia's west coast. This was one of them. It looks like some sort of rip current vortex and whirlpool of doom! It's an amazing picture...so amazing that The Huffington Post picked up on it and it went viral

So what is going on and is it dangerous? Well, what you see are clouds of suspended sand in the water. What you can't see is that the waves were approaching at a strong angle to the beach. This creates a strong alongshore current. At the same time there were big mega-cusps in the beach and the waves breaking on the beach rush up these cusps and then back down as backwash. The combination of water running back out of these cusps and the longshore current causes offshore directed eddies to spin out about 100 m from the shoreline. This carries the fine sand stirred up by the breaking waves and backwash. It looks nasty....but it's really not that dangerous. The water flow is slow and you could probably swim across it no problem, but it's another example of how incredible nature is!

What I worry about is that pictures like this get picked up by the media and all of a sudden everyone starts thinking this is what rips look like...well they don't. This is a very unusual type of rip for sure. There's a YouTube video on the rips as well and there's shots of the beach that show the cusps and give you some more perspective.

Aerial image of a spiral, vortex of sand in water.

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May 2013 Park Beach, Coffs Harbour, NSW Australia

There has been a lot of debate in the rip current world recently on what to call the different types of rips out there. We have ‘accretion’ rips, ‘low-energy’ rips, ‘open beach’ rips, ‘fixed’ rips, ‘transverse bar’ rips and ‘bar-gap’ rips which all really describe the same type of rip – one that sits in a deeper channel between two shallow sand bars. I would argue that this is by far the most common type of rip current on most surf coasts and the one that best looks like a path of dark water heading out through the whitewater of the breaking waves. This picture is taken by John Andrews, who essentially runs the Australian Professional Ocean Lifeguard Association (APOLA) at his home beach in Coffs Harbour. It’s a classic rip, about 10 m wide, heading straight out to sea, and John was ecstatic to hear the term ‘bar-gap’ used to describe this type of rip at the recent Rip Current Symposium in Sydney in October 2012. He reckons it makes the most sense to the average person. So maybe we should listen to the professional lifeguards on this matter!

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April 2013 Stanwell Park, NSW, Australia

The March 2013 Rip of the Month showed a pretty typical picture of breaking waves along a beach and asked the question ‘Are there any rips in this picture’. Well, the answer is ‘No’. If you look closely you might see a bit of a dark gap through the breaking waves towards the left of the photo, but this is just some inconsistent wave breaking. One of the problems with using still images to educate people about how to spot rips is that not all rips are obvious. Most of the time you need to spend a few minutes watching the surf looking for dark gaps that keep appearing in the same place. That’s why movies of rips and talking to lifeguards at the beach are more effective. Also, while some beaches are known for rips, they are not always there. It really depends on the configurations of sand bars and channels, which often change almost constantly. However, there is a rip current in this picture and it should be pretty obvious. It’s a massive rip taken during some big swell at Stanwell Park, just south of the Royal National Park in Sydney. That big green gap between breaking waves is hard to miss. It may look big and nasty, but often we find that wide rips don’t actually flow as fast as narrow rips that are squeezed between sand bars. So in that respect they’re not as dangerous, but as they’re bigger, they are also easier to get into in the first place.

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March 2013 Any surf beach in the world

I've been doing Rip of the Month for 3 years now so if you've been following this, then you should be getting better at spotting rips. So here's a question for you: is there a rip in this picture? What do you think? It's an important question and if you decide to go for a swim at a beach without lifeguards, the correct answer could save your life. I'll give the answer next month!

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February 2013 Bulli Beach, NSW Australia

We've just finished another field experiment to measure how rip currents behave and how swimmers can escape them. To measure rip current flow patterns and speeds, we placed over 30 of these pvc 'drifters' with GPS attached into the rip. Some of the results are so surprising. I'll post them eventually, but there's a lot going on in the surf zone that is completely hidden from the naked eye. It's certainly not textbook stuff that rips just take water offshore! The dye release in the background shows that not all rips flow offshore, some flow at strong angles to the beach. Our experiment at Bulli Beach, just north of Wollongong, NSW was the last of 6 experiments we've done over the last 15 months. We've learned a lot about rips, but also raised a lot of questions. One thing is for sure...there is no single message or action that you should take when you get caught in a rip. Rip flow is incredibly variable and the best action is not to get caught in them in the first place. Swim where lifeguards can see you! Thanks to Barbara Brighton for the pic.

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January 2013 Bilgola Beach, Sydney, Australia

Happy New Year everyone. I'm really hoping that we see a reduction in rip current drownings this summer in Australia. That would be fantastic. But it would help if we had some decent warning signs. I'm not a great fan of signs given that most people can't be bothered reading them, but these 2 signs are pretty standard on Australian surf beaches when it comes to rips and they are pretty useless. There's a very strong rip in the background, it's the main dark gap without breaking waves, but the signs really only mention 'Dangerous Current' and 'Dangerous Surf'. What does that actually mean to the typical person? Probably not much. Would a typical risk taking male be put off swimming? Would an international tourist who can't read english? The educational value is essentially zero...which is why it's still important to understand how rips work and how to spot them. Why not make 'learning how to spot a rip' one of your New Year's resolutions?

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December 2012, Tallows Beach, NSW, Australia

Okay Australia, summer is here and and many of us will be heading off to holiday at beaches just like this...Tallows Beach, just south of Byron Bay in far north New South Wales. And like many beaches on the south-east coast, it’s rip city. There are at least 20 rips running along the beach that I can count before everything starts to get a bit fuzzy! How do you spot them? Look for all those nice dark green gaps running out from the beach that look perfect for swimming. I can’t see any red and yellow beach flags or lifeguards so I’d say your odds of getting caught in a rip are pretty high on a beach like this...unless you know what rips are, what they look like and how to react properly if you get caught in one. The whole Byron region is a mecca for tourists, including backpackers, and this largely unpatrolled beach is easily accessible just like many others. Not surprisingly it’s not uncommon for rip drownings to occur and the region from Ballina to Byron is a known drowning ‘hot spot’. So enjoy, but be careful. Thanks to Jeremy Jacks (www.surfsense.com.au) for providing this photo which was taken from the lighthouse at Byron Bay, the easternmost point in Australia. To be honest, every time I go there, it looks exactly the same!

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November 2012 Royal National Park, Sydney, Australia

This month it's a very different type of rip current. Not all rips flow off sandy beaches in channels between bars. This is a tiny beach at the southern end of the Royal National Park in Sydney (near Otford) only accessible by boat or foot. Amazing how they managed to build the little cottages and shacks! The beach has numerous outcrops of a rock platform which underlies the sandy beach. On the day I took this picture the surf was pretty big, about 3 m + and there weren't many rips around, just a lot of water pushing in. But if you look at the middle of the beach you can see a clear darker channel heading offshore a little way from the beach. This channel was squeezed between two rock reef outcrops forming a perfect conduit for water to drain offshore and although you can't tell from the photo, it was pumping. Technically, we'd probably call this a topographic rip as it's created by the fixed rock topography that's exposed. It's another reminder that swimming next to rocks and exposed reefs can be dangerous in any sort of wave conditions.

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October 2012 Whale Beach, NSW, Australia

Sydney's Northern Beaches are off the tourist track, but are a real gem full of stunning little beaches like Bungan, Bilgola, Avalon and Whale Beach. All of them have good surf, with plenty of sandbars and, of course, rip currents. We did a recon of the beaches last week to look for a suitable location for some experiments on rip currents we're hoping to do in early October and Whale Beach came up trumps with this fantastic channelised fixed rip carving through the middle of the beach. On the day we were there, there was a surf competition for kids (grommets) and they were using the rip as an express train to get out the back. So check out the Northern Beaches, you won't be disappointed, but be careful, there's plenty of rips around and it's definitely lifestyles of the rich and famous territory!

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September 2012 Bar Beach, NSW

When waves are big and messy, rip currents can become equally big and messy. While waves can change quickly, sand bars and channels can’t and fixed rips, which have been sitting comfortably in deeper channels between sand bars suddenly start to become unstable. They aren’t particularly good at accommodating all the extra water brought in by the larger waves so the rip flow isn’t as constrained and literally starts ‘popping out’ of the channel and the rip flow becomes wider, more unsteady and unstable, and harder to see. This rip current at Bar Beach (in Newcastle, NSW) is a good example of this. Sometimes the rip flow slows down as the rip expands in width, other times it pulses quite strongly. These types of rips are often called ‘flash’ rips because they vary so much and are unpredictable. While you can still pick out the darker area between breaking waves that is the rip, there’s also a lot of turbulent whitewater, choppier surface conditions, and clouds of suspended sand. We don’t have a good understanding of flash rips and there’s a bit of a debate about what they actually are and how we define them, but they tend to occur more with strong onshore wind waves and storms and pulse a lot. We assume they flow faster, because the waves are larger, but no-one’s really been able to measure them so we’re not sure. When it’s messy, it’s best to swim between the flags (in Australia) or where the lifeguards are. Better yet, talk to a lifeguard about the conditions.

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August 2012 Rip Current Signs

I guess because I’m a scientist and therefore partially a geek, I love collecting pictures of beach signs relating to rip currents. Some are pretty useless and have no educational value at all, while others have so much writing on them, people instantly become bored and ignore them completely. Creating a good sign that attracts attention, actually motivates people to read it and has educational material is a real challenge. Or you can just use fear tactics and intimidation. That’s why this sign is my favourite. I don’t know where it’s from or who took it because I copied it off the web years ago, but I suspect it’s in the US. Not only does it remind swimmers how many people have drowned and that they are in mortal peril if they go swimming, but they can also get fined! The unfortunate reality is that most signs just aren’t effective. Plenty of studies have shown that people don’t pay attention to them because we get so much ‘sign pollution’ we just switch off. One of the biggest problems with rip current and beach safety signs is that they also make a pretty good place to hang your towel. So there’s a challenge for you creative types...create the perfect rip current sign. We need one badly!

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July 2012 Bondi Beach, Sydney, Australia

Bondi Beach seems to be getting a lot of attention here in Australia with almost every reality television show seemingly based around it. It’s also getting a lot of attention from rip current scientists. We’ll be doing some big rip experiments during July and August this year measuring all of the rips on the beach simultaneously using GPS drifters. We’ve also got a long-term coastal imaging camera on one of the local rooftops that creates amazing images like the one in this picture. This was Bondi Beach on March 3, 2012. The camera basically takes a picture every second. If you average all those pictures over a period of 30 minutes, you get what’s called a time exposure. What’s great about these time exposures is that you can clearly see the shallow sandbars (the white areas where the waves are breaking) and the deeper channels, which are darker because less waves are breaking. It’s a great way to monitor the location of the rips and sandbars and if you do it every day, you can see how the beach evolves over time with changing wave conditions. In this picture, on this day, you can see that the outer sandbar is very rhythmic and I can count about 7-8 rips...how did you go?

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June 2012: Zenith Beach, Port Stephens, NSW, Australia

How many rips can you see in this picture? The view from Tomaree Headland in Port Stephens, NSW is one of my favourite views on the planet. This only captures some of the stunning 360 degree vista and shows Zenith Beach, a very small embayed beach that is part of Tomaree National Park. It's very accessible, unpatrolled and usually has several rip currents along it. For a short beach, there's a high probability you can get stuck in one! Particularly impressive is the topographic (headland) rip flowing out against the rocks and headland in the foreground. We think that headland rips flow faster and further out to sea than rips in the middle of the beach, but no one has properly measured one because rocks and expensive equipment don't mix very well. This is a fantastic stretch of coastline, just 2 hours drive north of Sydney, and you can see other little beaches nestled in between the headlands, which are made of ancient volcanic rock. There's even a tombolo in the distance connecting the island to the mainland. So enjoy...but be careful and look for those dark gaps...there's 5 rips on the beach. One at each end and two in the middle. Apologies for the round black smudge spot in the sky. That's what happens when little kids keep poking your camera lens!

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May 2012: West Ruggedy Beach, Stewart Island, New Zealand

Stewart Island is situated off the southern end of the South Island of New Zealand and is a hikers (trampers in Kiwi-speak) dream, particularly if you like lots of mud and nasty weather. It pokes into the roaring 40's so it's windy most of the time and the west coast is exposed to massive swell. West Ruggedy happens to be on the west coast and you can see it's a pretty dramatic beach. You need a lot of wave energy and wind to create those big sand dunes blowing inland. Bigger waves also mean bigger rips and there's plenty of big rips on this beach! How many rip channels can you spot? It takes days to hike here and the waters a little cold, so it's not a dangerous beach because no-one really swims, but what an amazing setting. This picture comes from Dr Mike Hilton, a coastal geomorphologist at Otago University in Dunedin, NZ, but it was sent to me by via Dr Patrick Hesp, yet another coastal geomorphologist!

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April 2012: Palm Beach, Sydney, Australia

Another fantastic photo taken by Andre Slade from oceanfit.com.au. Palm Beach is Sydney's northern most beach and is a sort of home to the rich and famous, but it's not immune to rips.The rip in this picture is that thin blue line extending out through the whitewater. It may not be very wide, but the water being squeezed between those sandbars can cause very high flow speeds. Most fixed rips (which this one is) flow about 0.5 m/s on average. To put that in perspective, you'd just be able to stand in waste deep water against a current that strong. I wouldn't be surprised if this one was much faster.

Palm Beach is famous in the rip current world. I did my PhD experiments there in 1994 in a rip almost exactly in the same spot shown in the picture. There was also a video camera installed in the lighthouse on top of Barrenjoey Headland at the north end of the beach which did all sorts of image analysis to understand the rip behaviour along the beach for about a 5 year period in the late 90's, early 00's. It's mostly famous though because it's where they film the popular Australian soap opera 'Home and Away'.

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March 2012: Tamarama Beach, Sydney

I have a new favourite rip current photo and what a coincidence, it's of my favourite beach! Tamarama is a small pocket beach in Sydney's Eastern Suburbs situated between Bronte and Bondi Beach. It's a beach to be respected as it is fully exposed to the dominant south-east swell. If it's flat everywhere else, there's almost always a wave at Tama. It's been rated as one of the most dangerous beaches in Australia because of the size of the waves, the frequency of rip currents, and the number of people who visit. Having said that, the Tamarama Surf Life Saving Club is proud of it's motto 'No Lives Lost' and the Waverley Council lifeguards are some of the best in the business so your odds are pretty good of coming out alive. It's also a great bodysurfing beach because when the red and yellow flags are up, fibreglass boards aren't allowed because the beach is so narrow.

Tama normally has a rip either at the northern end of the southern end, but on this day there are two very well defined headland rips at both ends. The rip system almost looks like a boomerang and the sand bar in the middle of the beach is like a refuge for swimmers. Those rips look great for swimming don't they? This picture was snapped by Andre Slade who runs a beach swim/fitness program called Oceanfit and I write a blog for him at oceanfit.com.au

Tamarama is also special to me because I lived in the surf club for 3 years in the mid-1990's and actually wrote my PhD there in my budgie smugglers!

She said the picture was actually taken by Willem Verbeek who I think is her supervisor...but the prize always goes to the student who needs it the most. Good luck with your Masters Gundula.

Photo of Tamarama Beach on a sunny day when the water is fairly calm but there are rips at either end of the beach with a sandbar in the middle.

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February 2012: Egmond aan zee, Netherlands

Yep, there are beaches and rips in Holland. It's not all tulips and dykes. This photo was sent in by Gundula Winter, who is about to submit her Masters at Delft University (Feb 14) so I think to help her along, she'll need to read up on her free copy of my Essential Beach Book! Egmond aan zee is a coastal resort on the North Sea and it does get a fair amount of waves. The Netherlands keeps churning out some amazing coastal scientists who have really influenced our understanding about how waves and beaches work. This picture was taken last year in August during an experiment to look at rip currents, which were identified by lifeguards at the beach as being a problem for swimmers. She and her fellow students and a few more volunteers spent a week jumping in rips with GPS mounted to our heads. The photo is taken from a jet-ski and shows drifters being pulled offshore in a strong rip (up to 0.6 m/s). In the upper she's plotted the measured drifter paths (the colours indicate drifter velocities) and the underlying bathymetry that was surveyed from a jet-ski during the field week. Along with the results from a numerical model the field data provided valuable insight in the parameters that govern rip currents at Egmond aan Zee. I like the fact that the trajectory shows the rip taking a meandering path. It is hard to actually see the rip in this photo, but the surface of the water near the drifters is a bit streaky indicating water moving offshore.

She said the picture was actually taken by Willem Verbeek who I think is her supervisor...but the prize always goes to the student who needs it the most. Good luck with your Masters Gundula.

Rip currents being measured at Egmond aan zee in the Netherlands

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January 2012: Rip Current Experiment at Shelly Beach, NSW

This fantastic picture was taken by Patrick Rynne and shows a bunch of intrepid rip current scientists, students and volunteers venturing out into the jaws of a nasty rip during an experiment at Shelly Beach on the Central Coast of New South Wales last December. The people in the photo are carrying drifters which are designed to 'go with the flow' in the rip and have GPS units attached which enable us to monitor the speed and trajectory of the rip. We're wearing the red and yellow caps because we were instruments too. All of us had GPS units tucked down our wetsuits connected to an antenna in the cap. Our job was to float in the rip and then either swim parallel to the left, right or simply stay afloat to see where we ended up and if we got out of the rip. Some of us were wearing heart rate monitors to test the efforts between these different actions. The research was the first experiment of a 3 year study funded by the Australian Research Council and Surf Life Saving Australia to understand more about Australian rip currents and how people should react if caught in them. The project is being co-ordinated by Rob Brander of the University of New South Wales, but involves significant collaboration with Jamie MacMahan of the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California and Ad Reniers from the University of Miami, Florida. We had some amazing help from our volunteers...thanks folks! I won't tell you the results because it's early days, but we're always looking for more help if you're keen. Patrick is a PhD student at Miami and a professional kite surfer and filmed much of the experiment.

Rip scientists and students launching the drifter into a nasty rip, Shelly Beach.

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December 2011: Bateau Bay Beach, New South Wales, Australia

We're starting a week long rip current experiment at Shelly Beach, NSW next week which is just north of Bateau Bay. I looked up the Google Earth image and couldn't help but notice this monstrous rip in the middle of Bateau Bay. The image was taken during pretty big wave conditions and hopefully you can see the rip as the highway of blue that is funnelling out from the middle of the beach. The rip is 50 metres wide and at least 250 m long en further. That folks, is what we call a mega rip. Bateau Bay doesn't have lifeguards and is a narrow pocket beach with lots of rocks that promote rip current activity. Not surprisingly, there have been numerous rip current drownings at this beach over the years. Please be careful this summer folks and try and swim between the red and yellow flags on patrolled beaches.

Aerial shot of Bateau Bay Beach from google earth with very clear rip.

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November 2011: Pololu Valley, Hawaii

Hawaii has a lot of fantastic beaches, but despite all the great surf, it's not particularly known for it's rip currents. However, don't be fooled, there are some big rips around like this one in the middle of this beautiful black sand beach. The beach is situated at the base of the Pololu Valley on the north shore of the Big Island of Hawaii. I took the picture a few years ago and there's a nice hike down to the beach, but the trail was closed at the time due to instability from a recent earthquake. While rip current drownings aren't considered a huge problem in Hawaii, they do tend to occur on beaches like this one, which are unpatrolled and where people have worked up a sweat to get to...and are keen for a swim. Hopefully you can spot the rip as the big dark gap in the middle of the beach.

Aerial shot of Shelly Beach with a dark area running perpendicular to the shore.

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October 2012 Shelly Beach, New South Wales

This picture is about as good as it gets. It's of a classic fixed rip snuggled between two sand bars at Shelly Beach, NSW which is on the Central Coast just north of Sydney. The beach is what we call a Transverse Bar and Rip Beach and is the most common beach state we get on the south-east coast of Australia. Obviously it's easier to see the rip from the air, but this one would look like a pretty obvious dark gap between regions of white water. You can see the bowl shaped embayment along the beach that the rip has carved out and the narrow rip-neck channel carving through the surf zone. You can actually see the motion of the water heading offshore. All that water coming in across the sandbars with the breaking waves is ending up in the rip which is basically flushing out the system. The picture is courtesy of Allan Cooke and Wyong Shire Council.

Aerial shot of Shelly Beach with a dark area running perpendicular to the shore.

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September 2011: One Mile Beach, Port Stephens, New South Wales

One Mile Beach is a gem of a beach situated in the Port Stephens area. When you walk out at the southern end you are hit with this stunning vista and a normally gentle surf break. The southern end tends to be wide and flat and the waves break across a wide area making it perfect for people who are learning to surf. As you head further north, the beach becomes exposed to more wave energy and you can get rip currents developing. The rip in this picture is the first big dark gap heading seaward.

One mile beach with people in the foreground and a sublte rip in the middle of the frame.

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August 2011: Guincho Beach, Portugal

This picture was sent to me by Nicolas Bruneau, a rip current scientist who's based in Europe. The beach (Praia do Guincho) is located on Portugal's Estoril coast and is about 25 km west of Lisbon. The beach gets small swell and a lot of wind during the summer months making it popular for windsurfers and kitesurfers. Most of the good surf comes during winter. You can clearly see a few rips exposed at low tide. One is in the middle of the beach and is very narrow, heading out at an angle. The other is at the bottom of the picture adjacent to the rocks. Both look like deeper, darker channels. You often get rips occurring where there are rock outcrops along beaches as they tend to focus wave energy and tend to help scour out channels.

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July 2011: Esperance, Western Australia

This is a beautiful picture of the fantastic beach in Esperance, Western Australia. It's a reasonably remote place in the sense that it's a long way from anywhere. Head straight south from Kalgoorlie and east from Albany and you'll find it. The rip current is the hopefully obvious dark channelised gap heading out through the middle of the beach. You can also see a longshore feeder current entering the rip from the right side of the photo. This picture is courtesy of Professor Andy Short who has visited every single beach in Australia and has a photo catalogue of each of them.

Beach in Esperance Western Australia showing a clear blue area of the rip

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June 2011: Zauritz, Spain

Thanks to Timothy Price for sending me these pictures via my Science of the Surf Facebook page. The one on the left shows some well defined rip current channels at low tide. I count 5 (looking for the dark gaps), but the second one up from the bottom of the photo splits into two rips. You'd be hard pressed to find a safe place to swim on this beach. Judging from the width of the beach and the ponded water, it looks like it's got a reasonably large tidal range as well. Rips on beaches with big tides tend to suddenly 'switch on' for short time periods around low tide. The picture on the right is taken at mid-tide (from a different perspective) and shows just how much harder it is to spot the rips when the water depth is greater. And the rips wouldn't be flowing as strong, but the rip at the bottom of the picture seems to be going a long way offshore!

Zauritz, Spain at two different times of the day. Low tide on the left, mid tide on the right.

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May 2011 China Beach, Vietnam

The 2011 World Conference on Drowning Prevention is being held in Danang, Vietnam from May 10-13th. Danang is home to China Beach, made famous as an R&R destination during the Vietnam War and is a stunning stretch of sandy beach that extends right down to the beautiful town of Hoi An, about 30 minutes south. If you visit between April and October, the ocean is a mill pond. November to March is a completely different story as this is the monsoon season when you can actually get some decent surf, typhoons...and rips currents.

This picture from Google Earth is from a stretch of beach several kilometres south of China Beach. You can clearly see 4 fixed rip currents spaced about 150 m apart. You can tell the rips have been in the same place for a while from the embayments they've carved into the beach. Just a reminder that fixed rips, which look like dark gaps between breaking waves, are the most common type of rip and can occur anywhere. Very little information exists about rip drownings in Vietnam, but they do occur.

P.S. I rode from Hoi An to Danang 5 years ago and the beach was pristine. Nothing there, but local fisherman. It was magic. Word has it that resorts have now been developed along the entire stretch of coast. I'm really hoping to find that's not the case.

China Beach, Vietnam from Google Earth. 4 fixed rips 150 metres apart

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April 2011 Bondi Beach, Australia

I love this picture. It was taken late in the summer here in Australia when Bondi was absolutely packed. The photographer is Eugene Tan who runs a website called Aquabumps (www.aquabumps.com) where you can subscribe to a daily email update of some superb photography of Bondi Beach . His pictures are not just about surfing and include phenomenal sunset shots and other pictures that really capture the essence of Bondi, all of which can be purchased online or from his Bondi Gallery. Anyway...a lot of his shots also have amazing rips in them and I hope he doesn't mind me using this one!

You can see the rip current in the middle of the photo thanks to a number of clues: i) there's a nice dark gap heading offshore - that's the rip channel; ii) there's a nice little 'bowl' in the beach. When rips stick around in the same place long enough, they can erode out a little embayment for themselves; and iii) there's no-one in them! Well, maybe a few people. Hope they enjoyed the ride.

beach at Bidart in the Basque region of France

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March 2011 Bidart, France

This picture was sent to me by Alexis Emanuel who has sent me some amazing pictures of rip currents from France. This one is on a beach at Bidart in the Basque region of France, near Biarritz. The main rip in the photo is the big dark gap in the middle. The waves are obviously pretty big and high-energy rips like this can often recur in the same location, but can pop up and disappear from time to time as wave sets come and go. I guess you could call it a persistent high-energy flash rip. It's location also looks to be influenced by the headland and the seawall constructed out of rocks. it's not uncommon for rips to develop off of man-made structures.

beach at Bidart in the Basque region of France

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February 2011 Maroubra Beach, New South Wales

It's been a bad summer here on the Australian East Coast with terrible flooding and Cyclone Yasi, but people have also been drowning in rip currents. It's rare for people to drown in rip currents on a Sydney beach, but 2 people drowned in a rip current at Maroubra Beach in a week.

It may very well have been the rip shown in this photograph. Channel 7 News came to film one of my Science of the Surf talks at the Maroubra Surf Life Saving Club and sent a helicopter to film the dye release. Several days later the first drowning occurred. These images and footage are courtesy of Channel 7.

Channel 7 footage image

To increase awareness of the rip current hazard in Australia, February 6 has been designated 'Rip Current Awareness Day'. This is the anniversary of the infamous mass rescue of hundreds of people caught in a flash rip at Bondi Beach in 1938. Part of this joint initiative between Surf Life Saving Australia and the University of New South Wales will be a release of purple dye into a rip current on 21 Sydney Beaches virtually simultaneously. This all depends on weather, waves, and the beach morphology. If we pull it off, it will be spectacular and will hopefully help with ongoing rip current education.

Kids watching the dye release at Maroubra

More from the Maroubra talk can be found on YouTube

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January 2011 Barlings Beach, New South Wales

Happy New Year everyone. It's still early in the summer here in Australia, but rip current drownings have been few and far between this year, which is great. Of course, there's a lot of factors to consider such as weather, water temperature, lack of waves etc., but lets hope some of the rip current education is paying off.

This picture is from a beach on the South Coast of New South Wales and it's fascinating. I preach 'dark gaps, dark gaps, dark gaps' through the breaking waves as the best way to spot a rip, but these rips are best spotted by the clouds of suspended sand heading out past the line of breaking waves. Rips flow fast enough to transport sand offshore and it's another way to spot them. Look at the picture more closely though and you can see that there are indeed, deeper darker channels running through the surf in line with the sand clouds. The message here is that some rips are easier to spot than others and you really need to spend 5 or 10 minutes watching the surf before you go in to see if there are any rips around. Thanks to Malcolm Buck for contributing his photo.

Rip next to a man made headland
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December 2010: Mar del Plata, Argentina

One type of rip current is a topographic rip. These are found next to fixed features such as headlands, groynes and jetties. Basically the waves push water along the beach, it hits the structure and is forced out to sea. Often these rip currents are permanent, as long as waves are breaking. The beaches along the coast of Mar del Plate, in Buenos Aires Province in Argentina have many groynes and a lot of topographic rips. You can spot the rip as the dark gap next to the groyne. This picture was provided to me from Estela Corelli who tragically lost her son in a rip current. She has launched her own campaign to educate people in Argentina about rip currents and has a Facebook page (in Spanish)

Rip next to a man made headland
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November 2010: Haeundae Beach, South Korea

A few months ago, I started to notice a large number of hits to my rip current YouTube video. I traced them to a newspaper article from the Korean Times which reported a mass rescue in a rip current in a popular beach resort region of South Korea. The article can be viewed at http://www.koreatimes.co.kr/www/news/nation/2010/08/117_70600.html

I had no idea rips were an issue in South Korea and this picture is amazing. You can clearly see the rip from the amount of people on inflatable rafts who were carried along the beach in the feeder current and out in the rip itself! We know very little about rip currents in Asian and South-east Asian countries, but they are clearly a global hazard.

People being rescued on a korean beach
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October 2010: The Great Rip Current Experiment at Bondi Beach, NSW, Australia

The big 'swim parallel' or 'stay afloat' debate about what to do when stuck in a rip is still going. So Surf Life Saving Australia graciously provided myself and some colleagues at the University of New South Wales some funding to run an experiment at Bondi over a few days in September. We worked in the rip in the background of this photo (the dark gap).

Rip Current Experiment

The rocket-like looking things in the picture are specially constructed drifters that are designed to float through the surf. What makes them special is that they've got little GPS devices attached to track where they go. We also attached GPS to volunteer swimmers and floaters who would either jump in the rip and just stay afloat or swim parallel to the beach.

What happened? Most of the drifters went out in the rip and then curved around and came back in towards the beach across the sandbar, completing a circle. Some of them just kept going round and round. The swimmers who just stayed afloat all ended up being carried onto the sandbar safely. The swimmers who swam parallel all swam out of the rip easily. Debate? What debate??? Both options worked!

The thing is, this was a controlled experiment and the waves were actually pretty big and were closing out when they broke offshore, trapping everything inside. The swimmers were all competent swimmers and everyone knew what was going on. We're trying to expand the experiment into a much bigger project depending on the outcomes of a funding application.

Thanks to all the amazing volunteers who helped out on both days and to SLSA for making it happen.

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September 2010: Shelly Beach, Central Coast, New South Wales

Shelly Beach Arial

This is the best picture of rip currents I've ever seen. It has been kindly provided to me by Wyong Shire Council, more specifically, Allan Cooke who runs the lifeguard service there. Obviously it's taken from a plane, and you don't often get to spot rips from the air, but it really shows that the higher you are looking down on a beach, the easier they are to spot. Some pretty stunning channelised rip currents (dark gaps) heading offshore. Four of them to be exact. Allan showed some good initiative hiring a plane to take shots of local beaches and rips which were later included on information signs on the beaches themselves.

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August 2010: Noosa Heads, NSW Australia

Noosa Heads is a pretty popular tourist destination on Queenslands' Sunshine Coast. Waves from the south bend around the headland creating some amazing surfing breaks. If you go to Noosa, you'll also find a pretty strong longshore current flowing to the north. You wouldn't get very far because you'd hit the groyne in the foreground of this picture.

Noosa has a history of some pretty dramatic coastal engineering. The mouth of the Noosa River is in this picture, but it's not in it's normal position. Years ago, it used to come out to the south (at what is now called Main Beach), but was physically diverted there years ago. Not surprisingly, this screwed up the whole beach so now they have to dredge sand from the river mouth and pump it back to the southern end (where all the resorts are funnily enough). This sometimes leaves a giant hole in the beach next to the 2nd groyne!

Anyway, there are 2 rips in this picture between the two rock groynes. Both appear as classic dark gap channels sandwiched between sand bars. The picture was taken during a spring low tide and all the people in the foreground are part of a learn to surf class (they are sometimes taught how to use the rips as an easy way to get out the back). You can also see some weird dark channels heading offshore around the 2nd groyne. Any time you build a structure on a beach, it really messes up the nearby environment.

Noosa Heads
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July 2010: Perranporth Beach, Cornwall, UK

I've already done this beach a few months ago, but it was with dreary pictures I took in the middle of a UK winter. Much better to show English beaches in all their summer glory! And it is summer in the northern hemisphere. Here's proof that people really do swim en masse in the summer in England....and being obedient beach swimmers they have all been shepherded onto the safer shallower sand bars between rip currents. You can see dark rip channels all the way down the beach. Pretty easy to spot if you know what you're looking for.

Perrins Rips

The English lifeguards (run by the RNLI) are pretty proactive, constantly moving the flags and getting on the loud hailer telling people where to move as conditions change with the tide. Amazingly, and unlike Australia, the swimmers actually respond immediately and politely!

Thanks to Dr. Tim Scott for these pictures. I went over to Plymouth last year as part of his PhD examination, got to know him, found out that he takes fantastic pictures and some of them have ended up in my beach book, including the back cover! Funny how things work out.

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June 2010: Truc Vert, France

Truc Vert, France - Rips

Summer is approaching in the Northern Hemisphere which means beach time and if you've ever been to France in the summer, the beaches are packed. I still remember backpacking in August 1988 in the south of France watching news coverage of the crowds of swimmers on the Atlantic coast. The crowds were impressive, but even more amazing were the surfers carving swathes through the hordes. The carnage must have been unbelievable. Yep, France gets some world class surf. It also gets some world class rips.

I got this picture from Jamie MacMahan, the rip guru of Monterey, California, but I think he got it from Bruno Castelle, the rip guru of France, who probably got it from somebody else. Anyway, it's a great picture and to be honest, it looks like a lot of other surf beaches around the world, particularly Australia. But Truc Vert is in Acquitaine which is near Bordeaux on the Atlantic coast of France. It's got a large tide range that really exposes the rip channels at low tide. You can see all the dark gaps between the white water quite easily. The beach also has an outer sand bar that looks pretty rhythmic on this day. It's also been the site of a lot of beach and rip current experiments lately. Much easier putting in the gear at low tide on big tide beaches!

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May 2010: Tamarama Beach in Sydney's Eastern Suburbs

I've spent much of the summer conducting my own little rip current experiments, chucking purple dye in to see how they flow and then chucking myself in to see where I end up. Some of the dye release pics are on the Science of the Surf Facebook page (which everyone should become a Fan of!). I must have done almost 30 rip floats this summer and for the vast majority, if I just stayed afloat and did nothing, the rip ended up dumping me safe and sound on the sand bar. Most of the dye releases showed the dye heading seaward from the shoreline and through the rip and then curling around where it was brought back in by the waves making a complete circle. Sometimes the dye re-circulated a few times. This supports a lot of the results from neat rip research being conducted on rips around the world.

The only problem with staying afloat is that I knew exactly what I was doing and was comfortable. From time to time, waves did break over my head and I can see how this could lead to panic in a non-swimmer who is following the advice of 'just go with the flow'. On the other hand, when I swam parallel out of the rip, I made it onto the sand bars, but it wasn't always easy, and I'm a good swimmer. One thing to note about rips like the one in this picture is that most of the water that enters rips enters from the SIDE by draining off the sand bar. This flow is pretty strong in itself, almost as strong as the rip. So swimming parallel often means swimming against this side drainage which would often overpower a weak swimmer.

So once again, the best advice is to avoid getting in rips by looking for dark gaps and 'calmer' water between areas of white water. Just like this picture shows. It's a pretty simple and clear message (no pun intended).

Tamarama Beach
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April 2010: Palm Beach, Sydney, Australia

This picture was taken in April 1994 during my PhD fieldwork at Sydney's most northernmost beach...Palm Beach. it's sometimes known as 'Summer Bay' for fans of the Australian soap 'Home and Away'. Hopefully you can spot the rip. It was a classic, with two longshore feeder channels along the beach meeting together to form a narrow rip neck channel that headed offshore.....and kept on going! You can see from the purple dye that the rip started along the beach and went almost 200 meters offshore. And it only took about 2 minutes from start to finish.

Palm Beach

The weird thing was that the waves were small and most of the day, the rip had been going out just to the breaking waves where the water was brought back to shore across the bar in a wide circle. What happened here was that a wave set (a group of 5-6 bigger waves) came in, broke, piled extra water up on the beach and created a sudden 'rip pulse' that lasted for about 30 seconds. Rip pulses can double the speed of the rip almost instantaneously and can take swimmers a long way offshore. Once you're out that far, the only thing bringing you back is a long swim. Rips pulse about 20% of the time.....another reason to learn how to spot them and avoid them. My good friend Thomas always likes to point out that he's the one wearing the wet suit in the small crowd of people on the beach!

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March 2010: Somewhere in the Pacific Northwest

This is cool. People are starting to send me pictures of rips from overseas. This one was taken and sent by Andrew Ross, an Australian ex-pat now living in the Pacific Northwest. I can't say where in the Pacific Northwest because he refused to tell me, leading me to believe this picture is of a favourite secret surfing spot (in the Pacific Northwest) and I respect his need for privacy. If it helps, it's somewhere in Northern California, Oregon or Washington State!

Andrew Ross - Oregon Beach

Anyway, the rip in this picture is the line of turbulent and discoloured (from churned up sand) water pushing out to sea from the bottom left of the picture. I'd guess that the beach is probably 100-200 metres to the left. This is a good example of a mega rip which is just a really, really big flash rip. In other words, it doesn't sit in a channel, it just suddenly appears after a big wave set has broken and the water has piled up and pushed the water out in a rip.

The west coast of the US gets some pretty crazy and huge rips that occur on days like this when a nice clean groundswell hits. Most flash rips occur when it's stormy and messy, but the Pacific Northwest gets huge swell waves with periods of 15 to 20 seconds and even though the waves are nice and clean, they tend to promote some big rips. They definitely help the surfers get out the back on days like this....I think the surfer at the bottom right is paddling for the rip for that reason.

Please send me any rip pictures you've got. I'd be happy to show them and describe them.

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February 2010: Soldiers Beach, NSW Australia

Back to Australia this month. It has been an awful summer for rip drownings. Last week two parents drowned in a rip trying to save their kids in Ballina, NSW and a few days ago a father did the same on the South Coast at Lake Conjola. Having said that, this summer is no less tragic for rip drownings than usual. It's just that these incidents are particularly emotional. Nothing changes. Every year someone drowns in a rip approximately every 3 days during the summer here. All on unpatrolled beaches, after patrol hours, or outside the red and yellow flags. I feel like I'm sounding like a broken record.

Soldiers Beach

So this is what the most common type of rip looks like in Australia....a dark gap between breaking waves. This may be an obvious example but spend 5-10 minutes watching the surf before going in for a swim...if you see dark persistent gaps, chances are it's a rip. The problem is...they look like the safest place to swim.

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January 2010: Constantine Bay, Cornwall, UK

I visited the University of Plymouth in the UK in December and Professor Gerd Masselink, a good friend and one of the world's leading coastal geomorphologists, took me on a day tour of part of the Cornwall coast including Perranporth, Fistral Beach, and Newquay. I was blown away. Even though it was a miserable day, the coastline was stunning. Mind-boggingly so. The variety was amazing and it was some of the most beautiful coastal scenery I've ever seen. And there was surf. I knew there was surf in the UK, but it still seemed bizarre to see so many surf shops in these old Cornish towns, not to mention a ton of surfers catching some clean 2 m + winter swell.

The UK also has a rip problem. Not in the winter, because it's far too cold to swim. It's probably far too cold to swim in the summer as well, but hordes of people do and many of them end up getting stuck in rips where they are rescued by RNLI (Royal National Lifeboat Institute) lifeguards. These pictures are from Constantine Bay, rated as one of the most dangerous swimming beaches in the UK in terms of rips. The beaches and rips are a lot different because the tides are so large. Tide range along this coast can be up to 6 m or more which means the shoreline shifts pretty rapidly between low and high tide. The rips sit in distinct channels and only really fire up over a short period of time around low to mid-tide when the water depths are just right for wave breaking and water getting in the rip channels. For this reason, there are often "mass rescue" events where a ton of people get in trouble at the same time. Lifeguards are always shifting the red and yellow flags around as well as sheperding swimmers and waders around with the changing conditions.

Constantine Bay Constatine Bay

The picture with the sign and the arrow shows a rip channel almost exposed at low tide. It's deeper, darker, and very narrow. The other picture shows Gerd standing next to it. It's really not a big deal, but as the tide rises, water depth increases, more waves break on the bars and water starts to flow into the channel. There it gets squeezed and starts flowing faster and if you are not paying attention or aren't a good swimmer, off you go!

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November 2009: Rehoboth Beach, Delaware

I've been working my way down the US East Coast meeting up with people associated with the  Break the Grip of the Rip Campaign . This is the excellent national rip education and awareness campaign that's been up and running in the States for about 6 years. I recently stayed in Lewes, Delaware where Wendy Carey (University of Delaware Sea Grant) organised a workshop on rips for myself and a bunch of regional lifeguards and then took me on a tour of the Delaware and Maryland beaches. This picture was taken from the top of one the local hotels in Rehoboth Beach in Delaware. The weather was pretty dismal with a howling northeaster and record low temperatures, but at least the surf was up (well, only about 1-1.5 m) and we got some great shots of some flash rips.

Reboth Beach

Flash rips are often the hardest rip type to spot as they suddenly pop out of nowhere and only last for a very short period of time (sometimes less than a minute). They appear as streaks of white water with clouds of suspended sediments. The one in this picture is in the middle of the shot and appears as a thin neck pushing out past the surf zone that quickly slows down and turns into a mushroom cloud. Why did it occur? Flash rips form when a group of large waves suddenly break in the same location, momentarily increasing the water level. This results in a sudden "pumping" of water offshore, i.e. the flash rip. What should you have done if you were caught in this one? Nothing at all. If you just relaxed and stayed afloat, the rip would have taken you out the back. A good swimmer would then swim towards the side and then back towards the breaking waves and be brought back to shore quickly. A poor swimmer should just stay afloat and signal for a lifeguard. Of course on this day, the flash rips weren't dangerous at all simply because no-one was swimming.

I'd like to thank Wendy Carey, Deborah Jones, Tim Schott, Steve Pfaff, Spencer Rogers, Katie Mosher, Sandy Sanderson and all the other people from SeaGrant/NWS who have helped organised my rip presentations and workshops and taken the time to meet with me during October. Many thanks also to all the people who attended the workshops. It's been extremely rewarding.

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October 2009: Monterey, California

Well, it's not exactly Monterey. The Monterey Peninsula is basically one big long sandy beach extending north from Monterey to Santa Cruz and there's rips the whole way. In fact, it looks an awful lot like Australia.

Monterey Peninsula

This picture was taken on the beach between the towns of Seaside and Marina by Dr. Jamie MacMahan of the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey. I've been working on rip stuff with Jamie for the last month and he's probably the guru when it comes to measuring rips, not only here, but around the world. He's particularly adept at capturing measurements that no-one else is capable of and his latest breakthrough is throwing fleets of GPS drifters in rips and tracking where they go. His results are pretty significant and show that about 90% of the time, the drifters (and people) will flow around in a big circle without leaving the surf zone and often end up back in shallow water. The message here is that sometimes it pays to just go with the flow when you're stuck in a rip. You can read more about Jamie's research.

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September 2009: Mystery Rip Location

Okay, this picture isn't the best quality. It's an old aerial photograph, but you can still see 5 rip channels heading offshore. They are pretty much the same distance apart and you can spot them by the darkness of the deeper channels compared to the lighter, shallower sand bars. You can also see some curved rip head bars formed by the sand that is carried out by the rips and then dumped when the rip slows down.

Mystery Rip Location

So where's the picture taken? Hmmmmm, could be anywhere in Australia, could be along the Florida Panhandle coast or it could be pretty much any ocean beach in the world with rips. The only problem is, it's actually in Duluth, Minnesota!

It's also not the ocean, it's Lake Superior, the largest freshwater lake in the world. The beach is called Park Point (or Minnesota Point) Beach and is part of the longest bayhead mouth bar in the world. Yep, rips can occur in lakes if they are big enough. You only need wave activity and sand bars. I recently met with Jesse Schomberg (who provided me with this picture) of the Minnesota SeaGrant Program and Dean Packingham of the National Weather Service and they are running an impressive rip education and awareness program for the beach. Rip drownings don't happen often there, but they are treated very seriously. I found it very different from the attitude in Australia where rip drownings are frequent, but there is almost an acceptance and complacency about them.

As it turns out, Great Lakes rips are a big problem, particularly in Lake Superior, Lake Michigan and Lake Erie, and other shorelines where there are sandy beaches. They would be a much bigger problem if you could swim longer than just a few months a year!

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August 2009: Florida, USA

This website is biased towards Australian beaches and rips, but rips occur around the world and are just as much of a problem to swimmers as they are here. Right now it's the middle of summer in the Northern Hemisphere and lifeguards around the United States have their hands full rescuing people in rips. More than 100 people down each year in the US because of rip currents. Dr. Stephen Leatherman is a coastal geomorphologist at Florida International University in Miami and he sent me this picture from a Florida beach taken a few months ago (I think it's somewhere in the Florida Panhandle...there's a lesson ...always write down the details in the e-mail when you download a file!).

Florida Location

It's a good example of a flash rip under high energy conditions. The surf had increased in intensity and flash rips were popping up all over the place. While the rip appeared temporarily as a dark gap between the breaking waves, these rips are very mobile and variable in their appearance. That is why they are particularly dangerous and apparently there were a lot of rescuses along the Florida coast the day this photo was taken.

What is interesting is that this picture could be anywhere...Florida, Australia, South Africa, the Great Lakes, etc. Rips definitely have a lot of characteristics in common no matter where you are.

Dr. Leatherman is also organising the first international Rip Current Symposium in Miami in February 2010. This meeting will bring together rip scientists and educators from around the world.

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July 2009: Burwood Beach, Newcastle

This picture was taken at Burwood Beach which is a "remote" beach just to the north of Merewether Beach in Newcastle, NSW. Strange little beach is Burwood. It's just a 10-15 minute walk south of the very popular Merewether Baths and yet is virtually empty except for a small group of surfers and some nudists. I used it for bodysurfing away from the crowds, which was probably a no-no as there are no flags or lifeguards on the beach.

Burwood Beach

Anyway, the reason why this picture is interesting is that there is a fairly obvious dark area where there's very few breaking waves, a good example of a rip. A recent study by the University of New South Wales and Surf Life Saving Australia incorporated this picture in a questionnaire given to over 400 beachgoers and when they were asked to spot the rip in the picture, 20% said they didn't know what a rip was and about 40% pointed to the wrong place, which means 60% didn't know how to spot the rip! In fact, a lot of people actually pointed at the rip as the safest place to swim!

This was the motivation to focus the research study on trying to figure out the best way to improve people's ability to spot rips and led to the development of the slogan "Don't Get Sucked in by the Rip" which was devised by Julie Hatfield of the UNSW Injury Risk Management Research Centre. I think that is the best educational slogan I've ever heard when it comes to rips as it's preventative in nature. In other words....don't get in a rip in the first place!

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June 2009: The Backpackers Express, Bondi Beach, Australia

Bondi Beach is Australia's most famous beach and is such a national icon, that it was listed on the Australian Natural Heritage list in 2008. It's a great beach and a wacky place in general. Just watch a few episodes of the reality TV show Bondi Rescue and you'll get the general idea. Basically, you either love it or you hate it. Personally, I love it, but usually in the mornings in March and April when the crowds are gone and the water is still warm. It's magic.

However, Bondi can be dangerous. This summer it got a lot of publicity for the shark attack on local surfer Glen Orgias. As horrible as that was, it was the first attack in 80 years and sharks really are not a problem...but they sell newspapers. Much more of a problem is the fact that Bondi usually has about 4-5 rips along the beach, none more famous than the Backpacker's Express at the southern end. It's called this because backpackers (and tourists in general) really have no idea what rips are, jump off the 380 bus, run straight down to the beach, dive into the water and straight into the rip. And off they go. It doesn't help that "Backpackers" is almost ALWAYS THERE. It's a classic example of a permanent headland rip. It's not as funny as it sounds. A huge amount of rescues take place every year in the rip, tourists and Australians alike, and as recently as January, 2007 a doctor from Mongolia, who was about to resume studies at The University of New South Wales, drowned in the rip.

Bondi Beach

In this picture, the rip appears as a clear, seemingly calm, dark channel between breaking waves on the shallow sand bar and the reef.

On this day, the rip channel was oriented offshore in a sort of S-bend direction. You can also see the existence of large ripples within the rip channel itself. Ripples that size are an indication that water is moving fast. You can also see a rip a few hundred metres down the beach. Again it's a classic dark gap between the breaking waves on the shallow sand bars AND you can also see that the rip has eroded the beach creating a little embayment.

The waves on this day were small, but because the channel was so well formed, the rips were flowing pretty fast. Lifeguards will tell you these are the days that most people get into trouble because it looks safe.

If you want to swim at Bondi and don't want to get rescued in a rip, head north to the sets of beach flags in the middle of the beach and at the northern end. Unless of course, you want to end up on Bondi Rescue.

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May 2009: Dixon Park Beach, Newcastle

Newcastle is one of Australia's best kept secrets. It's a 2 hour drive north of Sydney and is the second biggest city in NSW, but unless you actually have a reason to go there, you'll just drive straight by on the Pacific Highway without even getting a glimpse. This is a shame because it has some great coastline and beaches and is a pretty nice place to live as well. Dixon Park is in the middle of an approximately 2 km long beach that is called Merewether at it's southern end.

Dixon Park Beach

Home and home break of one of Australia's surfing legends Mark Richards, Merewether has now been designated a National Surfing Reserve. None of this has anything to do with rips, but for years now I've been giving my Science of the Surf talks at the Dixon Park Surf Life Saving Club because there's often a rip straight out in front. This one is a classic because it clearly shows how "fixed" or "low-energy" rips can be identified by seemingly "calm gaps" between the breaking waves. This one had a longshore feeder flowing from right to left that then angled off into the main rip channel. It wasn't flowing particularly fast because the waves were fairly small and the channel was wide. Rips need a LOT of wave breaking and narrow channels to flow fast.

The most dangerous aspect of this rip is that it looks like the safest place to swim...and it's not. You can always tell it's Newcastle from the ships offshore...one could very well be the Pasha Bulker, which came ashore in a major East Coast Cyclone in June 2007!

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April 2009: Surfers Paradise, Queensland

In case you were wondering, there is absolutely no connection with the rip picture and the actual month! I'm just putting them up randomly. These pictures were taken from the relatively new Q1 Tower at Surfers Paradise. Whereas most skyscrapers are in the middle of big cities and often all you see is smog, this one is unique as it's RIGHT ON THE BEACH and the views are incredible. From this height you can see straight through the water and I wouldn't be surprised if the media has a photographer permanently hunkered down trying to catch the money shot of a man-eating shark close to swimmers. Of course, what they should be focussing on are the rips. Surfers is notorious for large surf, lots of rips, and lots of tourists. A pretty dangerous combination. In the close up picture you can clearly see 3 rips in deeper, dark channels. They are about 200 metres apart which is pretty common for fixed rips along the east coast. The picture showing a longer stretch of beach shows that the rips go on and on and on. It's very difficult to actually avoid a rip, which is why swimming between the flags is your best bet. The Lifeguards on the Gold Coast do an amazing job and pamphlets on rip awareness and beach safety are handed out at the Gold Coast airport and are available in many motel rooms...something NSW doesn't do, but should.

View from Q1 Tower Surfers Paradise Beach
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March 2009: Bronte Beach, Sydney, NSW

Bronte Beach

Bronte Beach is a great beach, but it is also considered to be one of the most hazardous beaches in New South Wales, mostly because it almost always has a rip on the southern end called "The Bronte Express". This was taken in April 2008 during a fairly stormy day and it shows a distinct darker trough, or longshore feeder current, flowing from left to right (north to south) and then diverting offshore into the main part of the rip. You can clearly spot the rip by the dark gap between breaking waves. Due to the energetic wave conditions on the day, although this rip was channelised, it was on the verge of "popping out" and was starting to move laterally up and down the beach, which signifies the beginning of flash rip conditions. You can actually see streaks in the rip and turbulent clouds of water and sand just beyond the breakers in what is called the rip head, where the rip starts to slow down and decelerate.

The scary thing about this picture is that the flags look like they were placed right in front of the rip! The picture is a bit deceptive, because they weren't, but the rip was starting to shift and flash around and the beach was closed shortly after the picture was taken. Not a good day for swimming. Surfing was bad too because of the strong onshore winds creating messy wind waves on top of the swell. The guys trying to soak up a tan must have been English.

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February 2009: Hot Water Beach, New Zealand

Hot Water Beach Hot Water Beach - Warning

The rip of the month for January showed a massive rip on one of Aucklands extremely dangerous west coast beaches. Tragically, only a week after posting this picture, Sonny Fai a player for the Auckland Warriors National Rugby League team drowned in a rip at nearby Bethells Beach. One of his coaches drowned in similar conditions at the end of January on the same coastline.

There are some beaches that are just not safe for swimming. It is hoped that Sonnys drowning, a result of trying to save his younger brother who got caught by the rip but was saved, will encourage people to think twice about swimming outside the flags. If a young, strong and fit professional rugby player can't save himself from a strong rip current, what chance does the average person have?

The rip picture(s) this month shows another rip in New Zealand, but in contrast, this beach looks perfectly safe. Hot Water Beach is a famous tourist destination in the Coromandel Peninsula because at low tide, natural hot springs bubble up through the sand to the surface. The beach is also known for its rips and although the day I took this picture in 1999 was beautiful and calm, the presence of rocks has created a very subtle and weak rip to the left of the main rock. You can spot this rip because as the water flows offshore from the shoreline it meets the incoming water with the waves causing some surface rippling and disturbance. In other words, the surface of the rip looks different to the surrounding smoother water. I took this picture to show that rips can develop around rocks even on a very SAFE LOOKING day.

Now I show the picture during my educational talks because 30 minutes later the man walking in the shallow water had drowned. A 60 year old German tourist, he couldn't swim, got dragged out in the rip, panicked and had a heart attack. Before the accident happened, I took the picture of the signs up warning people about rips in english and in other languages, including German. What this shows is that if you don't understand what a rip is, signs like this are completely useless. He was the second person to drown in on that beach that week and several people drown on Hot Water Beach every year. Amazingly, we went back for a holiday in December 2009 and the same sign was there except now it's overgrown by vegetation! Signs based on text messages only are totally ineffective and don't work....it's as simple as that. They have no educational value at all. This drowning should never have happened.

If you recognise the picture, it was on the front page of the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper on Saturday December 20, 2008.

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January 2009 - Muriwai Beach, New Zealand.

Muriwai Beach NZ

The West Coast Auckland beaches have some of the largest rips in the world and this picture shows several of them. Muriwai receives typical west coast swell with wave heights of 2.5 m almost everyday. The clear gaps heading off at angles are the rips and these would be classified as fixed rips as they sit in deep channels between sandbars. We jumped in the rip opposite the creek entrance in the middle of the beach, floated along the beach for about 300 m before being carried about 400 m offshore of speeds of 1.5 m/s!!! This picture was scanned from a 35 mm slide that was blown out of my slide carousel and into a puddle while I was getting out of my car in windy Wellington so apologies for the quality.

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