So, yesterday’s surf turned into quite the drama… I went to Sandymouth with a couple of friends; a beach I’ve surfed many times before. The surf was small, two foot with the occasional three footer. As soon as we arrived it was obvious that huge amounts of sand had been stripped away by the recent storms. This didn’t bother me unduly, the tide was dropping and the further it dropped out the cleaner the beach becomes.
I had an hour or so in the water before going in and swapping the board for the camera. When I was getting back in I bumped in to an old mate who I hadn’t seen in many years. We had a quick chat and I went back in. The light was great and I managed to grab a few shots I was happy with. By now I’ve been in the water for nearly two hours. The whole time I’ve been in the water with the camera I’ve been swimming against a rip that was dragging me North along the beach.
I’m tired so I head in. Now the rip is now pulling out from the beach. I had to swim with everything I had (difficult with the waterhousing) to get back into the white water and get back to the beach. I’m now absolutely knackered but didn’t think too much about it. Rips are a part of surfing even though this one seemed unusually difficult.
My two mates come back in having had similar difficulties getting back to the beach. However, the previously mentioned old friend is now a long way out… I head back in but the rip is like a river. None of us feel that we have enough strength left to swim out and make it back in. He’s not in immediate danger as he is on a board and wearing a winter wetsuit etc. However if he panics it’s got the potential to get nasty, we make the decision to call the coastguard, something I’ve never had to do before. They say they’ll launch from Bude and be there soon.
Rip currents are caused by two things, or a combination of them. Waves push water up the beach, that water has to get back out to sea, this causes currents heading out from the beach. Similarly as tides move up and down the beach, particularly when the tide is dropping, all that water has to go somewhere. The North Coast of Cornwall and Devon has some of the highest tidal ranges in the world.
Here’s the important bit. If the current is to strong to swim/paddle against, go across it i.e.. at 90 degrees. Most currents are relatively narrow in width and you’ll soon get out of it. Also most rips are pretty short lived, stay calm and you’ll be alright. Rip currents can often be spotted by a different colour water as there is sand being dragged around, the surface is likely to get very choppy.
At this point two local surfers walk down the beach. Having not yet been in they are both fresh and paddle out and help the person in difficulty. Big respect to them they probably ruined their own surf session by using a huge amount of energy to help him get back from a very long way out into the white water where we could assist him.
We then called to let the coastguard to let them know they weren’t needed.
At the end of the day nobody got hurt. But, here’s my conclusion:
The winter storms must have created a deep gully which led to an unusually strong rip, that lasted for an equally unusual amount of time.
Make sure you have enough fitness/knowledge to get yourself out of trouble. Don’t rely on others. Wear a suitable amount of neoprene.
Don’t waste the coastguards time, but they are there if you feel someone is in genuine risk.
When we first paddled out there were three lads swimming in speedos. I’m sure they were having a great laugh. If they’d got caught in that rip best case scenario would have been three cases of hypothermia. Worst case would have been three deaths.