Rip tide, also called rip current or (incorrectly) undertow, is caused by strong on-shore winds. They occur periodically when conditions are right and do not last long. The wind causes the water to pile-up (literally, although the water pile up is not visible) against the shore. Where there are slightly deeper channels in the sea floor, or where there is a gap between sand bars on the ocean floor, the water rushes back out to sea.

A rip tide can sometimes be identified from shore due to sand kicked up from the bottom giving an area of the ocean a brownish colour, or an area of foamy, choppy water, though these signs are usually only present at large rip tides. Sometimes, semi-permanent rip tides may exist near permanent fixtures such as piers.

If you are caught in a rip tide, trying to swim directly back to shore will only tire you out quickly and completely. You will move with the rip tide away from shore until you reach the it's natural point of dissipation (called the head). The best way out of a rip tide is to swim parallel to shore until you no longer feel the current pulling you then swim straight for shore, or wait until you reach the head then swim diagonally toward the shore away from the rip tide.

Approximately 80% of all rescues by beach lifeguards involve swimmers caught in rip tides.



references: http://205.67.213.10/Information/Ripcurrent/RIP.htm, http://www.ci.imperial-beach.ca.us/riptide.htm, http://www.sannet.gov/lifeguards/safety/bchsafe.shtml
Battered in body and bruised in spirit I traveled to Florida wearing four layers beneath my heavy winter coat. At the airport my aunt carried my backpack for me, three hours later I woke up to find the sun sinking. At two in the morning my aunt asked if I needed anything else, I shook my head slowly needing an hour when everyone else was sleeping to think.

The next morning I woke to a note that let me know my aunt was buying groceries. Those first few days passed in a swirl of naps, snacks and short stretches of hanging out by the pool. Eventually I ventured outside, I couldn't walk more than a couple blocks at a time however that limited exposure to sunshine felt like real progress to me. Gradually my strength returned as my body continued to heal.

I spent my second Tuesday in Florida poking around in the sand and gathering shells. Back at my aunt's place I slept for ten dreamless hours. Calls from my family and friends kept me going when I felt low. Some of these kept me from my bed but the pool was soothing at night. During the day my skin absorbed natural vitamin D. At the end of week two I found faint tan lines where none had been before.

The longer I stayed in Florida the more I cherished my time at the beach. Sunny streaks of blonde appeared in my hair as it grew. Oil from a recent massage soaked into sunburned skin as I rested in the shade. That night I had to back out of a walk however the day after that we took an hour long bike ride.

Salt water stung my nose when I first started swimming in the ocean. Gradually I adjusted after learning that water renewed my body like few other things could. Three weeks into my stay I discovered that swimming in the ocean is amazing exercise. Softness retreated leaving muscle in its wake. My skin grew darker, my hair lightened further, my journey towards defining the woman I wanted to be had started.

Finding out that the guy I had been seeing had found someone else had left me vulnerable and wounded. Periodically I would cry for no reason other than I missed him. Viewing myself the way I did I tried to think of new ways to win him back. I thought, if only he could see me now. I wasn't as thin as I had been but swimming, tanning, walking and biking had made me stronger and leaner.

Formerly I had wanted vengeance. Frequently I wanted to lash out but then one day I met a woman who introduced me to a friend of hers. Soon I had as many male friends as female ones. Getting over a lover takes time, I still thought about him and the time we had spent together. None of the guys I had met attracted me the way he did and it made me angry that I still dreamt of him.

A month after I had first landed in Florida I was gathering the remains of my solitary picnic together when I saw a child caught in the rip tide. Fortunately for both of us I was able to get him back to shore. His parents thanked me as he coughed and spluttered, the experience took me back to the time I had first seen the ocean and my father had fought the rip tide to get my sister back.

At the end of my six week stay I was a better version of myself. Nothing had been resolved on the romantic level however my body had made tremendous strides towards health. Before I left a guy I had met asked me out. I wasn't sure what to say as we stood on the beach together. I valued his friendship, I didn't want a relationship that wouldn't work and I was scared of what might happen if we started dating.

After a prolonged silence I told him that love and the ocean were similar. I was thinking of my sister and the little boy whose parents I had spoken to when I said that love and the ocean can take things away from you. My next sentence was hard to get out but I flew back home thinking of him instead of the man who had left me when I thought I needed him.

Used wisely the ocean can sustain life. It can also turn on you when you least expect it which is why respecting the ocean is vital to your survival in, on and beneath it. Women who paced the widow's walk know that the ocean can break your heart. Soon after my return home I discovered that love is like the rip tide. Ocean waters can sweep you off your feet just as a new lover can can take your breath away.

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