Jul 28 2008 8:12pm

A Story Plugged Directly Into The Terror Portions of My Brain

The worst thing about being a parent is not that now you're responsible for a little human who one day will expect you to pay $50,000 a year so they can beer-bong Milwaukee's Best and major in Medieval Studies at one of the "Little Ivies"; no, the worst thing is that suddenly you are filled with irrational fears about the well-being of your sprogling, usually involving things that you really don't need to worry about. For example, one of my major fears concerning my daughter is that she will be caught in a riptide and dragged out to sea. Seriously, it keeps me up nights. The fact that I live in Ohio and that the Atlantic Ocean would have to find a way to sneak 600 miles inland without anyone noticing to sweep my precious lumpkin out into the murky depths matters not in the least. Hey, don't look at me like that. I told you it was irrational.

Irrational as it is for me, it's not entirely irrational to fear riptides if you are actually in an ocean; they kill 100 people a year right here in the US, and half of lifeguard rescues are because of them. This is why when I found this article, detailing the science of rip currents and how to keep them from killing the heck out of you, my first inclination was to rush over here and write something about it, all the better to save the rest of you from a briny fate. Not that if you're reading this, you'll be in the ocean at the time (and if you are, dude. Geekery stops at the shoreline). Just consider it useful advice for later.

As for me, I'll be printing it out a couple hundred times and wallpapering the walls of my daughter's room with it. That Atlantic Ocean, she is sneaky. We must remain vigilant. 

(image above from here, offered under GNU free documentation license) 

eric orchard
1. orchard
Oh man. I'm going to be a dad for the first time in October, is there some kind of horror/SF fan affliction I should know about? A heightened paranoia?
2. JennM
It's ok. There are little cartoon drawings at many of the beaches in NC. Maybe you can get one for a decoration for her room?
Constance Brewer
3. Constance
John, it would seem your only defense is to move further inland. I assume you've plotted out the furthest point from both oceans and are busy buying up the real estate... Oh, and you do realize if Athena ever gets wind of this fear, she will demand to vacation at the beach - frequently. And make you watch Shark Week before you go, because you just can't have enough irrational fears when it comes to your kids. :)
4. Harry Connolly
Aaaauugh! I've been sweating over heights and stairs and dogs and rats and undercooked meats and extension cords and the effects earthquakes have on bay windows and tall bookshelves, and now you tell me about rip tides, too!

I leave on a camping vacation in two days! To an island!

Oh, I won't be sleeping tonight.

::Goes off to study the link::
Thomas Wagner
It occurs to me the only imminent death you need fear is your own, at the hands of Athena, once she realizes you've publicly referred to her as a "sprogling" and "precious lumpkin."
6. Donnageddon
My parents live in Ocean Shores, WA. Every year at this small resort town thousands of vacationers show up for the spectacular fire works festival on July 4th. Making it worse is that here in Washington, most beaches are considered to be part of the highway system and hundreds of RVs, SUVs and cars park on the beach emptying their (often drunken) human cargo on the sandy shores.

And every year, some poor soul finds themselves in a riptide and becomes part of the oceans organic matter.

Five years ago a child got caught in a riptide and when her father went after her, he too was lost. But the firework orgy went on as scheduled.

Sweet dreams, John.
Jeffrey Richard
7. neutronjockey
Rip tides don't bother me as much as say...diving off of Guam. I think the ol' Navy training and being a strong swimmer---as well as having done a couple of drift dives (where you take advantage of current) where you relax, let the current sweep you off and surface. Of course you do that in known currents.

Guam scares the bejeezus out of me because the island, unlike Hawaii isn't on a mountain/volcano. It's a column. So a few hundred yards out you can see the waves break. What you don't see beneath the surface is the washing machine-like effect , if you get caught in that it pretty much beats you against the rock and coral wall over and over...and while you're only 10 ft below the surface you can't get out.

I think in Guam alone there are on average 7 to 11 ocean related deaths.

Respect the elements man. Respect.
8. SandiKal
As a native Southern Californian, I know better than to try to swim against a riptide. I avoid the problem altogether by not going out into the water. (That's good protection from sharks too.)

For some reason, your post reminded me of "The World According to Garp" and the kid looking out for the "undertoad." I think it was the same kid that got killed on the gear shift. I swear that book is a real horror novel for parents.
9. Janice in GA
I was almost pulled out to sea by a riptide off the NC coast. I would have been, if a brave soul hadn't swum out and helped me kick my inflatable raft back to shore. I had no idea how to handle a riptide, and I was not a strong swimmer.

So yes, I was lucky. I could easily have been fish food, and I've thought of my near escaoe many, many times.

Be careful out there.
Melissa Ann Singer
10. masinger
Parental fear is not limited to the sf/f crowd, as I socialize with a bunch of people who are not "in" but share these worries to varying degrees. What seems different is that we have a much larger and more detailed awareness of "what might kill you."

We were at Coney Island this weekend and left about two hours before a 10-yo disappeared into a rip current. We spent part of the time avoiding jellyfish which were washing up on shore while playing in the waves and sand and the rest of the time visiting the baby walrus, riding the Flume and the Wonder Wheel, eating Nathan's, playing arcade games, and doing other normal Coney stuff.

My daughter's camp has cancelled all day trips to the beach.

OTOH, kids drown in pools all the time, so there's always something else to worry about. ;-)
James Nicoll
11. JamesDavisNicoll
I got pulled out to sea by a rip tide while swimming off Santa Catarina Island. It was the oddest sensation to swim as hard as I could but see the shore recede anyway. Someone snagged me before I got too far out.

My father was pretty sure outswimming the rip tide was just a matter of determination so he sent one of my siblings out to test his theory. It turns out that if you followed the current all the way to its end, it lead you back to shore at the base of a cliff where it is possible to get back out of the Atlantic provided you time things so a wave doesn't smash you into the rocks.
Eric Tolle
12. ErictheTolle
Rip tides aren't so bad, since you can deal with thm if you know what you're doing. Now, what's really fun are the Sleeper Waves; the huge ones that go higher and further up onto the beach than other waves, and can easily drag a person who thinks they're safe, back down into the ocean. And it's really hard to tell a sleeper wave from the beach.

Oh, and don't forget shore breaks on steep beaches, when waves go straight up and crash down on the beach, instead of curling in properly. The waves may look OK to inexperienced eyes, but if you try to body surf them, you can find yourself suddenly smashed onto the bottom.

And did I mention the sand fleas? Sand Fleas! YUCK!
Irene Gallo
13. Irene
The article says only 6 people die from shark attack a year, which _must_ be wrong. I am absolutely convinced a shark will get me once I'm more than knee deep in the water, and I can’t be _that_ special.

I love my Atlantic ocean - I spend my life hoping between two of it’s islands, Manhattan and Long Island -- but for as much time as I spend near the water, I never go _in_ the water.
Eric Tolle
14. ErictheTolle
Oh like that will help.

Sharks can crawl up on the beach you know, and get you even when you're dozens of feet away. And they can also squeeze into sewage pipes and squirm up trickles of water, so even fresh water lakes and streams aren't safe.

In fact, better avoid water altogether. You never know....
15. RyanA1084
Whoa! I was just at Hanakapiai beach last week, and took a picture of that very sign! Beautiful place, but I didn't tempt fate with the rip currents.

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