Rips dangerous, but simple message saves lives

THERE was an overwhelming response to a rip safety presentation at Tathra Beach on Sunday.

The Tathra Surf Life Saving Club hosted renowned rip scientist Rob Brander and a receptive crowd of an estimated 400 people.

Dr Brander has been researching rip currents and beach safety for more than 25 years, along the way picking up the nickname “Dr Rip”.

He shared his wealth of knowledge with the large Tathra audience on a beautiful sunny Sunday afternoon.

It was testament to Dr Brander’s reputation and his safety message that so many – locals and holiday-makers alike – were willing to take time away from the glorious beach behind them to sit in the Tathra SLSC for his talk.

Even Dr Brander was taken slightly aback by the crowd, saying he hadn’t expected so many to turn up and it was likely a record crowd among those he has spoken to over his many years of sharing his safety message.

However, they were well rewarded for their interest as Dr Brander’s down-to-earth approachability and easy-to-understand “science” of beach conditions and rip currents is bound to save lives.

He said 121 lives were lost on Australian beaches last year and more than 15,000 people rescued – most were due to rip currents.

“Rips kill more people each year than bushfires, cyclones, floods and sharks combined,” Dr Brander said.

However, it wasn’t all doom and gloom, as he said with better knowledge of what to look for and what to do in a rip, comes the knowledge to deal with them easily.

“If you get caught in a rip, don’t panic!” he said.

“Rips don’t pull you under and they aren’t going to take you to New Zealand.

“Don’t swim against it – if you’re a good surf swimmer you can swim to the side towards the whitewater.

“Otherwise try to stay afloat and signal for help.

“If you relax, there’s even a good chance it will bring you back [towards the beach],” Dr Brander said, describing how many rip currents travel in circles – heading just past the first breaking wave before petering out.

That isn’t always the case though, so his best guarantee was not to get into a rip in the first place.

To spot a rip current, his kid-friendly advice was “white is nice, green is mean”.

“There are two things you need to remember; waves break in shallow water and they don’t break as much in deeper water,” Dr Brander said.

“Rips are the rivers of the sea.

“They sit in deep channels and flow in one direction, taking all the water back out to sea.”

He demonstrated what swimmers and surfers need to look for before entering the water, with “paths” of green water where waves aren’t necessarily breaking showing the course of a rip current.

“Spend five minutes watching the surf before going in,” he advised.

“Remember white is nice, green is mean.

“Look for green water with a bumpy surface and look for moving things like seaweed and sticks to see where the currents are.”

To further demonstrate how fast and potentially dangerous rip currents can be, Dr Brander also planned to release purple dye into a rip at Tathra Beach.

Perhaps thankfully, there wasn’t a strong one around on the day, but the movement of the dye certainly demonstrated to those watching from the shore the course and behaviour of beach currents close where they were swimming.

For a handful of children, the novelty of splashing about in purple seawater proved too hard to resist, or perhaps they were feeling more confident about dealing with rip currents after listening to Dr Brander’s presentation.

Tathra SLSC vice-president Jennifer O’Leary said she was ecstatic with the response to Dr Brander’s visit, particularly with the number of children paying close attention (by the writer’s count there were around 40-50 young children seated on the floor at Dr Brander’s feet listening closely and keen to answer his questions).

“There was a really good mix of locals and visitors and I’m happy to see so many kids here as it was a child-friendly talk,” Ms O’Leary said.

“We want everyone to use these skills and knowledge here at Tathra but also have them transferable to other beaches.

“We see all the time people in trouble at new beaches.”

Ms O’Leary of course urged all beachgoers to swim between the flags on patrolled beaches, but was realistic about the fact many swimming spots on the coast don’t have the benefit of professional safety personnel.

“Swim between the flags at all times, but if there aren’t flags there, make smart decisions – and that may mean not swimming at all.”

* For more beach safety information and rip current safety tips, visit Dr Brander’s website, or find Dr Rip’s Science of the Surf on Facebook.

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