How To Survive A Rip Current (And Other Life Crises)

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You’ll find yourself caught in it before you can figure out what happened. Here is all you need to remember: don’t panic. I know that’s easier said than done, but try to relax. The good news is that the current is strongest near the surface, so it’s not pulling you under, just out. And out won’t kill you. The salt will carry your weight just as well in fifty feet of water as in five.  

Eventually a wave will come crashing over you, filling your nostrils with burning salt water and disorienting you as it pushes you down. When it does, surrender to it and let it pull you under. I know we just talked about staying on the surface because under can kill you, and there is no point in sugarcoating this: under CAN kill you. But it won’t if you don’t let it. 

Take a breath if you can. If you can’t, resist the urge to inhale and trust that the oxygen already in your lungs is enough. The wave is a weight class above you and you’re going into this fight tired, so don’t waste energy fighting to the surface, you will only lose. Go against your instincts and dive down instead. The surface is where the hardest churning is, the sort that will fling you around like a rag in a washing machine. Dive down as far as you can to where it is still. Ride it out before you push back up.

After you catch your breath, take a rest. I know you think there is no time for it, but you’ll need your strength to get out of this, so give yourself a break. Spread yourself over the surface, fill your lungs with buoyant air.

Once you have caught your breath it’s time to get yourself back to shore. Like diving down to avoid a wave, the solution is counterintuitive. The current is pulling you out, but it will turn and slow down. Wait for the turn, and then swim at an angle back towards dry land. You won’t be able to get back to where you started, but you’ll get somewhere, and the sand there will seem warm, maybe even inviting.

More waves will come as you make your way, but remember they come in sets. Count them if you don’t believe me, and you’ll see. This too shall pass. And with each wave the dive down gets easier. Soon, you’ll start to find comfort in the quiet of the ocean floor.

Rest. Move forward. Repeat. When you reach the beach you’ll be exactly where you need to be.