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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

DANGERS OF THE OCEAN



And the View From the Beach

Last night I drove my mother to the beach before taking her home. It was cold and windy, but the sun had not quite slipped behind the fog bank headed in. When we parked the car we saw two boys to the south frolicking in the waves, deeper than I allowed my children. The one time Joshua went in chest deep I nearly had a heart attack. Of course I thought of the teenager who lost his life last summer at the same spot.

There are signs posted along the beach approaches here warning tourists of what the locals already know. There are rip tides that will suck even the strongest swimmers out to sea and on their way to Japan before they know it. Generally it is the person who goes in to assist a struggling swimmer who ends up perishing so having a parent or grandparent standing on the beach is not assurance of safety. One year five girls got out past the breakers and began to struggle. The grandfather of one of the girls went in to help. The Ocean Park Fire Department managed to get the girls in safely, but grandpa was unconscious when pulled from the water by the Coast Guard. He was Life Flighted to Harborview in Seattle where he later died. Last evening was by no stretch a warm evening and in any case the Pacific Ocean off the State of Washington is always cold. If the rip tide does not get you, hypothermia will.

I watched the boys as I walked the dog and after I got back in the car. Normally we’d sit there and listen to KMUN’s “Where’s My Pajamas?” program. It was nearly time for the show to start and I was relieved that the two boys seemed to be heading in. Then I realized that there were three more males bobbing around in the water and the first two headed back out. All were diving into the waves and very nearly out as far as the farthest breaker. I could not decide if the other folks standing on the beach were the parents or even with these youngsters.

I texted my husband who was on the graveyard shift at Seattle Flight Service and asked what the tide was doing. It was going out. Despite the fact that I have decided opinions regarding child rearing I try to not interfere with people’s parenting styles, but the two people standing on the beach, if in fact they were the parents, didn’t know what they were doing. Then I couldn’t believe my eyes when the male figure moved into the ocean with a very small boy! I dialed 911.

I explained to the dispatcher that while none of the boys or man in the water appeared to be struggling; that I was concerned that the tide was going out and that they were very near to being beyond the breakers. The dispatcher said she would send an officer. To my relief by the time he arrived they were coming out of the water. I explained my concern to the officer who had a little talk with the parents. My hope is that those parents will be more careful of their passel of boys and that someone is around the next time an unwary tourist decides to take a swim. Swimming on the Long Beach Peninsula ought to be confined to the motel swimming pools.

The ocean is a beautiful and powerful lady which is what calls us down to her shore. Her power must be respected. To those of you planning a get-away to the Washington coast, be smart and stay safe.

8 comments:

JosephMcG said...

Wonderful story... I stay on the beach when I go to the ocean...
I don't intend for the outgoing tide or Jaws to get me (da da da da)

Kim Thompson said...

Stephanie:

This is a good warning for vacationers. I spent lots of time on the Washington and Oregon coasts to understand the riptide risk (and I also learned to be watchful of strong waves bringing various bits of debris, like logs, etc. and of "sneaker" waves that are much bigger than normal and come out of nowhere). Surely, folks can enjoy the great ocean beauty and observe some basic safety requirements. It's a balance.

In Hawaii, the locals tell you to never turn your back on the ocean, if you get stuck in a riptide, calmly swim parallel to shore until you can get out of it, and never swim in the ocean alone.

The Pacific Ocean is really amazing and powerful regardless of where you are.

Thanks for the post!

Aloha,

Kim

Stephanie Frieze said...

Good advice Joseph and Kim. I've seen too many swimmers pulled out hurt. Just a week ago a fisherman on the rocks at the south end of the Peninsula was swept off and drown. My father used to fish those rocks. I'm glad I was too young to know how dangerous it was when he went.

EmeraldPrincessOnline said...

August 28, 1999 our dear friend Edie Almeida and her husband lost their beloved son Anthony to the rip current at Ocean Shores. The boys were in their early teens and were only wading in water up to their knees when the rip current swept the sand out from under Anthony's feet, his knees buckled, he fell and was dragged out into the ocean, powerless to fight back against the rip tide. It was a devastating loss to the family -- even with three other young sons at home -- but with Anthony gone it just tore their hearts out. It happened so fast. What was left of Anthony's body was found weeks later by some fishermen off the coast, miles and miles and miles from where he had been dragged in and under.

Educating people -- reaching young people, kids -- about what happens, how it happens, how to combat it, if caught in it (try to swim parallel to the beach instead of against the current), is the only hope to prevent more such deaths.

Until Anthony's death, I had heard the terms "rip tide" and "rip current" and even "under tow" but never really grasped what those terms mean.

It is so important that we teach kids (and adults) the meanings of those terms and not just rattle off the words.

Stephanie Frieze said...

EP, it is just such accident as you describe that I wished to avoid last night. Tourists do not have the respect for these coastal waters that they ought.

Stephanie Frieze said...

It was a sunny, albeit windy, day at the beach today. Tourists' get stupid when it's nice at the beach. Something happened because about 6 PM we heard the Coast Guard jet heliocopter fly in low, circle the neighborhood and go down at the hospital.

Anonymous said...

I just want to say that I had no idea that the ocean was such a dangerous place! I live in Canada, and am used to the beautiful and "calm" waters of our lakes....but when my daughters and I went to Florida last summer, my daughter and I swam well beyond where we should have! My parents were vacationing with us, and as my dad was yelling at us to come back in, we simply laghed at him. After reading this post, I am very thankful that nothing happend to my daughter or to myself for being so foolish!

Stephanie Frieze said...

Best always to check with local people when playing on an unfamiliar beach. I have never been to the East Coast and so know nothing about the currents there and I think that the California coast is not as dangerous as Washington and Oregon. The rip tides and sneaker waves along those coasts are certainly dangerous. Besides staying well inside the breakers and not swimming on an out-going tide, don't ever turn your back on the ocean.