A ripper beach

The beach means fun, and following advice about rips can keep it that way.

The beach means fun, and following advice about rips can keep it that way.

Challenging outlook ahead. File photo
Local lifeguards - Standing from left: Jack Virtue, Jonty Low, Daniel Scott, Raniera Whakataka, Connor Mitchell, Malik Priestly, Owen Rayner, Fraser Thompson Hewitt, Becky Brooke, Cameron McKenzie, Jessie Bourke, Darryl Fitzgerald. Sitting from left: Georgia Harris, Fletcher Swan, Hoakima Harris-Marino, Tom Dods, Cheynne McCalman, Jayden Brooker, Kane Sefton, William Mulhall.



Rob Brander
Kelly Ryan

In our corner of New Zealand, we are lucky enough to enjoy some of the best beaches in the world. From the sheltered stretches on the bay at Waikanae and Midway to the windswept and sometimes wild shores up the coast, Tairawhiti offers a multitude of sandy places for recreation and to unwind.

Click here to explore our interactive map of local beaches

But they don't come without dangers and responsibilities. Every summer lifeguards tirelessly rescue scores of bathers who find themselves in trouble. Sometimes swimmers are called on to help. And sometimes we lose people.

To the uninitiated spotting a rip can be tricky, and they are an unseen danger.

When you go to the beach stay back from the water at first. Rips are easier to see from a higher position, such as from a dune or at least high on shore. If you spot places where waves aren't breaking, flat spots in the line of breakers, or foam or sediment being pulled offshore, you could have yourself a rip.

It doesn't mean you can't swim at that beach, but you will want to keep well clear of the rip.

If the beach is patrolled, swim between the flags. The safest thing you can do is swim where the lifeguards are. That should be a given, but sometimes you see people hit the beach who seem to purposely avoid the flags, either through ignorance or as a badge of courage.

"If you see someone, or a group of people, entering the water where they shouldn't, go and talk to them. Tell them that it's not safe and why. Tell them to find a beach with red and yellow flags and swim between them because that's where the lifeguards and lifesavers are. In other words, be a citizen lifeguard without even getting wet."
Rob Brander, associate professor, School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences, UNSW Sydney

Caught in a rip

If the sea is rough, or you have doubts, you might be better to have a game of beach volleyball. And if you are doubtful but go in anyway, take a lifejacket or some other flotation device.

If you do get caught in a rip, stay calm. Your instinct will likely be to struggle against the water, and then panic might set in as you see the beach receding. You can tire quickly, and suddenly find yourself in serious trouble.

Try and remain calm, lie on your back, float, and wave to the shore for help. You can float for much longer than you can struggle against a rip.

You want to get yourself out of the rip by swimming parallel to the shore, then following the breakers back in. That may sound easier than it is, especially if the water is rough.

Across the Tasman

Around one person is killed by a shark each year off Australia's beaches, yet on average 20 drown in rips.

"There seems to be a dangerous complacency about the rip current hazard. It almost seems accepted that even though our beaches have red and yellow flags, lifeguards and lifesavers, these drownings, while terrible, are just something that happens. But they shouldn't happen. All rip drownings are avoidable. If you don't get in a rip, you won't drown in one, but most fatalities are due to poor or uninformed decisions about where to go swimming." Rob Brander, UNSW Sydney

And here in Gisborne

"Experience plus a rip equals fun," says Kelly Ryan, Development Manager for surfing in Gisborne.

He teaches kids of all ages how to be safe in the water, and says some kids, with experience and a surfboard underneath them, love rips. They can be taught to use them to get out more quickly to enjoy the surf, that they are better than banging your head against breakers.

But without that experience, the situation can be a very different one.

Explore our interactive map of local beaches

Watch a trailer for Rip Current Heroes, a documentary on rip currents on the National Geographic channel in Australia and New Zealand.

In our corner of New Zealand, we are lucky enough to enjoy some of the best beaches in the world. From the sheltered stretches on the bay at Waikanae and Midway to the windswept and sometimes wild shores up the coast, Tairawhiti offers a multitude of sandy places for recreation and to unwind.

Click here to explore our interactive map of local beaches

But they don't come without dangers and responsibilities. Every summer lifeguards tirelessly rescue scores of bathers who find themselves in trouble. Sometimes swimmers are called on to help. And sometimes we lose people.

To the uninitiated spotting a rip can be tricky, and they are an unseen danger.

When you go to the beach stay back from the water at first. Rips are easier to see from a higher position, such as from a dune or at least high on shore. If you spot places where waves aren't breaking, flat spots in the line of breakers, or foam or sediment being pulled offshore, you could have yourself a rip.

It doesn't mean you can't swim at that beach, but you will want to keep well clear of the rip.

If the beach is patrolled, swim between the flags. The safest thing you can do is swim where the lifeguards are. That should be a given, but sometimes you see people hit the beach who seem to purposely avoid the flags, either through ignorance or as a badge of courage.

"If you see someone, or a group of people, entering the water where they shouldn't, go and talk to them. Tell them that it's not safe and why. Tell them to find a beach with red and yellow flags and swim between them because that's where the lifeguards and lifesavers are. In other words, be a citizen lifeguard without even getting wet."
Rob Brander, associate professor, School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences, UNSW Sydney

Caught in a rip

If the sea is rough, or you have doubts, you might be better to have a game of beach volleyball. And if you are doubtful but go in anyway, take a lifejacket or some other flotation device.

If you do get caught in a rip, stay calm. Your instinct will likely be to struggle against the water, and then panic might set in as you see the beach receding. You can tire quickly, and suddenly find yourself in serious trouble.

Try and remain calm, lie on your back, float, and wave to the shore for help. You can float for much longer than you can struggle against a rip.

You want to get yourself out of the rip by swimming parallel to the shore, then following the breakers back in. That may sound easier than it is, especially if the water is rough.

Across the Tasman

Around one person is killed by a shark each year off Australia's beaches, yet on average 20 drown in rips.

"There seems to be a dangerous complacency about the rip current hazard. It almost seems accepted that even though our beaches have red and yellow flags, lifeguards and lifesavers, these drownings, while terrible, are just something that happens. But they shouldn't happen. All rip drownings are avoidable. If you don't get in a rip, you won't drown in one, but most fatalities are due to poor or uninformed decisions about where to go swimming." Rob Brander, UNSW Sydney

And here in Gisborne

"Experience plus a rip equals fun," says Kelly Ryan, Development Manager for surfing in Gisborne.

He teaches kids of all ages how to be safe in the water, and says some kids, with experience and a surfboard underneath them, love rips. They can be taught to use them to get out more quickly to enjoy the surf, that they are better than banging your head against breakers.

But without that experience, the situation can be a very different one.

Explore our interactive map of local beaches

Watch a trailer for Rip Current Heroes, a documentary on rip currents on the National Geographic channel in Australia and New Zealand.

Surf Lifesaving NZ safety messages

  • Choose a patrolled beach and swim between the flags.
  • Keep children within arms' reach. Never swim alone.
  • Watch out for rips — calm, deep patches or water close to shore that can sometimes have waves breaking to the side. Rippled, discoloured or foamy water with debris can also mean there is a rip.
  • Be smart around rocks, whether fishing or exploring at the beach. Rocky outcrops can be dangerous in large surf. Wear a lifejacket and always face the ocean. Never turn your back on the sea.
  • If in doubt stay out. If you see someone in trouble at an unpatrolled beach, ensure your own safety and dial 111.

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