Identifying and Navigating Rip Currents

If you are new to surfing, one of the first skills you will want to develop is the ability to identify a rip current, as well as efficiently getting yourself out of danger. Rip currents can be unforgiving, and finding yourself in a dangerous situation at the mercy of the sea can be a frightening experience. In this article, you will find helpful tips and information to build your confidence in the ocean, especially in the uncomfortable moments when you find yourself in jeopardy while out for a surf.

What to Look Out For

Once you become more familiar with an area, you will begin noticing patterns in the waves and currents moving in that location. When teaching new students, I often identify areas in the water where energy is not consistently moving to the beach. If a wave breaks down into whitewater that pushes everything in its path toward the land, I consider this a better area to learn. Opposing these areas with even, consistently breaking waves are areas where the energy or flow is pulling outwards toward the open sea. This naturally occurring phenomenon is what we would consider a riptide or rip current. 

What to Do When Caught in a Riptide

Most likely, you will experience the pull of a riptide at some point while learning to surf. The most important piece of advice anyone ocean savvy will relay to you is do not panic. When you panic and try to swim straight back to land, the rip current will act as if it were a treadmill tiring you out without allowing you to make any progress toward the beach. First, identify in which direction the longshore current is moving, either north or south. Next, allow the feeder area at the base of the rip current to bring you towards the channel by staying afloat. Once in the channel begin to swim or paddle parallel in the shoreline with the direction of the longshore flow. You will be moving into the impact zone so prepare to let the set waves crash and wash you back to the beach. 

Do Not Put Yourself in Harms Way

During several more memorable surf lessons, the individuals who get into trouble with rip currents are often the most confident in their abilities as athletes or swimmers. If you are new to surfing, keep in mind that no matter how strong you may be, the ocean always out muscles even the most competent watermen. Stay humble, and have a good grasp of your limits, especially while learning to surf. 

If you are new to the sport of surfing and looking for more in-depth training on how to identify and safely navigate rip currents/tides Pacific Surf offers year-round surf sessions covering all the information you need. Book a surf lesson with us today at

For more juicy tidbits on how to advance in the sport of surfing, check out our next article on

Keep it real, keep it salty. 

Written by Caleb Dolloff

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