Hitting the sand and surf is a favorite summer pastime. But before you head to the beach, make sure your family knows how to keep safe. Pulse recently spoke with
Darren Bedolla, MD, emergency medicine specialist at Torrance Memorial Medical Center and avid surfer for 30 years, regarding swim, surf and beach safety.
What type of training can best prepare a person to meet the challenges of ocean swimming with its strong waves and shifting currents?
You need to have an overall level of good cardiovascular fitness as well as sound swimming skills and technique.
How can one judge whether they are ready to swim in the ocean?
In addition to being fit, one needs to have a good understanding of the ocean, great respect for the sea, knowledge of how ocean currents move and how waves break. One cardinal rule to remember is: never turn your back on the ocean.
Are there any differences between the skills necessary for ocean vs. pool swimming?
Having more of both strength and endurance is necessary to swim and surf in the ocean. You need to have enough energy in your tank to be able to get back to shore safely when swimming in the ocean.
What is a rip current?
A rip current is a current of water that pulls you out toward the sea into deeper water. When the ocean floor has a relative depression, it can create a funneling effect. In Southern California, the sand bars often create this type of funnel effect, producing a channel that pulls you out to sea.
If a swimmer or surfer becomes caught in a rip current, what can they do to survive its grip and safely make it back to shore?
Don’t try to swim toward the shore; it will tire you out because you are swimming against the current of the rip current. Whether you are swimming, body boarding or surfing, the best strategy is to swim parallel to the shore if you find yourself caught in a rip current—until you no longer feel its pull. Then you can either stay in the water or head back to shore.
Southern California has very little rain. When we do, pollution contaminates our beaches and ocean. How long do you recommend swimmers and surfers stay out of the ocean after it rains?
Stay out of the ocean for three days (72 hours) after a rainfall. This is especially important after the first heavy rainfall, due to a build-up of pollution in the drains that provide the runoff of excess water that leads to the ocean. Water can look clean but still be contaminated with illness causing microbes (germs that can make you sick). Another important thing to remember is that if you see visible debris in the water, you can be sure it is dirty.
What other hazards exist at the beach and particularly in Southern California?
Taking steps to prevent sunburn is important any time you will be outdoors. Sea creatures can be another method of injury. Stingrays and jellyfish can be a threat, causing stings typically to the feet. The Palos Verdes area reefs have sea urchins that can also impale your feet. These are not too common, but we do see some of these injuries in our emergency department.
Sharks are another hazard. Fortunately, shark attacks are extremely rare in Southern California. However, beaches all along the California coast have seen great white sharks. It is important to learn about the particular risks present at the beach you choose to frequent and swim in.