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How to survive a riptide or an undertow in the ocean
How would you like to spend your entire summer in Daytona Beach, Florida?
For all intents and purposes it was the perfect summer for a 16-year old boy.
This was a time when everyone went to drive-in movies. The drive-ins were perfect for young couples to get in a little necking and it was an inexpensive way for young families to relax in the cool of the evening while their kids played together out front.
Beach parties were expected to go into the wee hours of the morning.
I have pleasant memories of getting up with the sun and then hopping into the refreshing surf and then into a seaside freshwater shower to complete the perfect awakening.
It was a bad year for jellyfish. In this case it was Portuguese Men-of-War (physalia pelagica). I learned that if you popped them with a stick and some of it landed on you it stung worse than a wasp and for a whole lot longer.
Toward the end of the summer, as hurricanes began to approach, riptides began to appear without warning.
My Uncle Phil had told me that if you ever get caught in an undertow that the best thing to do was nothing. He said that if you got caught you should just relax and hold your breath and hang on until you eventually wound up on the sandbar that created the suction.
Easier said than done
I don’t remember the name of the big hurricane that summer but I remember the perfect bodysurfing waves that it created. I would swim out as far as I dared and could usually find a big enough swell to ride back far enough and long enough to make it worthwhile.
On one of my trips in, as soon as I finished the run and my feet hit the sand everything went crazy. I didn’t realize it at first, but I was being dragged out into the Atlantic Ocean by a monster riptide. It felt like I was a rag doll that had been grabbed by an angry youngster and was being flung repeatedly against a wall.
Don't fight it
I don’t have the words to describe how powerless I felt. There was literally nothing I could do to save myself. Just when I thought I was a goner, I remembered what my uncle had said a few days earlier. I quit fighting it and relaxed every muscle in my body that I could to conserve what little breath I had left.
The tide was rolling me along the bottom like a piece of tumbleweed. I remember my face being smashed against the sand, tearing the skin and then my knees, then my face again. Just when I thought my lungs would burst I felt everything start to slow down. The water was no longer swirling me around. I was able to push up off of the bottom far enough to get that first life-saving gulp of air.
I swam a few yards parallel to the coastline until I found the sandbar just like I had been told. I walked along the spine of the sandbar until I was finally close enough to shore to swim the rest of the way.
This was another one I have to chalk up to God’s providence, because for a while there I wasn't sure that I would live long enough to be able to tell this story to anyone else.
Read about another time when God stepped in, in a life-threatening emergency!
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The Tornado A few years ago, on a hot Sunday afternoon in August, I came as close to death as I ever want to. My family and I had spent the afternoon watching speedboat races on a lake near Big Rapids,...