by Corky Carroll
Last week we touched upon some of the perils of a day at the beach, protecting yourself from the sun, staying hydrated and making it home without becoming a piece of fried bacon. This week I want to go into some if the issues that you will need to deal with once you set foot into the ocean. This is aimed at those of you who are new to going to the beach and new to dealing with the Pacific Ocean. This thing is nothing like a big lake or a swimming pool, it has a mind of its own and can be extremely moody when it wants to be.
First off let’s talk about the ocean itself. Depending on the swell and surf conditions there are currents. The more surf and bigger the swell is the stronger the currents are. Even on days when the surf is tiny there are still currents. Generally speaking, the currents are going the same direction as the swell. If we are looking at a South swell, as is normal in the summer, the direction of the current will be going from the south towards the north. There are some who get all techno and want to tell you the coast goes East and West, but I am not one of those. In my mind if you are looking towards San Diego that is South. If you are looking towards Los Angeles that is North. So, on a South swell the currents go South to North. You can jump in the water and without even knowing it be a hundred yards up the beach in a few minutes. The dangerous part of this, besides losing track of where you are, is that these currents turn and go out to sea. This is called a “Rip.” Once you are stuck in one of these it’s not easy to get out. You need to swim sideways, towards the north side, to get out of the river heading out to sea. Then swim back to the beach. Do not try to swim against the current, you will wear out and then you have a serious problem. We always tell people to stay near the lifeguard towers. No matter how good of a swimmer you are, if you are not experienced in being in the ocean, you can get in trouble very quickly. If the surf is big the best idea is to have fun watching it and stay out.
Then we have sea life. The ocean is a whole other world and home to all kinds of life. Sometimes I think of it as being another planet when you get underwater. Aliens live there. Monsters. And fish. You don’t really need to worry about most of the fish, they are cool and will swim away from you. But, there are a few critters that you might come across that are not all that friendly. The most common along our shores are Stingrays and jellyfish. The Stingray has been around forever and will probably be here after humans wipe themselves out. They like to hang out in the warm shallow waters close to the beach. This is all good unless you step on one of them. If you do they will sting you and there is one solid fact I can tell you about that. IT HURTS. It hurts pretty badly too, enough to make adults cry and call for their mamas, enough to make little kids say words they don’t even know, enough to totally ruin the next couple of hours of your life. It’s not serious, but it’s painful. You need to get your foot, or where ever the sting is, into as hot of water as you can stand as quickly as you can. You need to keep heating the water. It should be so hot that it is almost burning you. This lessons the pain and makes it go away quicker. The normal deal is about two hours, then you are fine. You do not pee on it, that is for sea urchins.
For a jellyfish sting you need to scrub the area with anything that will get the slime left from the jellyfish off of you as soon as you can. Wet sand works great. Or surf wax. If you have a bar of wax in your wax pocket (for surfers) this works just fine. Whatever you can find to clean the spot off will be good, just do it as soon as you can or it will leave a welt. It’s kind of an itchy burnie irritation. The stingray is more like the same kind of pain as a bad toothache. Neither are fun, but the stingray is way worse.
Sharks? Well, they have become more of an issue recently than in the past but in general they are still pretty rare in our waters. They are there though. If you get chomped by one you are probably toast, but maybe not. Best thing is to see a doctor as soon as possible.
Ok, I hope that helps you survive your first days at the beach. Remember to try and use common sense and you will probably be ok.