When we were brand new to American Samoa we had the scare of a lifetime! What started out as a sunny, beautiful beach day, turned out to be a day that I never want to repeat. We, or rather I, was overly confident in new waters and foolishly put myself and our six year-old son in unnecessary danger.
With Spring Break approaching and families getting ready to head to warmer waters for beach vacations, I felt inspired to share some of the lessons I’ve learned since moving to our island home.
Talk to the Locals
Before you even head to the beach, talk to some of the locals and find out if there are any beaches that they avoid. If you’re staying at a resort or hotel and want to get off-the-beaten-path, go for it, just check with the consierge to see if there are any beaches that are notoriously dangerous. Usually, if you see local families swimming at a beach, you can feel confident that it’s safe.
Watch for Patterns
When you first get to a beach, stand back and look at the ocean. Often times, you can see rip currents and rip tides. Rip current: If the water is clear enough, you can see a break in barrier corral or sand bar, where the current will pull strongly out to sea, escaping through the break. Rip Tide: You can see the water pulling through an inlet toward the ocean. The rip current (or ava in Samoan) is what we got caught in and, believe me, it’s something you want to take seriously!
Don’t Dive in Head First
This was my mistake, without testing the pull of currents, I went in chest-deep to play in the waves, and was sucked out before I knew what was happening. Nate, on the other hand, went out to his knees, felt the strong currents and knew to be careful. Also, undertows aren’t visible from shore, but at knee-depth, you can feel them pulling. Undertows aren’t usually dangerous for adults, but can be too strong for younger kids to stand up against after being pushed over by a wave.
Don’t Turn Your Back on the Ocean
This was a great suggestion from a friend who grew-up in Hawaii. Keeping an eye on the waves coming in will keep you from being creamed by a surprise wave. I’ll add to that by saying, while you keep one eye on the ocean, also keep one eye on the shore to ensure you aren’t wandering too far out.
Being aware of your surroundings is always a good idea. As tides come and go, the water currents can change. Where the water was calm and safe when you first arrived, currents and pulls can strengthen as they move over new sand and corral formations. Also, be aware of what is in the water around you: Jellyfish, Fire Coral, Lionfish, Stingrays, Sharks, Sea Snakes, Sea Urchins. As long as you maintain a safe distance, most of these are perfectly fine to be in the water with, just be aware and know which ones just need space and which ones mean you need to get out of the water.
I tell you these things, not to scare you away or make you paranoid, but to equip you. This way, you can enjoy the beach and the ocean! Once you’ve taken the appropriate precautions, allow yourself to enjoy the beautiful paradise you’ve worked to get to. Get in and play in the water, build a sandcastle, or kick back and enjoy a good book. Just stay aware if you’ve got kids at the beach with you.
Our run-in with dangerous ocean currents turned out okay, but it left us all with a renewed sense of caution and respect for the ocean. If you want to read more about what happened and how we managed to reach safety, check out Our Dark Beach Day.
But first, tell me if I’ve missed anything. Share what lessons you’ve learned and let’s help everyone stays safe this vacation season!
For more information on things to be cautious of at the beach: