6 Rules When Visiting a New Beach

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.

VNB locals
A beach where the locals always swim is pretty sure to be safe.

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.

VNB stand
Taking the time to stand back and look at the ocean can give you a good sense of water patterns.

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!

VNB jump
Always check for depth and currents before jumping in.

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.

VNB knee deep
Keep an eye on the waves, so you won’t get taken by surprise.

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.

VNB urchin
The insides of sea urchins are edible, as long as you don’t mind the consistency of snot.

Be Aware

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.

Kids Playing in the Ocean
Time to have fun!

Have Fun

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:

Surfer Today


Avoid Danger By Following these 6 Simple Rules when Visiting the Ocean
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31 thoughts on “6 Rules When Visiting a New Beach”

  1. Talking to locals, Is one I live by. Why, because who better to know what’s great to do than those who live there. I found so many nice little spots not hounded by tourist this way.

  2. Those all sound like great suggestions. You mentioned “as tides come and go”, I would suggest trying to find out those times so that you don’t plunk down your stuff, go for a walk and come back to find your stuff all under water. That’s my only addition 😉 And this is too funny ~~ “The insides of sea urchins are edible, as long as you don’t mind the consistency of snot.” So appetizing! LOL

    1. Yes, that’s true! And you need to be careful anytime you leave your stuff unattended. We left some things on the beach once to swim and came back to find a rat in our bag of chips. What if the rat had helped itself and left before we got back? We would have just eaten those chips, having no idea what had been in them ? Our three year-old actually liked the sea urchin, what does that say about his palate preferences?

  3. Really great tips here, really really appreciated your tip on not turning your back on the ocean. Hope to run into you and your beautiful family sometime soon on the beach!

  4. These are excellent tips! Don’t turn your back on the ocean is a perfect one. I’ve been surprised by a few waves before and it is very shocking!

    1. Yes! We love spending as much time at the beach as we can, but have learned respect and to use due caution before going in the water. Thanks for reading!

  5. You filled this blog post with so much great advice for visiting the beach. It looks like you and your family have the best adventures together

  6. These are brilliant tips! My earliest vacation memories are from a holiday at the coast with my parents when I was about 3.5 yrs old. I was playing in the shallow waves and I suddenly felt an undertow pulling me deeper. Even now I can remember the panic I felt that my parents wouldn’t reach me before I was covered by water. My older cousin was with and somehow he stopped my movement and it only occurred to me now that he was probably watching over me while I played.

    1. Wow! That’s a powerful memory from such a young age! The ocean is so fun and beautiful, but also so strong! I’m so glad your older cousin was there, watching over you. Thanks for sharing your memory!

  7. I love the ocean but it definitely makes me realize how small I am in the grand scheme of things. A wave took me down on my first trip to the ocean, I thought I was going to riwn as it dragged me across the sandy bottom. That got my attention!

    1. Yes! When I was 9, my family went to the ocean for the first time and I was knocked off balance and caught in an undertow, too. It wasn’t enough to hurt me, just enough to give me a really good scare. Sometimes we think we’re invincible and we might need little reminders of our own mortality. I’m sure glad you were okay!

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