All you need to know about New Zealand

Sea rip currents

31.10.2018 Duckie_on_the_way

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Are you looking forward to discovering places as well as getting new experiences, including those adrenaline-fuelled ones that New Zealand is so famous for? The prices of those activities are not the cheapest, but we understand you do not want to miss out on them. If you're looking for the cheapest ways to have as much fun as possible for a low price then surfing can be a good choice since it is one of the sports that you just need to make the first investment (buying the equipment) and then you can enjoy yourself riding the waves.

If you plan on getting your own surfboard, then your first steps should lead to our basic surfing article that will advise you on how to choose the right surfboard for you and where to find the best surf spots in New Zealand.

Stay safe

Before you first jump in the sea it‘s important that you know, not only how to surf, but also how to behave and how to read the waves, because the ocean hides strong water streams which can threaten your life.

It is surprising how many people have never heard about the danger of rip currents. There are a lot of people dying in them every year. For example just in the UK, about 40 people drown per year. In the USA about 100.

That is the reason why we decided to write a special article about this problem and teach you how to recognize such water currents, how to avoid them and how to behave if you find yourself in one. We prepared this article in cooperation with the Czech surf coach Adam Žáček, who you can meet in New Zealand during the summer.

What does RIP mean?

To describe what a RIP is, it good to imagine "underwater rivers" that pull you away from the beach. The average rip is 15-30 meters wide and can be up to 90 meters long. The strength of a rip varies depending on many factors, such as location, current weather conditions, etc. However, it normally reaches a speed of 9 km / h (15 m / s), which is faster than Michael Phelps (the best swimmer in the world) in his best form, so you can see why getting in (and getting out of) one can be problematic.

How the RIP is created

Rips are primarily formed by the moon’s gravity. That's why they are the strongest during the low tide when the water returns to the ocean. But there are exceptions where the rips are changing all day long, especially due to the shape of the seabed. A perfect example is a popular surf spot on the North Island (NZ) called Piha, where the RIPs change by the minute depending on the direction of the tide. If you ever happen to be there, remember that you should avoid the right side of Lion Rock during the low tide and the left side of Camel Rock during the high tide. Piha is a beautiful place but can be quite dangerous too.

How to recognize the RIP

The easiest way to make sure the water is safe is to ask the lifeguards on the beach and follow their instructions. You can also find beaches without lifeguards, in that case, ask the local surfers or local residents on the beach. But don’t trust everything someone tells you and try to use your head and think before you go.

Several basic rules can help you decide:

  • Rips are at 99.9% around rocks, harbors, and peers - simply larger objects in the ocean. Therefore avoid entering the ocean directly around them.

  • Rips can be best seen from a raised position (you need a bit of experience to read the water) but you can recognize them. The waves are going to break at the sides so you can see "quiet" water between two waves. Another sign is that the water will be cloudy on the surface (the sand from the seabed mixed with the water) and will move towards the ocean.

The biggest danger is the fact that rip can also be found during a beautiful day with small 2ft waves. For a stronger rip, which takes you far from the shore, it will be rich enough for 2-3ft waves.

Instructional Video - How to recognise the RIP

How to behave inside the RIP

First of all, it is important to mention that the best remedy is prevention. But if it so happens and you find yourself in a RIP, we have some advice on how to behave.

  • Never, ever try to swim upstream - as we have mentioned above, a rip is stronger than the best swimmer in the world so all you will manage by doing so is get exhausted and drown.
  • When trying to get out keep swimming at 90 degrees from the rip (if you are a very good swimmer you can try swimming at 45 degrees).
  • Rip is not hundreds of feet wide, so once you feel that you are out, swim straight to the beach, or catch a wave to get back.
  • The second solution which has been highly recommended by all lifeguards since last year is to just float on the surface. Lift one hand as a signal that you need help and wait. In most cases (even if there is no help around), the current will not take you too far away and once you feel it’s stopped, start swimming back again. At first, again keep a 90 degrees angle and then, as soon as you are in the waves (there is no current anymore), swim straight to the beach.​

Real stories

  • Great Britain

It was a beautiful day in July with a small swell about 1.5-2Ft. Around 7 pm in the evening, when the sailors are no longer in service, 3 guys (24-27 years) decided to go for a swim. They entered the ocean beside the huge rock directly into the rip (a huge mistake). No one knows what happened then, however, there was a man walking through the rocky outcrop who saw three bodies on the water surface. He immediately tried to alert surfers who were a few yards from them.

An important fact: everyone thinks that a man drowning will make a lot of noise, but the opposite is true. You will usually not hear much, especially in the waves. So if you ever get in trouble, use the international signal for help and raise your hand above your head.

It was luck that the two surfers had passed a lifeguard course so they acted quickly and helped them. They got all three bodies out of the water and called for help. They resuscitated one of them on the spot and continued to resuscitating the other two until the helicopter arrived. It only took 5 minutes.

In spite of all efforts, one of them died in the hospital.

The story is one year old.

  • Great Britain

A more recent story from the same beach, July 30, 2018 - similar time, bigger waves. A four-member family including two children with bodyboards was pulled into a similar rip. This time, they were incredibly lucky because at that moment the members of the Lifesaving Club were training in the water nearby and saved them all.

  • Scotland

22-year-old Matthew Bryce was surfing when after two hours he decided to get out. But the water, the wind, and the waves had changed with the time. He was drafted by a strong stream that dragged him 13 miles away from the beach, where he stayed on the surfboard. He stayed in the ocean for over 30 hours but survived thanks to a calm mind and his strong wetsuit which kept him warm.

The rescuers could not find him, but in the end, thanks to their experience and knowledge of how the currents could change (direction, strength), they estimated where he should be and searched the area. Such situations where rips pull somebody so far away are not common and several other factors contributed to this story. But as you can see, it can happen. Therefore, always stay strong and try to be calm.

  • Great Britain

Our friend and instructor Adam witnessed how his surfing students were catching calm waves one moment, and 10 seconds later were being carried away by a strong rip (mostly caused by the river that drips into the ocean). Luckily, he was able to quickly react and help to all six people, including a 7-year-old boy, get out safely. There were two other tourists at the same place who had to be rescued by lifeguards.


These stories are just a drop in an ocean of incidents that happen every year around the world. So be responsible and think before you do, it can save your life.

In summary

  • A Rip current is a "strong stream of water" that pulls you sideways or away from the beach and into the ocean.
  • The most dangerous thing here is panic. Once you feel (as a friend of mine described when he was first met with a rip and did not know what it was) an unknown power pulling you away, do not fight it, because it is stronger than you. First of all, calm down, and try to find out which direction it’s pulling you in and swim at an angle of 90 degrees.
  • When you arrive at a new spot, ask lifeguards or locals about rips and other dangers, or look for yourself from a high-up place.
  • A Rip itself is not bad and it may even help a surfer get on a lineup - so you can take advantage of the current and save your strength on your way through the waves or merge and wait until it gets weaker and then start to swim.
  • Rips rise next to the shore (where waves break, so the where you want to be if you want to surf- the waves will almost always have a rip on the sides so you can use that as a free lift).

A few words at the end: Always check the conditions from the beach before you get in the water. It doesn’ mean that there won’t be a RIP in 30 minutes just because there isn’t one now. Be responsible, do not go in the water by yourself and follow the basic rules.

We wish you a lot of fun and lots of conquered waves.

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