‘The ocean is an inherently dangerous place’: Rip currents continue to be a top concern


WRIGHTSVILLE BEACH, N.C. (WNCN) – During the summer season, thousands of people flock to Wrightsville Beach and put their life in the hands of roughly 18 lifeguards that are on the lookout for rip currents.

“Even the best of Olympic swimmers aren’t going to be able to swim against rip currents,” said Lt. John Scull of Wrightsville Beach Ocean Rescue.

Chief Petty Officer Jason Gazillo with Coast Guard said they can suck someone in within seconds.

“The ocean is an inherently dangerous place,” said Scull. “There are things out of our control anytime we’re dealing with mother nature.”

In 2018, rip currents caused more than 600 people to be rescued from the waters off Wrightsville Beach. Experts said there are a few ways to guard against them.

“We look for any type of water that might be moving backwards,” said Lt. Scull.

“A lot of times you’ll see heavier seas, heavier winds, and discoloration of the water,” said Gazillo. “Any type of activity with the waves that don’t look normal.”

“Rip currents have an end,” said Scull. “They don’t continue infinitely off into the horizon.”

While the old adage of swimming parallel to the shoreline still holds true, people are now asked to swim towards the nearest surfer for help.

“Even the strongest of people need to bring flotation with them,” said Lt. Scull. “That is for your safety. If they see you swimming out, and you don’t have any flotation, they’re going to drown you.”

Relaxing may be easier said than done in such a situation, but it could make all the difference.

“In the end result we always want to save a life,” said Gazillo. “Unfortunately, we can’t save every life.”

Nearly every beach in North Carolina uses a different flag system to alert swimmers of the surf conditions. Check the town’s website before heading to the beach.

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