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Dr Rip's Rip of the Month

Every month, we post a rip image from somewhere on the planet. Discover something new about rips!

June 2021 Duranbah Beach, NSW Australia

I think I have now seen the strongest, angriest rip current of my life. In late May I was visiting the border towns of Coolangatta, QLD and Tweed Heads, NSW, which are known for their beautiful beaches and fantastic surf breaks. And thanks to a big swell, the surf was indeed epic, but more impressive to me was the ferocious boundary rip current shown in this picture, which was flowing offshore along the southern training wall at Duranbah Beach. The training wall is basically a jetty keeping the Tweed River mouth open.

Boundary rips flow along both natural and anthropogenic structures such as headlands, groynes, jetties and piers and they are often permanent features. Surfers use them all the time to help them get out the back, but they can be deadly to swimmers.

This picture doesn't do the rip justice so please also try and watch this video It's the fastest rip I've ever seen!

Strongest and angriest rip current Dr Rip has ever seen
Rip of the Month - June 2021. Duranbah Beach, NSW.

Post a picture of a rip current on the Science of the Surf Facebook page and if yours is chosen as Rip of the Month, you win a free copy of 'Dr Rip's Essential Beach Book'!

Pictures can be taken from any angle, on any beach, but must include a short description describing the photo/rip. This is a great idea for kids, students, nippers, parents , surfers and budding marine scientists to get involved in!

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Dr Rip's Essential Beach Book

May 2021 Dreamtime Beach, NSW

Dreamtime Beach was also the Rip of the Month for September 2018, but it deserves another mention. Dreamtime is just south of Tweed Heads, in Fingal Head, and was a relatively quiet location until it became a social media favourite, making numerous appearances on 'Top 10 Australian Beach' and 'Best Secret Beaches' lists - and now it's an Instagram destination.

It's also a dangerous beach with a permanent boundary rip current against the northern headland. That would be the big dark area of water in this picture with people in it. People arrive at the beach and of course it looks inviting to swim, but the beach is unpatrolled and there have been 5 drownings there in recent years.

This picture was taken over the Easter School holidays this year during some fieldwork the UNSW Beach Safety Research Group were conducting on beachgoers visiting unpatrolled beaches. We surveyed beachgoers to find out where they were from, what their swimming ability was like, why they chose the beach and how good they were at spotting rips in pictures and at the beach itself. We also did surveys on the south coast of NSW and at an unpatrolled beach in Sydney's northern beaches. Results of over 400 surveys show that people are not as good as spotting rip currents as they think they are, even though they may be able to spot them in photographs.

We were hoping to capture international tourists who were drawn to Dreamtime, but COVID obviously stopped that from happening, but there were still plenty of Instagrammers arriving and then swimming in the rip! UNSW BSRG student Will Koon can be seen surveying beachgoers at the right of the photo and being a lifeguard from California, spent much of his time watching the water and warning people of the dangers of swimming there!

Dreamtime beach rip visible around the rocky headland.
Rip of the Month - May 2021. Dreamtime Beach.
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April 2021 Pensacola Beach, Florida, USA

This is possibly the best rip current photo I've seen. It was taken from a drone by Taylor Busbee (@coastal.locals on Instagram) and it shows rip current after rip current stacked up along the entire beach in Pensacola Beach, Florida. The rip currents are the dark green gaps which are deeper channels running offshore. A coastal geomorphologist would call this a classic 'transverse bar and rip beach' whereas a lifeguard would see as a very dangerous beach. And it is. LIfeguards did 93 rescues along the beach the weekend before this picture was taken. Pensacola Beach is located along the Florida Panhandle in the Gulf of Mexico and that entire stretch of sandy beaches is notorious for rip currents.

You can clearly see a feature called the 'rip head bar' at the end of each rip current. This rhythmic sand bar denotes the end of rip flow where the sand that the rip is carrying get deposited. You can also see that the shoreline where the rips are is embayed. These rip embayments indicate that the rips have been in the same location for a while and have eroded the beach.

It's also obvious that the rips are fairly regularly spaced along the beach, which is not uncommon when transverse bar and rip conditions occur. These rips look to be about 25-50 m apart and each is about 5-10 m wide, which doesn't leave a lot of wiggle room to find a safe place to swim!

Drone shot of Pensacola Beach showing many rips.
Rip of the Month - April 2021. Pensacola Beach.
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March 2021 McCauley's Beach, Northern Illawarra, NSW, Australia

The 'La Nina' summer on the east coast of NSW is now officially over and it wasn't much of a summer weather-wise, which is perhaps fortunate from a drowning perspective as it seemed like all of our beaches were characterised by multitudes of rip currents.

McCauley's Beach is just north of Wollongong in NSW. It's an unusual unpatrolled beach in this area and has become increasingly popular as a dog friendly beach. In recent years, it seems like unpatrolled dog beaches around here have become some of the busiest beaches around, which raises the question - should there be lifeguards? That would be good for swimmers, but not so good for dogs I suspect.

There are rips all the way along McCauley's, but I took this picture at the south end to show a boundary rip heading offshore against the reef - it's the thin dark green gap. It was pretty strong considering the waves weren't too big. My kids were doing surfing lessons and the instructors (shameless plug because they are great - Fiona and Peter from Essential Surf & Skate Helensburgh) had them paddle out in the rip which re-circulated them around to the left onto the sandbank in a perfect position to catch waves. That's such a great educational tool for kids to experience and use a rip under supervision.

Boundary rips are often permanent rips as they deflect water moving along the beach offshore. It's NEVER a good idea to swim next to reefs and headlands on a surf beach.

Boundary rip on the headland. MacCauley's Beach.
Rip of the Month - March 2021. MacCauley's Beach.
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February 2021 Coledale Beach, Northern Illawarra, NSW, Australia

It's been the summer of rips here on the east coast of Australia as I've seen spectacular rip currents at every surf beach I've visited. While there's been a few drownings, overall we've been lucky thanks to a lot of rain early on keeping crowds down and the fantastic efforts of lifeguards and lifesavers.

Educating people about how to identify rip currents remains an ongoing challenge and there's always been some debate about whether static photos, like the one's I put up on the Rip of the Month, are actually helpful. Often the photos are taken from the perspective of a high vantage point that most people wouldn't normally see the beach from. Some rips are also easier to spot than others. But you have to start somewhere.

Coledale Beach is in the Northern Illawarra region of New South Wales, just south of Sydeny and the Royal National Park and is unusual in that it is backed by a campground. It normally has two boundary rip currents running out along the reefs at both ends of the beach. This year is different as there's a prominent channel rip running straight out the middle of the beach. This picture shows two perspectives of the same rip. The image on the left was taken from the public walking path along the main road and has a bit of height as well as looking at the rip current from the side. Just past beyond the red and yellow flags you can see the narrow dark gap between the whitewater heading offshore. That's the rip. It's been there for weeks and has also carved out an erosional embayment on the shoreline.

The image on the right is the same rip taken a few minutes later, but from the perspective of the sand dune behind the beach. You can hopefully clearly see the dark gap which looks like a green road heading offshore! The lifeguards have placed a warning sign right in front of the rip.

So which perspective is easier to see the rip? Unfortunately, this was a 'classic' rip and not all rips are as easy to identify as this one.

Finally, several research studies over the years have shown that the ability of beachgoers to spot rips is poor and a recent study that I was involved in, which you can read about here, Beachgoers' ability to identify rip currents at a beach in situ shows that many beachgoers who are able to identify rip currents in photographs are unable to do so when asked to identify an actual rip current on the beach. So perhaps using video is a better educational approach than static images?

New Year's Day at Stanwell Park
Rip of the Month - February 2021. Coledale Beach.
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January 2021 Stanwell Park, NSW, Australia

This is the 12th anniversary of the Rip of the Month feature. That's 144 rip current pictures if you're counting, which must represent the largest single collection of rip current pictures in the world! I really hope it's helped some people learn a little bit more about how to spot rips.

The year 2020 has finally ended and while I was expecting a terrible drowning toll on Australian beaches this summer, due to large COVID related crowds, this hasn't happened. That's mostly due to the dismal weather related to the La Nina climate event on the East Coast has kept the crowds at bay. That was true of this picture taken at one of my local beaches on New Years's Day. There's hardly anyone around, but there was a very strong, but also very narrow, channel rip pumping.

The furthest person along the beach in the photograph is a fisherman and opposite them is a narrow dark green 'line' heading offshore between the whitewater. You can see the 'green line' just above the other people in the photo. Although you can't see it in this photo, there was a lot of seaweed in the water and the rip was carrying big clumps of it offshore - another thing to look for when trying to spot rips!

New Year's Day at Stanwell Park
Rip of the Month - January 2021. Stanwell Park.
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December 2020 Coalcliff Beach, NSW, Australia

Like most of us, I haven't had many opportunities to travel much this year due to COVID restrictions so my new rip current pictures are pretty local, in this case the beach near where I live. Coalcliff is an interesting beach as it's a mixed sand and gravel beach, which is very unusual in NSW or even Australia. As a result, it's quite steep and narrow and normally rip currents only occur against the rock reef at the southern end of the beach (a boundary rip) that is outside of this picture to the right. But this year we've had a persistent rip current in the middle of the beach.

It's a tricky one as it's not occupying a distinct deep channel between sandbars, because Coalcliff doesn't have any sandbars at the moment. But I think it represents a topographic low point between submerged rocks at both ends of the beach, and the water is returning seaward through that. To spot the rip you need to look pretty much in the middle of the picture. There's a wide dark gap between the whitewater of breaking waves, but towards the far end of that dark gap there's a narrow section of water that is a bit darker and also has a different surface texture - it's a bit bumpy and rippled. That's the rip. The offshore flow of the rip is acting against the incoming wave motion to create a disturbance on the surface.

There's a lot of talk in the beach safety world about how we should best educate people about rip currents. Should we show them pictures or video? Should we show them perspectives from beach level or above? Without studying this, we won't really have an answer about which approach is most effective. We have just established the UNSW Beach Safety Research Group and we are always looking for new collaborators and students. If you'd like to get involved in beach safety and rip current research, please contact us at

Web site for Rip Current Safety
Rip of the Month - December 2020. Coalcliff beach.
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November 2020

A few years ago, documentary maker Jason Markland from Queensland's Gold Coast produced the full length feature 'Rip Current Heroes' for National Geographic Australia. This was the first documentary ever made about the rip current hazard and is shown on Foxtel in Australia and had a long run being shown as part of the in-flight entertainment for Qantas and Jetstar until COVID hit. I was fortunate to be part of the making of Rip Current Heroes and my research and beach safety education is featured. We also created a free study guide for high school teachers to use to educate their students about rips.

Jason is now making a new documentary on rip currents for the US audience called 'Rip Current Rescue' and decided that the documentary and study guide needed a home, which has turned out to be a new website:

As it turned out, we decided to make this website as educational as possible using clips from Rip Current Heroes as well as my own photos. If you want to learn more about what rips are, how to spot them and how to escape them, this website provides a nice and clear introduction. Plus you can find the actual Rip Current Heroes documentary to watch in the 'School Study Guide' section.

Web site for Rip Current Safety
Rip of the Month - November 2020. New web site for Rip Current.
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October 2020 Towyn Beach, Cornwall, UK

One of the most common types of rip currents are boundary rip currents which flow next to physical structures such as headlands, rock platforms, groynes, jetties and piers. How they form is fairly easy to understand. Basically when water flows along the beach and hits the boundary, it is deflected offshore. Often boundary rips are almost permanent features meaning that they are almost always there and always flowing offshore.

For this reason, it's extremely dangerous to swim near any type of physical structure and the Great Lakes in the US and Canada have big problems with people drowning in rips near piers and groynes. For some reason I don't have too many good pictures of boundary rip currents flowing along groynes so I was pleased to come across the following video by Jay Cooper.

He's at Towyn Beach in Cornwall in the UK and does an amazing job of talking about rip currents and then jumps in the boundary rip and takes you through the process of getting out of it. It's amazing how the rip starts off slowly, but suddenly increases in speed and before you know it, he's well offshore. But he calmly floats and then slowly swims to the side until he can stand up on the shallow sandbar. It's such a great video...well done Jay!

This picture is a screenshot from the video from the perspective as if you were standing on the beach. There are darker gaps of deeper water where the waves aren't breaking as much on both sides of the groyne. Those are the rips and it's a double whammy - so please don't swim anywhere near structures when you go to the beach.

Boundary rips alongside physical structures.
Rip of the Month - October 2020. Towyn Beach boundary rips on eiher side of the physical structure.
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September 2020 Duranbah Beach, NSW Australia

Duranbah Beach, known as 'Dee-Bah' to the locals is the northernmost beach in New South Wales situated north of the Tweed River Entrance and the headland at Point Danger, which marks the boundary with Queensland. It's a great surf beach and like most surf beaches, has rip currents like the one dominating the middle of this photo (the prominent dark gap between the breaking waves).

Being so close to the Gold Coast, it's a very popular beach that tragically saw an international Indian student drown in a rip in late 2017. This drowning really raised a lot of questions about how to educate international students in Australia, and international visitors in general, about rip currents.

The structure to the south of the training walls is part of the Tweed River Sand Bypassing project which is pumping sand building up against the northern end of the beach to the Gold Coast, which has helped create the famous 'Super Bank' surf break. Thanks to Gold Coast based documentary maker Jason Markland for the picture. Jason produced the fantastic National Geographic documentary 'Rip Current Heroes' that I was involved in, which you can watch it on YouTube if you want to learn more about rips. A North American version of this documentary is in development now and will hopefully be out next year.

Dark water seen running horizontally extending from where the surfers are back to the beach.
Rip of the Month - September 2020. Duranbah Beach rip seen as the dark band in the middle.
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August 2020 Fingal Head, NSW, Australia

There are several different types of rip currents that occur on beaches around the world. The most common one that I show on the Rip of the Month are what are known as 'channel' rips as they occupy a deeper channel between shallow sand bars. They are easiest to spot so that's where there's more pictures of them.

Another type is called a 'boundary' rip current which, as the name implies, flows along the side of a physical boundary. This boundary may be a natural headland or reef, or a structure such as a groyne, jetty or pier. I haven't got as many pictures of these, but I was recently in northern NSW visiting Fingal Head (which is an incredibly beautiful spot with amazing volcanic rock formations) and spotted this beauty running out alongside the headland.

There's a bunch of things to know about boundary rips. First, they form in two ways. One is when a longshore current moves water along the beach and then gets deflected offshore when it hits the boundary. The second is when water flows from the region where waves are breaking to where they aren't breaking on the protected side of the boundary (like in this photo). So this is why swimming next to headlands or structures is incredibly dangerous - there's likely to be a rip on both sides most of the time! It's also why you see surfers using them all the time to get out the back.

Another thing about boundary rips is that because they almost permanent, they erode out their own channel so still look like 'dark gaps'. You can see the rip follows the shape of the headland and is actually not that wide, about 5 m or less. But they also tend to flow faster and further offshore than most rips. This one went a lot further offshore than I could capture in this photo.

The other side of this headland is Dreamtime Beach, a social media darling (see my September 2018 Rip of the Month) that has a very strong headland rip and is notorious for drowning and is not patrolled by lifeguards. So if you visit Fingal Head, please be careful, and swim between the red and yellow flags near the Fingal Head SLSC during patrolling season.

Dark water seen running along the boundary of the shore is indicative of a boundary rip.
Rip of the Month - August 2020. Boundary Rip at Fingal Head.
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July 2020 Hot Water Beach, New Zealand

One of my very first 'Rip of the Month' photos was in February 2009 and I have included it here. I took this photo while visiting Hot Water Beach on the east coast of New Zealand's Coromandel Peninsula in 1999.

Idyllic photo of a man bathing at Hot Water Beach, the rock outcrop can be seen in the middle.
From Rip of the Month - February 2009. Hot Water Beach

The beach is a famous tourist location due to it's natural hot springs that bubble up on the beach that allow you to have a spa-like experience. Tragically, the man in the photo drowned not long after the picture was taken. Despite the idyllic and seemingly calm water, he was taken offshore by a very subtle rip current, panicked and drowned and I was involved in bringing him back to the beach. It was a traumatic experience that really began my passion in educating people about rip currents and beach safety. As I later found out, Hot Water Beach is not normally so calm and rip current drownings are not uncommon - it's a tourist mecca and a dangerous beach - not a good combination.

Early this year in February I saw a post on the Facebook page of the Trust Waikato Hot Water Beach Lifeguard Service Inc with some spectacular pictures of Hot Water Beach taken by a drone.

Aerial drone photo of Hot Water Beach, New Zealand. The same rock outcrop can be seen in the centre of the image. To the lower right of the rock outcrop you can see a rip current.
Aerial drone photo of hot water beach courtesy of Jonty Abrahamson

There is a crowd in the middle of the beach digging holes in the sand to make baths, right opposite the rock that appears in my photo. What is most concerning are the pronounced rip currents either side of that rock...right in front of where people are bathing in the hot springs! It's a recipe for disaster. The rips are channelised and appear as narrow green gaps heading offshore either side of the rock and are shaped almost like a boomerang. There is also another larger rip in the foreground of the photo and several more all the way down the beach.

Fortunately the beach is lifeguarded by the Trust Waikato Hot Water Beach Lifeguards Service and they gratefully allowed me to use this image, which was provided by Jonty Abrahamson. If you ever visit Hot Water Beach - and many will once international travel opens up again post-COVID19, please, please be careful. Swim between the red and yellow flags if the lifeguards are on duty and if not...don't go in.

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June 2020 Redhead Beach, NSW, Australia

Can art save lives at the beach? The Smart Beaches program ( aims to use cutting-edge technology to increase safety and improve visitor experience at four beaches in the Lake Macquarie region of NSW (south of Newcastle) and on Sydney's Northern Beaches. Lake Macquarie City Council (LMCC) is the lead organisation behind Smart Beaches and they have also developed an Art Program to educate beach visitors about beach safety. They have recently unveiled a series of fantastic murals at Redhead Beach including this one on the side of the Redhead SLSC next to the lifeguard station, which depicts a rip current, the red and yellow flags, and a lifeguard going in to save someone.

I'm not sure I've ever seen beach safety education using murals before, but it's a very llarge and attractive visual method that will hopefully capture people's attention when they walk past. The Smart Beaches program hopes to assess whether this, and other murals, are effective in this regard. Looks great to me! The murals were created by Daniel Joyce of the Smart Beaches Art Program and the images were provided by Tony Blunden of Smart Beaches/LMCC.

Mural at Redhead Beach to promote beach safety. Mural at Redhead Beach by Daniel Joyce

May 2020 Broulee Beach, NSW, Australia

TIn these COVID19 times, many popular beaches have been closed to the public, but some beaches on the South Coast of NSW often look deserted most of the time anway, like Broulee Beach in this photo. Many south coast beaches are unpatrolled by lifeguards and lifesavers, yet are home to many coastal tourist parks and also have rip currents much of the time. It's therefore no surprise that the south coast is a drowning 'hotspot'. In the foreground of this picture is a deep trough running along the beach that eventually turns offshore into a rip current adjacent to the headland (can't see it in this photo). Further down the beach is a narrow rip current channel that appears as a dark gap between the surf. And you can see several more dark green gaps further down the beach. These are pretty typical conditions for many of the south coast beaches so be careful! It always helps to look at a beach from height (in this case Broulee Head) as it's easier to spot the rips.

This picture was taken earlier this year by Professor Gerd Masselink, a leading coastal geomorphologist from the University of Plymouth in the UK when he was helping launch the CoastSnap station at Broulee Beach with Dr Mitch Harley of the UNSW Sydney Water Research Laboratory. For more information about CoastSnap see

Broulee Beach taken from high from the northern end. Back to top

April 2020 'Rip Current Heroes' Video

Beaches around the world, including Bondi Beach in Australia, are now closed due to COVID19 social distancing measures. It's been such a surreal time for everyone and while there's nothing good about the COVID19 situation anywhere, if you are a parent with kids at home who are looking for something to do - this could be a good opportunity to teach them about rip currents.

Several years ago, documentary producer Jason Markland made 'Rip Current Heroes' for National Geographic. It's a full length documentary that is extremely powerful and educational. There's also a website with extra material including a link to a study guide for students. That should keep the kids busy for a while....and everyone can learn from watching it!

Checkout one of the 50 minute episodes from Rip Current Heroes

You can find more educational materials:

Dr Rip featured in a document by Jason Markland Back to top

March 2020 Merry Beach, NSW, Australia

Many of the rip current drownings that occur in Australia take place on beaches that are unpatrolled by professional lifeguards or volunteer surf lifesavers. When people choose to swim on unpatrolled beaches, the only thing that is keeping them safe is how much they understand about beach hazards such as rips and dangerous breaking waves...or luck. Not surprisingly, this is not a desirable situation!

Several years ago, a student of mine named Campbell McKay published a study in the journal Tourism Management called 'Putting tourists in harms way - Coastal Tourist Parks and Hazardous unpatrolled surf beaches in New South Wales, Australia' See Article Holiday Parks Near Unpatrolled Beaches Could Put Tourists in Harms Way

This study clearly showed that many popular tourist accommodations on the south coast of New South Wales are situated closest to an unpatrolled surf beach that is rated as being hazardous. This picture is of one of those beaches on the south coast - Merry Beach.

Merry Beach is an easily accessible beach for visitors and has a popular caravan park situated virtually behind the beach. However, the nearest beach patrolled by lifeguards/lifesavers is at Mollymook (35 km to the north) or Bateman's Bay (48 km to the south). While beach visitors in Australia are always encouraged to 'Swim Between the Red and Yellow Flags' and to never swim at unpatrolled beaches, it is unreasonable to assume that people staying next to Merry Beach are going to go out of their way to drive those long distances.

While this picture looks idyllic, there are two large rip currents on the beach. There is a boundary rip against the headland and rocks at the northern part of the beach (bottom of photo) and a rip current towards the far end of the beach. There also appears to be another boundary rip at the far end against the rocks. All of these rips occupy deep channels and appear as inviting calm and clear water. In this situation, the saying 'white is nice, green is mean' certainly applies when it comes to rips. The safest place to swim at this beach would be where there is a lot of wave breaking activity and whitewater. But how many people know that?

Merry Beach with two rips and proximity to caravan park Back to top

February 2020 North Cronulla Beach, Sydney, NSW Australia

North Cronulla Beach is a popular beach in Sydney's Sutherland Shire that is the southern part of a much longer beach that extends several kilometres to the north and changes its' name a few times (Wanda, Elouera, Greenhills). Most of the beach is typically characterised by semi-regularly spaced channel rip currents about 150-200 m apart.

I took this picture on January 23, after giving one of my community Science of the Surf talks to the public thanks to Sutherland Shire Council. It was a 40 degree Celsius day and the beach was busy, mostly with teenagers, and the Lifeguards had their hands full keeping people between the flags (which is where most of the people in this picture are). They were particularly concerned about the rip current that dominates this photo as evident by the Lifeguard 4WD situated right at the shoreline of the rip embayment. Lifeguards on jet skis were also making sure that people remained in the flags.

This is a classic example of a channelised rip current that is common under normal, and even gentle, wave conditions. Channel rip currents can persist in the same location for days and weeks and tend to carve out their own embayment into the beach. This rip actually had distinct alongshore feeder channels transporting water into a narrow rip neck that is only about 5-10 metres wide. Flow in the rip current gradually increases from the feeders to the rip neck, where it becomes strongest and eventually slows down seaward of the line of breaking waves (i.e. the seaward limit of the surf zone) and decelerates into an expanding rip head. Most of that water is eventually returned landward across the sand bars by breaking waves.

Large rip at North Cronulla Beach Back to top

January 2020 Bondi Beach, Sydney, Australia

This is an image of Bondi Beach taken on Christmas Day 2019 courtesy of the AAP. Christmas Day is always a major challenge for the Bondi Lifeguards because the beach is packed with people who may not be in the best condition when they enter the water. Keeping everyone safe is a nightmare, particularly when there are rip currents, which are almost always present along the beach.

The most prominent rip current in this picture is the narrow channel of darker water extending out from the middle of the beach. The lifeguards have done a good job of keeping people out of it. Except the surfer who is using it to paddle out. The interesting thing about this picture is that it's taken at low tide, when you could probably stand up in the rip current channel without too much trouble. As the tide starts to come in though, more waves will break across the shallow sandbars and the rip will start to flow faster until at high tide, the rip will likely slow down as the water depths are too deep to promote much wave breaking.

The important lesson here is that rip current behaviour is very much influenced by the tide. Most rips tend to flow faster several hours either side of low tide and slower around high tide, where they may even stop flowing altogether. It's a good reason to pay attention to what the tides are doing on any surf beach that you may visit.

Crowds of people at Bondi Beach Christmas Day Back to top

December 2019 Stanwell Park Beach, NSW, Australia

Poor old Stanwell Park Beach in the Northern Illawarra, south of Sydney, is a repeat offender on this page mostly because I live close by, but it's also notorious for rip currents. It's an extremely hazardous beach and the rip currents and dangerous shorebreak definitely make it a challenging beach. If you ever visit, you MUST swim between the red and yellow flags and if they aren't there, don't go in unless you are an extremely competent ocean swimmer or surfer, and even then I'd think hard about that decision.

This picture is an example of why Stanwell Park can be so tricky. There are two rips in this picture. The first is the narrow dark gap flowing diagonally to the left near the person walking along the beach. This rip is being fed by a longshore feeder current occupying a deeper channel running along the shoreline. The rip has also been there for several days (if not a week or so), as it's carved out a curved rip embayment in the beach.

The second is a monster. Further past that person is another dark gap flowing diagonally offshore....and it goes a LONG way offshore extending a good 20 to 30 m beyond the group of surfers. That's a good 150 to 200 m from the shoreline! And the waves are not that big to be honest, probably about 1.5 m, which is average for this coastline.

This is a classic 'textbook' rip in the sense that it's being fed water by alongshore feeder currents that converge into a narrow, seaward flowing rip neck that eventually slows down as an expanding rip head beyond the surf zone where the flow eventually stops. Do all rips do this? Nope, many re-circulate without flowing beyond the surf zone and a quick flick through many of the previous Rip of the Month pictures will show examples of that.

boundary rip current visible around the metal structure going into the oceam Back to top

November 2019 Anglet, France

If you've scanned through the Rip of the Month pages you'll quickly realise that rip currents are a global phenomenon, particularly on what we call 'surf' beaches, which generally have consistent wave action and various configurations of sand bars, which are ideal conditions for the formation of rip current channels. France is no exception with excellent surf beaches in the south-west Atlantic Landes and Gironde coasts stretching for over 200 kilometres. Rips are very common along this entire stretch of coastline and with up to 4 million visitors a year to the beaches, beach safety is clearly a big issue.

I'm working at the University of Bordeaux at the moment as part of my UNSW Sydney research sabbatical with Dr Bruno Castelle, one of the best rip current scientists around who is involved in various projects relating to beach safety along this coast. This picture from Bruno is from Anglet, just north of the famous beach town of Biarritz. There are two rips in this picture. The obvious one in the foreground is a classic channelised rip that appears as a dark gap, about 10-20 m wide, flowing through the sand bar at low tide. There is also a boundary rip (that is also in a deeper channel) against the rocks and headlands that is narrower, but just as dangerous given the adjacent rocks. There are various terms used to describe rips in French, but the best one seems to be 'courant d'arrachement'. This is a good video in French although it uses slightly different terminology

French coastline with lighthouse on the point. Beach showing a classic channelised rip in the foreground and boundary rip in the background.

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October 2019 Beach Safety Videos

It's the beginning of the beach patrol season in many parts of Australia, so it's a timely reminder to think about beach safety and rip currents if you plan to go to the beach this summer in Australia (or anywhere with waves breaking really). There's a lot of excellent beach safety videos available on YouTube, but here's a couple of good ones that anyone heading to the beach should watch:

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September 2019 Tijuana, Mexico

The rip current this month is a great example of a 'boundary' rip current, which occur against physical structures, such as headlands, rock platforms, groynes, jetties and piers. These types of rip currents are often channelised and therefore appear as narrow dark gaps along the structure where wave breaking is reduced. Their flow is quite strong and can extend significant distances beyond the structure itself.

Boundary rips are sometimes called headland rips, topographic rips, or permanent rips. The reason for the latter name is that as long as wave breaking is taking place near physical structures, there will almost always be a rip current running offshore along the structure - sometimes on both sides.

If waves approach the beach and break, a longshore current will be generated that will be physically deflected offshore by the structure. That's fairly easy to understand. But water will always flow from areas where there is lots of wave breaking activity to areas where there is less breaking wave activity. This means that on the other side of the structure (the downwave and 'protected' side) the water will flow back towards the structure and back offshore. So even the seemingly calm waters on the protected side of a structure can mask strong offshore rip current flow.

The main message here is: never swim next to physical structures regardless of whether they are natural or anthropogenic.

The fascinating aspect of this picture is that the metal wall is separating the border of Mexico (to the left) and the United States (to the right). It therefore acts as a physical boundary, almost like a groyne and rip current flow will be present on either side of the wall. Riding the rip may actually take you into the United States from Tijuana although I wouldn't recommend it.

Thanks to Jonathan Webber, a big name in the drowning prevention world, and manager of Aquasafe New Zealand Limited, for the picture.

boundary rip current visible around the metal structure going into the oceam Back to top

August 2019 Park Beach, Coffs Harbour, NSW Australia

This is an amazing photo of some impressive, if not downright scary rip currents! I have to thank Coffs Skydivers who posted a video of one of their tandem skydives on Facebook. I shared it on my 'Dr Rip's Science of the Surf' page and took this screenshot from it. Looks like a beautiful place to do a sky dive as long as they don't land in the rips (which of course they wouldn't!).

The waves on this day are pretty big and you can see there's a lot of sand being churned into suspension by the breaking waves all along the beach. This sand is ending up in some rip currents, particularly the one at the southern end of the beach (towards the bottom). It looks like the rip flow is starting off in a deeper channel and then being forced 100 m + offshore past the breaking waves. The strength of the current is evident not only by the distance it's flowing offshore, but by how narrow and contained the rip flow is. If you look even further seaward past the leading edge of the suspended sand you can see some faint remains of sand in suspension. This is likely from a pulse in the rip current flow several minutes earlier. Most rips tend to pulse over short periods (30 s to a minute) where they flow faster and further offshore.

Not a good day for swimming and fortunately there weren't many people on the beach. Rip current flow can do two things: it can re-circulate or exit the surf zone. This is a classic rip exit.

View of Park Beach, Coffs Harbour from a sky diving vantage point Back to top

July 2019 Maroubra Beach, Sydney, Australia

Maroubra Beach is one of the three long beaches in Sydney's Eastern Suburbs (the other two are Bondi and Coogee), but is also one of the most dangerous. It's a fantastic beach with great surf, but with surf comes rips and Maroubra has had it's share of drownings over the years despite the excellent efforts of the Randwick City Council Lifeguards and the volunteer surf lifesavers.

I took this picture from the back of the beach on top of the concrete esplanade. Just that little bit of elevation can make a huge difference when spotting rips. The channelised rip is the dark area of water right in the middle of the picture. The fastest flowing part of the rip is also the narrowest section, which is called the rip-neck, and you can see the rip-neck heading offshore through a narrow gap in the sandbar. This one appears to be heading out at an angle, which is something important to remember if you get stuck in one. Not all rips go straight offshore! The beach was patrolled on this day, but the red and yellow flags were situated well away from the rip and therefore out of the picture.

Looking southward at Maroubra Beach dark water in the middle is the channelised rip. Back to top

June 2019 Seal Rocks, NSW, Australia

Seal Rocks is a bit of a surfing and camping mecca on the mid-north coast of New South Wales and thanks to it's geology, has beaches that face in man different directions. This beach is almost directly opposite the main caravan park and campground and it's a lovely beach. But as you move further to the north (left on the photo) it gets increased wave exposure and, of course, rip currents. Peaking through the trees can you see the dark green gap? That's the rip current. As this beach is unpatrolled, you need to be even more aware of how to spot rip currents, but there are usually visual clues if you know what to look for.

Photo framed by the foliage showin a rip in the centre of frame - the dark water. Back to top

May 2019 Lighthouse Beach, NSW, Australia

There are several 'Lighthouse Beaches' in Australia, just as there are about 14 'Shelly Beaches', but this Lighthouse Beach is situated in the Seal Rocks region of the mid-north coast of NSW. It's considered one of the highest wave energy beaches in NSW and has rather a lot of rip currents. At least on this day it did. All the dark channels in the surf zone (area where waves are breaking - the whitewater) are either deep rip current channels heading offshore or alongshore currents feeding the rips. You can also see prominent rip current embayments along the shoreline, particularly further down the beach. There are camping grounds nearby and some accommodation in the lighthouse keepers cottages so it's not completely remote, but there's also no flags or lifeguards. So where would you swim? Somewhere else hopefully unless you're an experienced surfer using the rips to get out the back! There's not a lot of safe places to swim in this picture.

Photo taken from a northern hill above Lighthouse Beach. Top of a heritage roof top in the bottom of frame. Many waves with dark water where rips are. Back to top

April 2019 Coffs Harbour, NSW

The Coffs Harbour Lifeguards have had a tough run the last few years with multiple drownings occurring on unpatrolled beaches in the region. Most of them have been rip current related. They run an excellent Facebook page and are constantly updating it with excellent beach safety educational material and images including this one. I'm not sure what beach it is, and the picture is a wide angle, but it clearly shows a 'dark gap' channelised rip current right in front. It's about 10 m wide and extends right through the surf zone.

It shows why looking at the beach from a vantage point really helps to spot rips. these are also the conditions that often lead to drownings. Beautiful days, the waves aren't that big and the water looks inviting - particularly that 'calmer' area without much wave breaking in the middle. Guaranteed that rip would have been flowing very fast. Thanks to Greg Hackfath of the Coff Harbour Lifeguards for permission to use this photo.

Wide panorama photo showing rip in the centre. Life guard truck on the right.. Back to top

March 2019 Dr Rip's 5 Best Rip Tips

Every summer I give beach safety talks (although there's lots more than just beach safety in them) called The Science of the Surf for several Councils in Sydney.

Randwick City Council was the first and I've enjoyed working with them for the last 15 years. This year they put together this fantastic video based on my talk at Maroubra Beach with some incredible drone footage of rip currents and the following 5 Best Rip Tips:

  1. Think
  2. White is NIce, Green is Mean
  3. Get Perspective
  4. Go With the Flow
  5. Watch the Dye

What do they all mean? You'll have to watch the video!

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February 2019 North Cronulla Beach, NSW Australia

You go to the beach in summer, park your car and walk to the beach entry point. What do you see? Do you see the red and yellow flags and the people swimming between them? Do you see the ‘Danger No Swimming’ sign on the beach? Do you see the nice calm area of water behind it that doesn’t have many breaking waves and looks darker ? That’s the rip and it looks pretty inviting, which is why so many people often choose to swim in them.

You really need to spend some time thinking about beach safety when you go the beach. That’s all it takes. You don’t cross the road without looking both ways and you should never go to any beach – patrolled or not – without spending a few minutes about thinking about where the flags and lifeguards are, whether the waves are big or not, and whether there’s any rips around (assuming you know how to stop them). I’ve been preaching this message for years because it’s simple: always Think About Beach Safety! So keep TABS when you go the beach!

Surf Life Saving Australia has come up with a fantastic new rip current and beach safety campaign this summer in Australia called ‘The Think Line’ encouraging people to stop and think before getting in the water – stop to check for rips, look for other dangers and plan how to stay safe

A view of North Cronulla Beach taken from the small dunes overlooking the beach. Typical summer day. No clouds. Maybe 150 people at the beach. Dark water to the left where a warning sign is located. Back to top

January 2019 Shellharbour South Beach, NSW Australia

Welcome to the 10 Year Anniversary Rip of the Month! That makes it 120 pictures of rip currents (and some videos) on this page….I think it could be a world record! Can you spot the rip current in this picture? It’s the narrow gap of darker water heading offshore just beyond the rocks and where the person is sitting. Given it’s flowing out adjacent to the rocks, this would be what we call a ‘Boundary’ rip current. Almost all structures, headlands and rocks will have some sort of rip current activity next to them so it’s a good reason to avoid swimming next to them.

This is quite an interesting beach. Shellharbour is south of Wollongong, NSW and what you can’t see is an old wharf at Bass Point, which is about a kilometre behind where I took this picture. Over the years, gravel being transported along the wharf fell off, creating some unique gravel beaches, hence the colour and sediment composition of this beach. The breakwalls in the background are also interesting as they are new, having been built as part of a new marina complex to be opened in the future. I wouldn’t be swimming next to them either due to boundary rip currents.

December 2018 Sunshine Beach, Queensland, Australia

Sunshine Beach, as the name suggests, is situated on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast and is the last long beach heading north before you get to the tourist mecca of Noosa. I first visited Sunshine as a backpacker way back in 1992 and remember getting fried by the sun and unable to swim because the water was full of gigantic blobs of jellyfish. Plus the surf was rough and I wasn’t sure swimming was a good idea anyway. At that time in my life, I didn’t know much about rip currents, but they would have been there for sure. It’s an energetic surf beach with sand bars and deep channels – a perfect recipe for rips.

I took these pictures on a visit last month and it shows that perhaps I was wise not to go in the water during my first visit. The beach (and all the beaches along the coast) was stacked up with churning channelised rips running the entire length of the beach. The picture on the left shows a narrow ‘dark gap’ rip. The one on the right shows another ‘dark gap’ channelised rip situated about 150 m to the south. You can see how just how close the red and yellow flags were placed to it. One of the challenges lifeguards face is finding a safe place to swim when so many rips are present along the beach. Just another reminder why it really is so important to only swim between the red and yellow flags on Australian beaches.

Two images of Sunshine beach. Dark water in the middle is where the rip is located. Back to top

November 2018 Playa la Barqueta, Chiriqui, Panama

This month's picture comes to you from a contribution by Facebook user Mar Quez to my 'Dr Rip's Science of the Surf' page and it provides some geographic variability and a reminder that rip currents occur worldwide on any beach characterised by waves breaking across a wide surf zone.

This beach is situated on the west (Pacific Ocean) coast of Panama and is very similar to beaches (and rip currents) I've experienced in Costa Rica. The beaches also have black sand derived from volcanic rocks (and hence nearby volcanoes). The rips in this photo are the prominent dark green gaps that wind their way through the whitewater of the breaking waves. While they are not exactly regularly spaced apart, they occur pretty consistently along the whole length of beach.

While it's easy to spot rip currents from above, it's always much harder to spot from the beach. So if you are vacationing on the west coast of Central America and you visit beaches with careful, chances are there's rips. And there may not be lifeguards.

Aerial photo looking down the beach at Playa la Barqueta, Chiriqui, Panama. Waves showing dark bands on the left. Dark sands and green on the right. Back to top

October 2018

Late last year in response to the terrible rip current drowning toll over the summer, some Australian Fairfax newspapers (The Age, Sydney Morning Herald etc.) did a series of articles on the rip current problem, but the focus of this effort was an online interactive 'How to Spot a Rip' Guide at

This was developed with the help of Surf Life Saving Australia (SLSA), Live Saving Victoria (LSV) and myself and it's a fantastic educational resource. There's a great section at the end that allows you to see where rips are at different beaches. Of course, most of these images are taken from above and it's a whole different ballgame trying to spot a rip from beach level, but it's definitely worthwhile going through the entire resource.

Tweet it. Share it on Facebook. Show it to your kids. Summer is coming in Australia and we don't want another terrible drowning toll over the Christmas holidays.

Also...Fairfax Media won a News Media Award for 'Best Use of Digital Media' for this resource! Congrats!

The Sydney Morning Herald Page for How to spot a rip Back to top

September 2018 Dreamtime Beach, NSW, Australia

Dreamtime Beach is actually the northern end of Kingscliff Beach, which is the second last beach in NSW before you head north into Queensland. In this picture, Dreamtime is in the foreground, the beach beyond it is Fingal Beach and then you can see Tweed Heads and the beginning of Queenslands' Gold Coast.

Dreamtime is unique in that it's a lovely, quiet 'hidden' gem so close to one of the most busiest coastal stretches in Queensland. This has not gone unnoticed by social media, where it often promoted as one of Australia's best 'secret' beaches and even was rated the third best beach in Australia. This is great. Except that it's not 'secret' anymore.

Dreamtime is also not patrolled by lifeguards and has been the scene of several tragic drownings in recent years, often caused by rip currents. It was the focus of the recent documentary 'Rip Current Heroes' that I was involved in.

This picture is from Jason Markland, who produced Rip Current Heroes and it shows just why Dreamtime can be so dangerous. There's an almost permanent rip against the northern headland, and 3 more channelised rips coming down the beach (the dark gaps). So there's 4 rips in just a 500 metre section of beach! The second rip up from the bottom actually extends way offshore as evident by the plume of turbulent water and sand. Should there be lifeguards at Dreamtime? Absolutely, but it's a very controversial topic at the moment.

It's a very complicated situation, but a classic problem in Australia where there are many popular, easily accessible beaches that are both unpatrolled and very hazardous. If you want to learn more about the drowning problem at Dreamtime, you can watch Rip Current Heroes on YouTube

Aerial drone image of Dreamtime beach showing the rips located where there are dark areas. Back to top

August 2019 Playa Hermosa, Costa Rica

What factors impact your choice of decision about where to swim when you go the beach? For many of us, it's the presence of lifeguards or (in the case of Australia) the red and yellow flags. But there are many, many, many beaches and stretches of beach with no lifeguards that are easy to access and look so inviting for a swim. So do you go in or not?

Professor Chris Houser is a a colleague of mine and the Dean of Science at the University of Windsor in Ontario, Canada. He's started thinking about the rip current risk and rip current education in a different way by thinking about the psychology of rip currents. These pictures he took during a student field trip to Playa Hermosa in Costa Rica illustrate this. Both pictures show a rip current (dark) gap. The only difference is that there's no-one around in the picture on the left, whereas there's people in the water and on the beach in the picture on the right? Hmmm....which scenario would you be more likely to enter the water in? 'Herd mentality' is a big deal, which is why even experienced ocean swimmers should think twice about swimming away from lifeguards and near rips (to avoid the crowds) because you never know who might see you and follow your lead.

Photo of Coalcliff Beach with a rip at the centre and heavy swrll. Back to top

July 2018 Bulli Beach, NSW, Australia

Probably the main piece of advice I give to people about ‘how to spot a rip’ is to look for dark gaps of water between areas of breaking waves. That’s because many rips occupy deep channels between shallow sandbars and deeper water is always darker and waves don’t break as much in deeper water. But of course it’s much easier said than done. Look through most of the Rip of the Month pictures on this site and you’ll see most of them are taken from a perspective looking down at the beach. This is helpful if you are actually looking down at the beach…not so much if you are standing on the beach at the shoreline. It’s always harder to spot them from the shoreline.

It recently occurred to me that one thing I always do to spot rips is to look down or up the beach because it’s easier to see rips from the side. So here’s a big SOS RIP TIP – look sideways down the beach to spot rips. The narrow dark gaps seem to stand out better. Here’s some pictures taken minutes apart. The one on the left shows a dark gap between waves and the one on the right shows the same rip from the side just as I was entering the water…if you squint hard, you can see another one way down the beach. Which method do you think is easier?

Photo of Coalcliff Beach with a rip at the centre and heavy swrll. Back to top

June 2018 Laguna Beach, California

One of the hardest types of rip currents to get decent photos of are flash rips. Flash rips tend to occur on flat beaches or on the seaward slopes of sand bars and form when large waves break causing the water level to rise, pushing the extra water back offshore as a narrow rip. They don’t necessarily flow offshore that far or fast, but they are dangerous because they are so unpredictable and only last for a few minutes, before disappearing and reforming elsewhere or sometimes in the same location. They also don’t look like the classic ‘dark gap’ rip, because they don’t occupy deep channels, but rather appear as turbulent, streaky water with clouds of sand moving offshore. However, we don’t really understand flash rips nearly as well as we do other types because of the difficulty in measuring and observing them.

This month we’ve got a video which helps demonstrate flash rips really well, but it also raises a lot of questions. It was taken by Ryan Gates from the California State Lifeguards at Crystal Cove State Park in Laguna Beach, California. What’s interesting with this flash rip is how it formed. The waves aren’t that big at all and break consistently at the shoreline. But it looks like there’s some sort of beach morphology which is focussing the swash from the breaking wave. The resulting backwash is therefore also quite concentrated and flows offshore as a narrow rip. It doesn’t go too far, but if you can’t swim it doesn’t matter. Deep water is deep water. Ryan also confirmed that the beach was very scalloped that day, likely with features known as beach cusps, and that small rips like this were forming in the embayments of the scallops/cusps.

So is it a flash rip or what we call backwash (a swash rip)? An argument could be made for both, but this is definitely a fantastic example of a very different kind of rip that is probably more common than we think. Thanks Ryan and the California State Lifeguards!

If you want to see more videos, check out my Dr Rip's Science of the Surf youtube channel. If you subscribe, I can start to gauge how much interest is out there for more video content!

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May 2018 Coalcliff Beach, NSW, Australia

Coalcliff Beach is quite a unique beach in the Australian context. Located south of Sydney in a region called the Northern Illawarra, it's a small embayed beach bound by the Illawarra escarpment, a very impressive cliff consisting of a sequence of sandstone rock layers (and a coal seam). It's also a mixed sand and gravel beach, with plenty of pebbles and cobbles exposed from time to time. This is unusual as there really aren't a lot of gravel beaches in Australia and the gravel is likely a lag deposit from the eroding sandstone cliff, but may also be related to the old mining activities that used to occur nearby...but I digress!

Coalcliff is a steep beach known for its' strong backwash and while it doesn't have channelised rips between sandbanks very often, it does get rips, usually against the southern rock platform. However, when the waves are big, most embayed beaches develop rips and on this day the large waves created a rip flowing pretty much straight offshore. You can see it as the narrow dark gap between the areas of breaking waves and whitewater. Not great for swimmers (who shouldn't be in the water on days like this), but great for surfers as it provides them with a free ride out the back.

Photo of Coalcliff Beach with a rip at the centre and heavy swrll. Back to top

April 2018 Marina State Beach, California

This is quite a famous rip current picture as it turns out. I took this in 2009 while on research sabbatical in Monterey, California where I was working with Professor Jamie MacMahan of the Naval Postgraduate School. Jamie is more than a legend in the world of rip currents and Marina State Beach is about 20 km north of Monterey. This section of coast has some textbook rips and this one has all the elements. It's got a twin longshore feeder system funneling water into a narrow, offshore flowing rip neck that slows into an expanding rip head just seaward of the surf zone. The channels are clearly visible as the dark water heading straight offshore in the middle of the picture. Why is it famous? Well, it seems to be all over the internet for one, but it's also the picture that helped design the rip current information graphic that is used by both Surf Life Saving Australia and is being considered by the United States for use in their 'Break the Grip of the Rip Campaign'. Hope they use it. It's a classic!

Photo of Marina Beach with a rip at the centre. Back to top

March 2018 Rainbow Beach, Queensland, Australia

Rainbow Beach is a fantastic long beach that literally extends from north of Noosa, QLD up to Fraser Island. It's backed by dunes of multi-coloured sands with varying degrees of oxidation giving it the Rainbow moniker. It's not particularly accessible, you really need a 4WD to access it and Prof Jamie Shulmeister from the University of Queensland is doing some research there and took this classic shot of a rip. It's got it all....nice deep channel between sand bars and breaking waves, seemingly clear water. Perfect example.....from the top of a dune at least. I met Jamie during my first academic job at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand and he has done some fantastic geomorphological work since then. Clearly I taught him how to spot a rip though!

Photo of Rainbow Beach with a rip at the centre. Back to top

February 2018 Coogee Beach, Sydney, Australia

The hardest type of rip current to get a photo of are 'flash rips'. Flash rips are not your normal channelised rip current that flows through narrow and deep channels between sand bars or against headlands and structures. Nope, no channels involved. Flash rips also look different. They don't look like dark green gaps between the whitewater of breaking waves, instead they look like turbulent streaks of water and sand shooting offshore from the line of breaking waves. Like this one at Coogee Beach in Sydney. It's the narrow white area of turbulent water heading offshore in the middle of the picture.

When it comes to rips, I usually say 'white is nice, green is mean', but that doesn't apply to flash rips, in fact it's the opposite. Flash rips form on days when the waves are messy, stormy, or just big in general. A few large waves will break and the build-up of water will suddenly create a return flow of water....that's your flash rip. Often they don't start from the beach, but from the seaward edge of the sand bar, or surf zone. They don't last for long either, maybe a minute or so and can disappear and re-form somewhere else. They are extremely unpredictable and hard to see from the shoreline. There's actually a smaller flash rip at the bottom of the photo. The good news is that they occur most often on days that are not really great for swimming and they don't flow particularly fast. The bad news is that they are still strong enough to take you offshore into deeper water. So don't go swimming on stormy, messy days!

Photo of Coogee Beach with a flash rip in the centre where the white water strip appears. Back to top

January 2018 Stanwell Park, NSW, Australia

This rip of the month is a little different as it's time to talk about how rips flow and how this can influence what you should do if you find yourself caught in a rip current. This image is taken from stills from the National Geographic (Australia) documentary 'Rip Current Heroes' and shows a release of purple dye at Stanwell Park taken by a drone by the University of Wollongong during some filming I was doing with them earlier this year.

The graphics show the basic types of rip current circulation patterns. The image on the left shows that in many cases rip flow will re-circulate in rotating eddies with the water essentially being trapped in the surf zone. If you were caught in a rip current that was re-circulating, probably the best option would be to just relax and float and in a matter of minutes the rip would eventually re-circulate you into shallow water where you can stand up and make your way back to the beach. The image on the right shows that if the rip flows beyond the surf zone (often when a rip 'pulses') then you really only have two options. One is to swim along the beach a fair ways and then back in. This could be quite challenging if you aren't a good swimmer and are already tired and scared. The other option is just to stay afloat and signal for help from lifeguards or surfers or someone on the beach.

The problem is that you have no idea what the rip is going to do. Rip current flow is extremely variable over time and it's impossible for the average person stuck in a rip to know how they are going to circulate. Sometimes swimming out of a rip can work, but only if you are a good swimmer. I still think the best thing to do is just to relax, stay afloat and signal for help. Of course, the best thing to do is don't get caught in a rip in the first place! Always swim between the red and yellow flags on a beach patrolled by lifeguards or lifesavers in Australia (and New Zealand, the UK and South Africa) or swim near lifeguards in other parts of the world. If you do go in the water on a beach with no lifeguards and lots of breaking waves, you really need to spend some time thinking about whether it's safe to swim, if conditions are within your abilities, and whether there are rips or dangerous waves around. Learn how to spot rips! If in doubt, don't go out and if you do, don't go beyond waist depth if you are not a confident swimmer.

Rip Current Heroes will be airing throughout the summer on the National Geographic Channel in Australia and New Zealand, but the only two times I know for sure at this stage are Jan 8 at 8:30 am and Jan 25 at 7:30 PM (both Australian Eastern Time).

Annotated aerial photos showing arrows where the rips are located. Back to top

December 2017 Gold Coast, Queensland Australia

This months rip is a bit special for several reasons. First, it's got arrows and text! Channelised rips are what I believe are the most common type of rip found globally. They occupy deeper channels which helps give them a darker, greener colour. That's because deeper water is always darker and less waves break in deeper water. These rips tends to persist in location for days, weeks and even months and my rip spotting advice of 'white is nice, green is mean' really applies here.

The term 'channelised' rip came from a recent scientific review of rip current types that you can access here:

Aerial shot of a Gold Coast beach with the channelised rips annotated with arrows.

This picture is also special as it's a screenshot taken from an upcoming documentary on rip currents called 'Rip Current Heroes' produced by Jason Markland that will debut on the Australian National Geographic channel this December 20 at 9 PM. It's a fantastic documentary and I am honoured to have been involved with it.

Check out the video preview from National Geographic:

Aerial shot of an inflatable rescue boat with Rip Current Heroes titles from the TV documentary. Back to top

November 2017 Manly Beach, Sydney, Australia

You run down to the beach on a gorgeous sunny day and the waves are small and the water looks clean and inviting. Do you ignore the signs warning of dangerous currents and just run straight in? Do you notice that the rescue board must be there for a reason? Do you think how good it is to have the beach to yourself? Do you jump in that nice narrow dark area where not as many waves are breaking (aka the rip). Or do you walk along the beach to find the red and yellow flags and swim between them?

There's lots of decisions to be made when it comes to taking a swim, but you need to be so careful...rips can occur even when waves are small and often they can be incredibly strong. All lifeguards will tell you that these are the days that people get into trouble, not the stormy ones.

Thanks to John Triantafilis, a colleague and soil scientist from UNSW Sydney for the pic - I taught him everything he knows about rips!

Small waves at Manly Beach, but there is still a rip present in the centre. Back to top

October 2017 Stanwell Park, NSW, Australia

I have to admit, I am struggling a bit to find pictures to keep posting every month. I've used up my own best rip current pictures and it's tricky to find pictures that are a bit different. But yesterday, I was on the beach and this rip current seemed to capture a lot of important messages. It was a holiday weekend and the beach was packed. People were lying on the beach everywhere, including well outside the red and yellow flagged area. The water was cold and so not many people were swimming, but if the people in this picture wanted to have a quick dip, where do you think they would go? There's a fairly narrow area of darker water that starts on the shoreline to the right of the photo that looks good. That's actually a deep channel called a 'feeder' carrying water from along the beach out into the narrow, but fast flowing 'rip neck' that is the dark gap heading offshore. It was one of the strongest flowing rips I've ever seen as well. So it looks like an idyllic scene, but it wouldn't take much for things to go tragically wrong. It's so important to be able to spot rips if you're not going to swim where the lifeguards are!

Rip centre of the beach, Stanwell Park Back to top

September 2017 Porthcothan Bay, North Cornwall, UK

The northern hemisphere summer is ending and unfortunately it has been another bad season for rip current drownings. The UK has had an unfortunate spate of rip current related fatalities the last few years, partly due to how challenging the beach conditions can be. Many of the popular beaches in Cornwall have very high tidal ranges and conditions can change quite rapidly as the waves move up and down the beach. In particular, rip currents tend to suddenly fire up at certain stages of the tide when the flow through the rip channels literally ‘turns on’. The RNLI (Royal National Lifeboat Institute) lifeguards do a fantastic job of monitoring conditions, constantly moving the red and yellow flags around and shepherding bathers and swimmers between them as the conditions change. However, lifeguards can’t be everywhere and even patrolled beaches can be difficult to manage. This picture highlights part of the problem. The flags are at the upper end of the beach, but it’s a very narrow beach and there is a prominent, narrow rip current (indicated by the dark gap between whitewater) heading offshore from the rocks in the middle of the beach. Another reason why you should always stay clear of rocks when swimming. Thanks to Susanna Stevenson who sent me this picture through my Dr Rip’s Science of the Surf facebook page.

Breaking waves at Porthcothan Bay, North Cornwall Back to top

August 2017 Zuma Beach, California, USA

This is a rather famous photograph in beach safety and rip current research circles that was thankfully made available by the County of Los Angeles Fire Department. It’s famous because it’s a fantastic example of what is referred to as a ‘flash rip current’ and I say ‘thankful’ because flash rip currents are very common rip currents, but there are relatively few decent pictures of them. The reason for this is that they are very unpredictable in time and space – what that means is that they don’t last for very long (minutes) and can suddenly develop at seemingly random locations along beaches. They are also hard to spot from the beach because their main visual identified is a plume of sandy and turbulent water heading seaward of the breaking waves. They can only really be seen from above, or from a headland, and even then, they happen so quick it’s often difficult to get a decent photo of them! Flash rips can occur on any type of beach, but their main characteristic is that they are not channelized, rather they are controlled almost completely by breaking waves. The best way to think of flash rip formation is to imagine a sudden group of large breaking waves building up the water level in the surf zone and pumping the water out as a flash rip. They tend to happen during somewhat messy wave conditions and are impossible to predict in location occurrence. This can make them exceptionally dangerous. Zuma Beach is near Malibu and is a popular beach and for a bit of scale, see if you can find the person in this picture!

Aerial view of a flash rip Back to top

July 2017 Thorsminde Strand, Denmark

You might not associate Denmark with beaches, but it may surprise you to know that there are plenty of beautiful beaches that are popular for bathing in the summertime. Many of these beaches, particularly on the North Sea Coast, have sandbars and experience breaking waves and that is basically the formula for the formation of rip currents. Erik Bech is the General Manager for Water Safety of Surf Lifesaving Denmark and he sent me a bunch of pictures of rip currents along Thorsminde Strand (on the North Sea coast). I like this one because it shows that rip currents don’t have to be big, or flow huge distances offshore to be dangerous. Sometimes they just form a gap in the sand bar, but that flow is enough to take you into deeper water, even if it’s only 10 or 20 m from the shoreline. This rip current can be identified by two alongshore feeders, occupying a deeper trough, that feed into a skewed rip-neck channel between the sandbars. It’s only a few metres wide! You can see the different texture of the surface water of the rip as it flows about 5 metres seaward of the gap before stopping. What would be a good message on this beach? As you walk along the beach, avoid the gaps in the sand bars!

Aerial view of white sand of Thorsminde Strand in Denmark. Rip current visible near the centre. Back to top

June 2017 Tottori, Japan

If I made this a mystery location and asked where you thought this was taken, you'd never guess. It could be anywhere. But it's Japan. I've never been to Japan, but I know they have rip currents because the country is surrounded by ocean, has many beaches, and has a surfing culture. Surfing = surf beaches = rip currents. There's also been a long history of very good scientific literature on rip currents coming out of Japan (although mostly in Japanese) and while I know that rip drownings and rescues occur, I'm not sure of the numbers. This picture was sent to me by my fellow Tamarama Surf Lifesaving Club member Guy Waddell and it's from a beach in front of the Tottori Sand Dunes, located on the north-west coast of the main Japanese island of Honshu, facing the Sea of Japan.

As for the rip current in the picture, about two-thirds down the beach there is a pronounced dark and narrow gap heading offshore through the breaking waves. You can also see a scalloped rip embayment at the beach. This is common of channelised rips which can stay in the same location for days or weeks and start to erode the beach. If you look very closely you can actually see another embayment and dark gap rip much further down the beach. If you know anything about beach safety and rip education in Japan, I'd be interested to hear it as I really haven't heard much about what goes on there. Yet they must have lots of rips.

Cloudy day with shallow looking waves. Channelised rip visible. Back to top

May 2017 Jaco Beach, Costa Rica

Back in early April this year I was fortunate to be invited by the Universidad de Costa Rica to take part in a series of meetings and a workshop for government and red cross officials to speak about the rip current hazard in Australia and how we manage it. Costa Rica has a very serious rip current drowning problem, of both Costa Ricans and tourists, and they can get between 60-80 drownings a year. The problem is that there is no formalised lifeguarding service on the beaches. Some beaches have lifeguards, but most do not. A bill is going to be voted on regarding whether a national beach lifeguarding service should be established and I very much hope this is successful.

This picture was taken in front of the Best Western Hotel at Jaco Beach. Jaco is probably the major beach resort destination and is a high wave energy beach with many rip currents and unfortunately many drownings. Professor Chris Houser, the Dean of Science from the University of Windsor in Canada was also there as he is also a rip current scientist and has been instrumental in generating interest in the rip current hazard in Costa Rica. One particular aspect that Chris is interested in is the psychology of rip current drownings and this picture is an example of that. When you leave the resort to go for a swim, what are your eyes immediately drawn towards? Is it the palm tree lined pathway to the ocean or the blue signs on the left? For most, it's the path to the sea. The blue sign warns of beach hazards such as rip currents, but I'm not sure how many people would pay attention to it. Rip drownings are a lot more than the rips themselves, it's how we can most effectively make beachgoers aware of the hazard. It's great that they have this sign in place, but I'm not sure how effective it is.

Wide shot, taken from the air of Watipinga Beach two very visible dark areas showing the location of the rip. Back to top

April 2017, Bondi Junction Bus Terminal, Bondi Junction, NSW, Australia

Last month I showed a picture of a prominent billboard in Sydney’s International Airport showing Bondi Beach with some obvious rips. Well, just the other day I took the train to Bondi Junction Station in Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs, came up the escalator to get a bus and this sign was staring me in the face telling me how to get a bus to Bondi Beach. Lo and behold, there was another picture of Bondi Beach with some prominent rips (the dark gaps heading offshore). Now, they could replace this picture with a slightly better one with more obvious rips, insert an arrow and some text that says ‘Watch out for rips!’ and boom….some easy and free and simple education. People might not know what rips are, but it might get them wondering about them. And what if there was a QR code next to the rip text? Can’t be that hard to do rip education in such a non-threatening way, can it?

Wide shot, taken from the air of Watipinga Beach two very visible dark areas showing the location of the rip. Back to top

March 2017 Kingsford Smith Airport, Sydney, Australia

This rip current is a little unique as it's actually a picture of Bondi Beach inside Sydney's airport. It appears on a billboard that takes up a whole wall as you walk to some of the gates. You can see the departures board (and my daughters head) and the billboard appears several times in the airport. It says 'Share. Snap. Fly'. I have no idea what it means to be honest! However, there are several 'dark gap' rips heading offshore in the picture . There's also people standing in them, but fortunately the waves are very small and it's low tide. I wonder how many thousands of people walk by this picture almost every day? I wonder how many of them know how to spot a rip current? I wonder how simple and easy it could be to have arrows pointing to the rip currents with a simple safety message? Everyone says that educating international visitors about rips is hard...I don't think so. Here's a great opportunity.

Wide shot, taken from the air of Watipinga Beach two very visible dark areas showing the location of the rip. Back to top

February 2017 Watipinga Beach, South Australia

As I live in New South Wales, my pictures tend to be from...well, New South Wales. However, rip currents are fairly prevalent in Australia from Fraser Island on the east coast down and around to just north of Perth on the west coast. At the bottom is South Australia, which as you can tell from the colours in this photo, has some stunning beaches thanks to limestone sediments. Watipinga Beach is a long exposed beach situated about 75 km south of Adelaide. It provides the best 'closest' surfing to Adelaide, but is also a very dangerous beach as it is easily accessible and is characterised by numerous rip currents.

The best example of a rip in this picture is the beautiful and slightly curved, dark gap heading offshore just past the parking lot. In the absence of flags, where do you think people would swim when they walk down the stairs to the beach? Probably in the rip. There are several other rip currents present along the beach....see if you can spot them.

Thanks to Shane Daw for this photo. Shane is the Coastal Risk & Safety Manager at Surf Life Saving Australia and is a bit of a legend in the Surf Life Saving world in South Australia. He has also spent a lot of time in rescue helicopters (where he took this from) and I have the pleasure of working with him on collaborative research and education projects.

Wide shot, taken from the air of Watipinga Beach two very visible dark areas showing the location of the rip. Back to top

January 2017 How to Spot a Rip Current

Unfortunately there has been an unprecedented number of rip current related fatalities in Australia during the Christmas holiday period. The summer hasn't been particularly unusual in terms of weather and wave conditions, but unfortunately sometimes these things tend to happen in clusters for no apparent reason. While there is nothing good about these drownings, it did generate a lot of media attention to rip currents which helps promote greater awareness amongst the beachgoing public.

In particular, this video by Surf Life Saving Australia about 'How to Spot a Rip' received considerable attention . Surf Life Saving Australia actually launched a national education campaign about rip currents back in October with learning how to spot a rip being one of the key themes. Unfortunately it didn't get picked up by the media at the time and not many people were aware of it. So it's good to see such an excellent video getting the attention it deserves. If you don't know how to spot a rip current, you need to spend a few minutes watching this.

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December 2016 Bondi Beach, Sydney, NSW, Australia

Love it or hate it, iconic Bondi Beach is still Australia's most popular beach. It's hard to believe that this 900 m long beach can pack in 40,000 people, but it can (apparently). Generally there's two sets of red and yellow flags patrolled by lifeguards, one at the northern end of the beach where the waves tend to be more gentle, and one towards the middle of the beach. Unfortunately there's never any flags at the south end of the beach, which is where many people end up as the local 380 bus drops them off pretty at this vantage point.

So where would you swim at the south end of the beach (bottom of this picture)? Well, the water looks pretty inviting until you realise that it's a very dangerous 'U' shaped rip formation with one rip flowing offshore against the rocks and one about 50 m up the beach flowing out between the two sand bars. Basically if you jumped in that lovely green water along the beach, you'd soon end up in one of those rips. So it's probably a good idea to make that longish walk up the beach to swim between the flags where the lifeguards are.

Thanks to Professor Bernie Bauer from the University of British Columbia (Okanagan) for giving me this picture he took while visiting a few years ago. Bernie is a Canadian coastal geomorphologist (amongst other talents) and actually taught (and inspired) me when I was an undergrad at the University of Toronto (Scarborough).

Bondi Beach taken from the south end. U shaped green blue water visible in the foreground, showing a rip Back to top

November 2016 Tamarama Beach, NSW Australia

I've been a member of the Tamarama Beach Surf Life Saving Club in Sydney's Eastern Suburbs since 1993 and was honoured to be awarded a Life Membership this year. Tamarama was also where I started giving my Science of the Surf community talks and dye releases back in 2002. So it was a pleasure to be asked by the Club to give one of my SOS talks last week as part of their community beach safety event. After my talk, we did a dye release into the rip current (as you can see in the picture) and had Australian Olympic swimmer (and medallist) Matt Abood jump in the water and demonstrate how you should react and escape from the rip.

It was not a classic rip by any means. One of the club members and friend of mine, Guy Debelle, let the dye go in a small rip at the northern end (bottom of the photo). It quickly went diagonally across the beach and while some it returned to the beach with the waves, most of it drifted south until it reached a rip against the rocks at the far end of the beach and quickly headed offshore.

There's a few lessons here. First, not all rips flow straight offshore. That's why I'm not a huge fan of the 'swim parallel to the beach' escape advice. This was demonstrated by Olympic swimmer Matt who floated out in the rip, tried to swim parallel to the north, didn't get far because he was actually swimming against the current, so he swam the other way and easily got out of the rip because he was swimming with the current. Swimming parallel can be a complete coin toss in terms of choosing the best direction to swim.

On the other hand, someone floating in this rip would have had a chance of getting circulated back safely into the shallow water, but also may have been carried to the south end where they would have been taken offshore.

So what should you do? Learn to spot rips and don't get stuck in one in the first place!

Thanks to Sheridan Nilsson for the photo

Tamarama Beach showing purple dye release. Taken from the Life Saving Club looking south. Back to top

October 2016 Manzanillo, Mexico

This is a classic view of a well developed channelised can't miss the dark gap. Its' too bad not all rips are this obvious. This picture is courtesy of Kevin Munguia and his advisor Omar Cervantes from the University of Colima, who are studying rips in Manzanillo, Mexico. So are this year there have been 9 drownings at this beach alone. He is mapping the location of rips every weekend and is working alongside the Department of Tourism, Committee of Clean Beaches and local lifeguards to promote safe swimming. They have designed a sign showing a child about to swim in a rip current with the text "Identify Rip Currents, Ask Your Lifeguard". The importance of rip identification is clearly gaining momentum globally. Great to see.

Beach photo taken from a vantage point higher than sand level with no flags marking the safe place to swim. Rip visible as the dark blue diagonal where there are is no white water. Back to top

September 2016 Stanwell Park, NSW, Australia

I have to admit, it's getting harder to find my own pictures of rip currents from different beaches so I have to rely on my closest please send me pictures of rips if you can! I'm not too bothered though as this picture could be any beach around the world that has rips to be honest. They often look the same. I took this yesterday (Sept 4) which was Father's Day here in Oz and the weather was beautiful so people went to the beach and even started venturing in for a swim (we just came out of winter!). The problem is, there's no red and yellow flags or lifeguards yet, so if you wanted to go for a swim where I've taken this picture, where would you go in?

It's a pretty important question because if you swam in the narrow zone of darker water in the middle of the picture that looks like a path heading offshore, that was an express train of a rip that all the surfers were using to get out the back. If you'd swum in the whitewater near the right hand side of the photo, you would have been fine. I took this picture standing on the sand dune behind the beach. Once again, a little bit of elevation helps to spot rips and you should always watch the water for several minutes and try to spot rips before jumping in. Always.

Beach photo taken from a vantage point higher than sand level with no flags marking the safe place to swim. Rip visible as the dark blue diagonal where there are is no white water. Back to top

August 2016 Copacabana Beach, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

I’m all about educating people how to spot rips and I realise that an aerial shot from straight above is probably not all that useful – unless you are in a hang glider, but I couldn’t ignore this picture. Nearmap is similar to Google Earth, but seems to have access to higher quality images and the details are incredible. I was taking a virtual trip up the NSW Coast on Nearmap and went to one of my favourite places: Byron Bay. If you visit the Lighthouse at Byron and look south, you’ll see a beautiful expanse of beach called Tallows Beach. It’s a typical NSW beach with decent waves and rips about every 200 m along. This image is quite amazing. It shows a rip current channel running along the beach from the bottom of the image at a strong angle before widening and turning straight offshore. It really is ‘rip current geomorphology 101’.

Most rips sit in channels that are quite narrow and you can gauge the size of this rip channel by the people on the beach. Most rips run at different angles and this one is no exception as it carves a channel through the sandbar and ends up curling around at the end. You can see the puffs of transported sand by the rip as well as a curved ‘rip head bar’ where most of this sediment eventually deposits. The strength of the rip current flow is evident from what we call ‘megaripples’ which sit in the rip channel. Strong currents always shape the sand to form these large bedforms. You can clearly see a ‘dark gap’ between the waves breaking on the adjacent sandbanks, but importantly you can also see that waves still do break in rips. It’s not always a clear dark gap!

The danger of this rip should be obvious. You can start off literally at the shoreline and find yourself floating gradually offshore if you lose your footing. It probably wouldn’t seem like a big deal, but once you start heading offshore, the channel is much deeper and before you know it you are out the back. In this case floating would take you out the back and the curved nature indicates that you may soon be brought back on the shallow sand back. Swimming parallel clearly works too, but only if you do this in the part of the channel that is heading straight offshore and by then you probably won’t make it before ending up out the back. If you start swimming parallel early on, when the channel is angled, if you swim towards the top of the image, you’d be out in a flash. If you chose to swim towards the bottom, you might make it, but you’d be swimming against the current.

So while this is an aerial shot of a rip that you likely won’t see yourself, there is plenty of educational aspects to it.

aerial image before aerial image after
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July 2016 Tallows Beach, NSW Australia

In the spirit of the Olympic games, one of the most famous beaches in the world, Copacabana Beach gets the nod this month. There's a lot of things being talked about with regards to the Olympics, but I'm not sure rip currents is one of them, but perhaps they should be, especially with so many visitors to Brazil heading for the beach. Brazil has a very long surf coast with plenty of great beaches, surf spots and of course, rip currents. Beach drowning numbers in Brazil are extremely high despite the efforts of lifeguards and most of these drownings are due to rips.

Copacabana does not have as much surf as nearby beaches, such as Ipanema to the south, as it lies in a somewhat protected embayment. Nevertheless, when there's waves, there's rips and a search through the archived images on Google Earth shows that yep, Copacabana gets rips too.

If you look closely at the image on the left, in the middle of the beach there are two narrow darker bands heading offshore. These are pretty much opposite the 6th and 12th boardwalks coming down the beach (counting from the left). These rip channels are not particularly big, but they don't have to be. The image on the right is towards the northern end of the beach and shows some crazy circulation patterns heading offshore and curling around. These are very different rips as they are not channelised and instead are driven by the combination of breaking wave action and backwash off the beach.

In general I'd say that Copacabana is a safe beach most of the time, and let's hope that's the case during the Olympics.

Image courtesy of nearmap Back to top

June 2016 North Cronulla Beach, Sydney, Australia

'Cronulla' Beach is the longest of Sydney's southern beaches although it is actually given a bunch of different names depending on what part of the beach you're on (Cronulla, North Cronulla, Wanda, Elouera, Greenhills). It's also got a long history of sand mining, erosion and controversial seawalls. Despite all that, it's a great beach....and a very rippy one. Normally you get a bunch of channelised rip currents along the beach every 150 m or so, but this picture is a little different.

You should notice that in front of the wider part of the sandy beach there's a few dark green gaps in the surf, with some sand plumes and churning, turbulent water heading offshore. Those are rips. Look more closely and you can see this spiralling vortex quite a ways offshore, the remnants of what we call a 'rip pulse'. Rip pulses are sudden accelerations of the rip flow that may last for a minute or so and result in the rip flowing way offshore.

You should also notice that the waves are big and clean with a long wavelength and that they are approaching the shoreline straight on. This type of swell wave is associated with 'sets' of larger waves. When the sets break, the rips tend to pulse. Good conditions for surfing, but not so good for swimming. Thanks to Beth Noel of Sutherland Shire Council for the pic.

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May 2016 Imperial Beach, San Diego, USA

This picture was sent to me by Clayton Jones, an ex-pat Australian living in San Diego and it shows the north end of Imperial Beach, San Diego after 4 months of El Nino weather and surf conditions. I'm not sure of the effect that El Nino has on west coast US beaches, but here on the East Coast of Australia, it tends to result in less storm waves and a lot of sand coming back to the beach. From the looks of this photo, something similar may happen in San Diego. Generally when a lot of sand comes back to the beach, rip channels become more frequent and well established. There's plenty of dark gaps indicating the location of multiple rips. Most of all, there are two strong rips either side of the rock groyne. Another good reason why you should never swim near fixed structures on beaches (piers, jetties). Water flows along the beach, hits the structure and gets deflected offshore. Conditions like this make it difficult for lifeguards and for swimmers alike! By the way Clay runs a YMCA surf camp for kids in San Diego. Looks like a great venture

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April 2016 Stanwell Park, NSW, Australia

Back to my local stomping grounds again for this months picture. I took this shot from a viewpoint called Bald Hill. It's known for its' amazing vistas and as a jump off point for hangliders, but it also provides an amazing birds eye view of rip currents. A research camera installed here monitoring rip behaviour every day would be fantastic.

There was a fairly big debate a few years ago about whether rips re-circulate within the surf zone (area of breaking waves) without going far offshore or whether they flow well beyond the breaking waves. Well, the truth is that they do both. But perhaps not always as far as the rip in this picture. Can you see it? Right in the middle of the photo is a plume of murky water heading out from the whitewater, literally like a narrow road, before it slows down and expands in what we call a 'rip head'. But it's a LONG way offshore and the waves weren't even that big. So what's happened? I can't be sure, but I expect a large group of waves (called a wave set) came in, broke, added extra water which piled up and the rip suddenly accelerated offshore. It's called a rip pulse and it only lasts for a minute or less.

The interesting thing about this picture is that the plume is heading offshore just offset of a noticeable dark gap rip current channel just below it. You'd expect the rip flow to come right out of the rip channel, but it hasn't. This could be more evidence that wave sets created a rip pulse. Or it could be that rip currents are still very complex and there is much we still don't understand! But one thing is for sure. Staying afloat in the hope that the rip would re-circulate you back to the beach wouldn't have been a good strategy in this rip!

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March 2016 Tel Aviv, Israel

This months' location is a little bit different and certainly a little unexpected. I don't know much about beaches in Israel other than that they obviously had some and that some early rip current studies were done there in the 1980's. But I'd never seen a picture of one until I was contacted by some members of Israel Surf Life Saving who are visiting Australia doing some training. As it turns out there is a big rip current drowning problem along Israeli beaches and it's fairly complicated as there's all sorts of different cultures with different beach behaviour involved. After the meeting I did a Google image search for 'Israel beaches' and this picture came up. It's a bit fuzzy, but guess what you see? Two very narrow, but distinct rip current channels in the foreground. Once again,these channelised 'dark gap' rip currents are similar to rips you find around the world. You might not think that Mediterranean beaches have many rips, but Israel is on the eastern end of the Med and has a very long fetch when winds are from the west. Certainly enough to generate decent sized waves...and rips.

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February 2016 Narrabeen Beach, Sydney, Australia

After 7 years of putting up Rip of the Month pictures it's about time that I showed rips from one of the more famous 'rip' beaches in the world, Narrabeen Beach on Sydney's northern beaches. It's not that Narrabeen has more rips, or more dangerous rips, than anywhere else, but it has been the focal point of scientific beach research for over 40 years and what we have learned from this beach has formed the basis of much of what we know about global beach behaviour today. Professor Andy Short of the Coastal Studies Unit at Sydney University first started doing daily sketches of the beach and rip locations as well as monthly beach surveys in the 1970's. In 1985 he published the first real scientific paper that described different types of rip currents.

Eventually his survey program evolved with technology and was handed over to a PhD student Mitch Harley who started surveying the beach using RTK-GPS. More information was gathered from a video camera that provides daily time exposures of the beach (like the one shown here) that clearly shows the location of breaking waves (whitewater) and the rip currents (dark gaps). Sooooo much great stuff has come out of the work of Andy, Mitch and the Water Research Laboratory. If you are keen to learn more check out their coastal monitoring work. Mitch posted this picture on the UNSW WRL Facebook page so I know he won't mind me sharing!

But basically Narrabeen is very typical of beaches found along the south-east coast of Australia. The surf zone is dominated by sandbars and troughs which shift around, usually forming a series of rips from time to time. There's seven rips I can see in this picture. They are small, but pretty close together so not much room for error if you don't know much about rips and decide to go swimming outside of the flags!

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January 2016 Stanwell Park, NSW, Australia

I use this beach a lot (mostly because it's where I live), but it's also like a rip factory. I have seen every type of rip there is on this beach so it's perfect for educational purposes. It's Christmas here in Australia and we always seem to get big wave conditions over the holidays keeping the lifeguards busy. This year is no exception. And with big waves, comes big rips. The bad news is that these rips flow a long way offshore and are very dangerous. The good news is that most of the beaches are closed for swimming so no-one is getting caught in them!

When waves get big and messy, rip spotting becomes harder. If you've got a keen eye, on the picture on the left you should be able to see a few narrow, dark green gaps heading offshore through the whitewater. These are the rips occupying deeper channels. With so much water coming in with the waves, there's clearly a lot more water moving seaward at very high speeds. Seaward of the whitewater (the surf zone), you should also be able to see streaks of sandy water heading offshore. This is the strong rip flow extending offshore beyond the waves. You can see these parts of the rips better on the zoomed picture on the right. Eventually the rips do stop, but a very long way offshore! So on this occasion, the rip spotting is tricky because they look like darker gaps closer to the beach and in shallower water, but turbulent clouds of sandy water as they head offshore in deeper water.

Definitely not a good swimming day.

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December 2015 Any Groyne, Pier, Jetty or Breakwall on a Surf Beach

I'm not sure of the location of this one, but the photo was sent to me by Bob Pratt of the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project courtesy of The Great Lakes have a rip current drowning problem that is mostly associated with rip currents next to manmade structures like piers and groynes. When you get waves breaking at an angle to the beach, you either get a circulating rip forming in the shadow (protected end) of the structure or you get a rip ejecting offshore as the longshore currents are deflected by the structure. Sometimes you can get both.

This picture shows a very strong rip being deflected offshore behind an offshore breakwall. Breakwalls are protective barriers constructed just offshore in order to protect the shoreline. They do this very well and tend to promote sand deposition and the development of a tombolo. That's all great, except as you can see from this photo they can also cause rip current action which is not good, as the protected areas are often considered safe areas to swim.

So it's just another lesson that you should be very careful swimming anywhere near a manmade structure along any beach when there's breaking waves. In fact, I'd avoid it entirely!

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November 2015 Surfers Paradise, Queensland, Australia

If you ever wanted a 'rip spotting tower', the Q1 Tower at Surfers Paradise in Queensland is your best bet for a birds eye view. This picture was taken by Danielle Drozdzewski, a colleague of mine at UNSW Australia who has worked on the social science aspect of rips with me. She went up the tower on holiday and was pleased to see that Surf Life Saving Queensland had a rip current safety exhibit (including a loop of my rip current video playing) at the visitors observation level. Hats off to SLSQ for taking advantage of the view. You can clearly see the rips as darker channels heading out to sea between the shallow sandbars. You should also notice that not all of them are straight - many flow out at strong angles to the beach - and while some rips are spaced close to each other, some are not. With all the rips and tourists around you would think that would be a recipe for disaster. Fortunately, the lifeguards are spaced along the beach at regular intervals and Queensland has done a particularly good job at educating visitors about the dangers of rips. It makes a difference.

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October 2015 Burrill Beach, South Coast NSW, Australia

The south coast of NSW is a stunning coastline with many beautiful surf beaches, but be careful if you visit - many of those beaches are not patrolled by lifeguards. At the same time, most south coast beaches are popular tourist destinations with many coastal tourist parks situated on them. The proximity of tourist amenities to hazardous and unpatrolled surf beaches was actually the focus of some of our recent research at UNSW.

Not surprisingly, every year there are unfortunately numerous rip current drownings along this section of coast and several have occurred at Burrill Beach, which is pictured here. It's not hard to see why. You can see the paths through the vegetation that connects the tourist park with the beach and when people get there there are no lifeguards and LOTS of rips. There are rips in channels on either side of the rock headland at the top of the photo and there are two more channelised rip currents along the beach. They can be spotted by the dark green gaps between the whitewater of breaking waves across the adjacent shallow sand bars. What is scary about this picture is that the rip at the bottom of the picture has experienced a sudden increase in flow speed, something called a rip pulse, that has resulted in water and suspended sand being ejected well offshore of the surf zone. That's a long way offshore if you're not a good swimmer. Most pulses last on the order of a minute or so and occur after large sets of waves have broken.

The rips on this beach are not always in the same place, but you can be sure that more often than not, there's likely to be rips. So what do you do when no lifeguards are around? Don't swim in the dark gaps. Stick to the whitewater and if you are a non-swimmer either don't go in or don't go in past your waist. Be very very careful and vigilant....and spot those rips. Thanks to Daryl Gama for sending me this pic. I've met Daryl several times at the summer Science of the Surf talk I often do at the Mollymook Surf Club.

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September 2015 Stanwell Park, NSW, Australia

I realise I've been using a lot of this beach the last few months, but it is my home turf and the rip currents along the beach the last few months have been incredible. It's actually a good thing that it's not summer swimming season, but it's been good for the surfers giving them free rides out the back.

There are many ways to spot a rip. I usually emphasise looking for dark gaps of water heading offshore, which is common for most rips that sit in deep channels (most of them). And you can definitely see some dark gaps in these photos. But when rips get stuck in the same place for several weeks or months, they can actually carve out a large erosional embayment, sometimes called a 'mega-cusp'. You can clearly see on the left that a huge embayment has been eroded out by the rip. So if you can't get your head around spotting rips in the surf zone, look along the shoreline, and if you see isolated embayments like this, there's a good chance it's a rip!

Over the last week, we've had big and consistent swell that has eroded the beach and flattened it out. When it calms down it'll be interesting to see if the rips on the beach, which have been there for about 4 months, are still in the same place or completely gone.

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August 2015 Rip Current Spotting Tutorial

Pictures of rips are great educational tools and certainly better than diagrams, but nothing beats the real thing. These are 3 short videos of the same rip at Stanwell Park, NSW, Australia taken over a period of about 2 months from different angles. The rip is channelised, but just watch and's more than just looking for dark gaps. The water of the seaward flowing rip has a distinctly different texture, it's choppy...and it's moving! Even though waves are coming in, it's moving out against them. They really are like rivers of the sea.

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July 2015, Tamarama Beach, NSW Australia

I haven't posted a good purple dye release for a while so here's an oldie, but a goodie from Sydney's Tamarama Beach. I took this during one of my community 'Science of the Surf' talks several years ago and it clearly shows the trajectory of the rip, and how complex that trajectory can be. Rips don't always just flow straight offshore, they can start by flowing along the beach and can do doglegs, all sorts of things. What's amazing about this beach in particular is that when there is a rip, it takes up a massive section of beach! The people standing in the water are all on the shallow sandbar next to the rip. It's not uncommon for water to drain sideways off the bar into the rip and that happens particularly after a group of large waves (i.e. a wave set) has broken. People lose their feet and get swept into the rip and out....and many think it's because the sandbar collapsed, which is not true. This picture was used in an article I wrote for the journal 'Science Communication'


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June 2015 Stanwell Park, NSW, Australia

Subtle. Rip currents can be very subtle, but they do give us many different kinds of visual clues on how to spot them. On the day I took this picture, the waves were tiny, about 1 ft and yet there was a rip heading way offshore. How can you tell? Look at the middle section of the picture. Between the breaking waves is a dark gap. This is the rip current sitting in and flowing through a deep gap, or channel, between the shallow sand bars where the waves are breaking. The water is also bumpy and rippled in the rip, so the surface water texture looks different. This is because rips carry water offshore, but the waves are still bringing water towards the beach, so there’s some interaction there. What’s amazing about this rip though is that despite how small the waves are and how SAFE a day this would be to go swimming, the rip goes almost 100 meters offshore. You can see where it ends – an area called the rip head; where there’s an area of choppy and rippled water. It was also incredibly fast. Rips are just as dangerous on calm and ‘safe’ looking days as they are on windy and stormy days. Perhaps moreso because you are more likely to go swimming. I also took some video footage of this rip a few weeks later and posted it on my Dr Rip’s Science of the Surf Facebook page


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May 2015 Tamarama Beach, Sydney, NSW, Australia

This one is a little bit different. Tamarama is my favourite beach on the planet. Not only am I a member of the Tamarama Surf Life Saving Club, but I used to be the caretaker and lived there for 3 glorious years and this was ‘my’ balcony! Tamarama is also where I gave my first Science of the Surf community beach safety education talks and where my purple dye releases into rip currents gained notoriety. Well, a few weeks ago, Sydney experienced an incredible rainfall deluge and thanks to my friend Guy Waddell (and fellow Club member!) who took this picture, you can see what happened. Who needs purple dye? The brown stuff is the excess stormwater discharge pouring out of all the stormwater drains on the beach and headlands (you can see a little waterfall on the cliff coming out from one of them). The brown stuff is full of all the flotsam and jetsam swept up in the runoff from the streets and is well, pretty skanky. But it’s heading out in the rip current pretty clearly! Rips aren’t all bad. The fact that they circulate water means that they can disperse and diffuse the concentration of pollutants reasonably quickly. If it wasn’t for rips, a lot of these pollutants would hang around for weeks. Thanks to rips, the water tends to clean itself up in a matter of days. I hope those boardriders didn’t get caught up in the gunk.


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April 2015 Aileens, Ireland

When you think of famous big wave spots, Ireland doesn't immediately come to mind, but near the Cliffs of Moher in County Clare, the right conditions can form the 'perfect wave' called Aileens that can reach up to 12 m high. Spend a bit of time on YouTube and you'll find there's a big surfing scene there and the wave looks like a combination of Teahupo and Pipeline. Sure the water's cold, but it's still pretty impressive. A friend and colleague of mine from the University of Plymouth, Tim Scott, recently took this picture from the cliffs of a massive 'mega rip' current flowing out of the embayment. You can see it from the turbulent streaky water heading offshore. The waves were 'only' 4 m high with a 16 second period, but the offshore flowing rip was strong enough to bend the wave crests. Mega rips are just really big rips and tend to only form in embayments when there are huge waves.


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March 2015 Dunedin, New Zealand

New Zealand has awesome beaches...and awesome rips! In February I was lucky enough to be invited by Professor Douglas Booth to give a presentation at a New Zealand Water Safety Workshop sponsored by the School of Physical Education, Sport and Excercise Sciences at the University of Otago. I've lived in New Zealand and travelled all over, but had never been to Dunedin and was blown away by the fantastic beaches and surf along St Kilda Beach and the Otago Peninsula. Phenomenal! It was hot, sunny and the water was a balmy 14 degrees (that's as good as it gets apparently).

The first picture is taken from out front of the St Kilda Beach surf life saving club. How can people not be able to spot rips? The dark gap, almost hooking out to sea, is the only thing that looks different along this stretch of beach! The second picture is of Tomahawk Beach (you can see houses of Dunedin in the background) and there are actually 3 rips....again...look for the dark gaps. There is one in the foreground, one in the middle, and a thin sliver of green cutting through the surf further down the beach.

Not many people drown in rip currents along these beaches, largely due to the water temperature and short swimming season, but not so long ago a group of local high school students got caught in a rip and would certainly have drowned if they hadn't been rescued by nearby surfers. The Dunedin coast and beaches are an underrated gem. Plenty of walking trails leading you to empty and unspoilt beaches where it's very tempting to swim. If you do, avoid those dark gaps and you should be fine. Remember that white is nice, green is mean and you might want to wear a wetsuit!


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February 2015 Huntington State Beach, California, USA

n the 'rip current world' this picture by Tom Cozad is famous. It was taken as part of a set for Surfline to capture a massive swell hitting the Californian Coast near Los Angeles several years ago. The pictures in the set are truly phenomenal. This picture shows some massive rips, full of churning sand, heading offshore and spiralling around like a vortex. Definitely impressive rips. However, this picture really bothers me. Why? Well, it gets used a LOT in beach safety and rip current education material to show people what a rip current looks like. The problem is, it's a very rare kind of rip. Something like this only forms during big, long period swell waves that approach and break on the beach at a strong angle. This creates a really strong and unstable longshore current that has a tendency to spin offshore as these eddy-like rips. The rip looks horrible, but it's probably not that fast and not dangerous. You wouldn't be swimming on days like this anyway! I'll say it again - it's really unusual to get such a large and ferocious looking rip. So the fact that it's being used to tell people 'this is what rips look like' is very misleading and wrong. Sorry....these sort of things bug me! Scroll down to check out the rest of the photos on this page to get a real sense of what most rips that you will encounter at a beach under normal conditions will look like.


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January 2015 Cilento Coast, Italy

Who says there’s no rips in the Med? I was very pleased to have this photo sent to me by Enzo Pranzini of some rip currents along the Cilento Coast in Southern Italy which is on the western side of Italy, just south of Salerno. This looks like pretty much any surf beach I’ve seen in Eastern Australia and you can see a bunch of rips which are the dark narrow gaps heading offshore. Some of them have distinct alongshore feeder channels as well. The rips definitely sit in deeper channels, which is why the rip appears as darker water. ‘White is nice, green is mean’ certainly applies here! This picture was taken during a storm in January but storms can occur at any time of the year. For a coast that normally has pretty small, or no, waves, the sudden onset of waves and rips can be a very dangerous combination to beachgoers not used to, or not expecting these conditions. If anyone can tell me about rip currents in Italy, or anywhere else on the Mediterranean, I’d be interested in hearing about them. Contact me at


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December 2014 Durban, South Africa

Do you ever wonder why there's always 'no swimming' and 'keep away' signs next to structures such as piers, groynes and jetties on beaches? Most people think it's because they can get hurt falling on them, or bumping into them, which is true, but these structures are also magnets for rip current formation. Often longshore currents get deflected offshore when they flow into these structures, or wave refraction and shadowing processes cause circulating rips to form next to them. This Google Earth picture shows rip currents on either side of some piers on the beach in Durban, South Africa. The piers stick about 150 m into the water. Those rips are huge and no doubt flowing pretty quickly! Best to keep away from structures when you're swimming, even in lakes when there's breaking waves.

Check it out in Google Maps or if you have Google Earth on your device, view it in Google Earth


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October 2014 Lacanau, France

I am presently on sabbatical doing rip current related research at the University of Bordeaux with Bruno Castelle, who is one of the best in the business. He provided me with this amazing photograph taken by Julien Lestage of a coastal town near Bordeaux called Lacanau. The last winter saw France have an incredible series of storms (just like the UK) with massive amounts of coastal erosion. If you look at this photograph, you can see in the distance that the beach and dune have been scalloped with large embayments. Each of these embayments was eroded out by the action of rip currents during the storms. So while rip currents are dangerous to people, they are also a main cause of beach erosion. The coast here has a large tide range and the biggest storm occurred during a spring high tide which also helped maximise the erosion. You can actually see that the rip currents are still present opposite the embayments, appearing as narrow dark gaps between the breaking waves.


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August 2014 Carolina Beach, North Carolina, USA

I'm in Wilmington, North Carolina for most of August as part of my research sabbatical for the second half of 2014. Amongst the many rip current related projects I'm involved with, the one that's most fun is helping out Spencer Rogers from the North Carolina Sea Grant and his grad student Cobi Christiansen from the University of North Carolina Wilmington doing rip current experiments using GPS drifters. No-one has used these drifters to monitor rip current flow behaviour on the US East Coast. Spencer and Cobi want to find out how North Carolina rip currents behave in terms of how often they re-circulate within the surf zone or eject water (and drifters) offshore of the surf zone. This picture of Cobi was taken by his Dad (Curt) at Carolina Beach the last week of July and is perhaps the best example of drifter retrieval I've ever seen! The rip wasn't great, flowing slowly at a very strong angle to the beach, but the team is on call for the rest of the month, including some experiments at the Outer Banks in mid-August. The drifter is a nifty new design created by the rip guru Associate Professor Jamie MacMahan from the Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, CA. Best part of the day was perhaps the excellent media coverage of the experiment which was shown on Good Morning America.


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July 2014 Patong Beach, Phuket, Thailand

Not too long ago, I posted a picture of rip currents at neighbouring Karon Beach. However, I recently visited some Phuket beaches myself during the monsoon season and was amazed to see beaches and surf conditions that, to me, looked just like south-east Australian conditions. Lots of waves, bars and rips. Despite the efforts and presence of lifeguards on many beaches, a lot of people drown in rip currents each year in Phuket, most of them tourists. In general the rips are about 150 to 200 m apart on the surf beaches and sit in channels. They therefore appear as dark gaps between the whitewater, but are a little different than what we have in South East Australia for several reasons. The sand is so fine-grained that the relief of the channels isn't as pronounced so the 'dark gap' visual signature can be a little tougher to identify. On the flip side, the fine sand ends up being transported offshore by the rip into sediment clouds which actually help spot the rips. I took this picture from my hotel balcony at Patong Beach (I asked for a high room just for this reason!). The rip is the small dark gap just to the left of the tree (and in front of the two parked cars). You can see the clouds of sand being taken offshore. It's subtle, but definitely a rip. All of the rips really started to take off around low tide. So if you go to beaches in Phuket....please take care. There are waves, and rips, but there are also good lifeguards. Swim between the red and yellow flags.


Stanwell Park beach with two rips

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June 2014 Perranporth Beach, UK

Perranporth Beach is a beautiful beach on the incredibly scenic Cornwall coast and is very popular with tourists, surfers....and scientists. It has become the focus for many rip current related scientific endeavours of late, primarily conducted by the University of Plymouth (see their fantastic rip current website at, and more recently by Southampton University and PhD student Sebastian Pitman, who was nice enough to send me this picture. Perranporth has a large tide range so the shoreline and surf conditions shift pretty rapidly over the space of a tidal cycle. In this picture the rips are the dark green channels that you can see extending along the beach, starting from the one in the foreground against the rocks. One interesting characteristic about these rips is that due to the rapidly shifting shoreline position, the rips tend to 'turn on and off' quite quickly, which offers challenges to bathers and lifeguards alike.


Stanwell Park beach with two rips

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May 2014 Stanwell Park, NSW, Australia

This is not the first time I've used a picture from this beach because it's close to where I live, but it's the first time I've ever used a picture of an actual rip current that almost resulted in a drowning. There are two rip currents in this picture. One is the dark gap between the sandbanks pretty much straight out from the creek inlet. The second is the wider dark gap to the left of the photo. It was almost low tide when this picture was taken and you can see that there are deeper alongshore channels feeding into the main rip channel from both directions. Both bars are shallow and almost exposed and the waves aren't that big. Basically, to someone without a good knowledge of what rips look like, it looks relatively safe, but the setup is in fact extremely dangerous with wave breaking around low tide being enhanced, driving the flow of water from the feeders to the rips and beyond.

The day before this picture was taken, a local went for an evening swim only to find himself carried offshore in the rip on the left. A bystander went to help him and also got in trouble and both were ultimately saved by 3 nearby surfers. It was an extremely close call as the initial victim had passed out and slipped underwater for several minutes. Thanks to the surfers ability to find him and their experience with CPR, he was saved, but a helicopter needed to be called to the scene. This picture was taken by Genevieve Swart who is an editor of the local 2508 District News magazine who have an in-depth story on the incident in their recent issue

However, there's a lot in this story. It was the first day the Council Lifeguard hours had been reduced. If they had been there, no doubt the man would have been rescued more quickly. Almost all rip current drownings happen in the absence of lifeguards. The man was also saved by the actions of bystanders, yet one of the bystanders got into trouble himself. This raises the question: how well are we educating people how to react and respond correctly when they see someone in trouble in the surf? Finally, the man who got caught originally did all the right things. Once he realised he was in a rip, he relaxed, stayed calm, floated on his back and faced the waves and yet he was overcome by breaking waves and still got in trouble. This really shows that every rip current experience is different. No single piece of advice will work for all people in all situations. It really comes down to learning how to spot rips and avoiding them.


Stanwell Park beach with two rips

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April 2014, Pearl Beach, NSW Central Coast, Australia

While there are different types of rip currents, rip currents are most definitely NOT undertow. Rip currents do not pull people under, they just take them for a ride. But the term ‘undertow’ is almost always associated with rips. Well, maybe it’s because of some smaller rips called ‘swash rips’. Swash is a term used to describe the combination of the uprush of water up a beach once a wave has finally broken and its associated backwash down the beach. Well, sometimes that backwash can be pretty strong and can knock people over and drag them offshore a bit. This is more likely to happen on steep beaches with beach cusps. Beach cusps are crescentic features with higher horns that have coarser sand/sediment and deeper embayments with finer sediments. Where they occur (generally on steeper beaches) they tend to be spaced pretty regularly along a beach. Beach cusps can be tiny, just cm’s apart, or tens of metre’s apart. In the case of larger cusps, the backwash caused by big waves can create reasonably strong, but short-lived rips that go just beyond the shoreline. However, to a non-swimmer, that can be dangerous. I actually think the act of getting knocked over and pulled out has generated the sensation of being pulled under and hence being caught by the ‘undertow’. They are definitely a totally different type of rip. This picture is from Pearl Beach on the NSW Central Coast, just north of Sydney. It’s a classic steep and reflective beach with beach cusps and while not really dangerous, you can clearly see the clouds of sand (the swash rips) regularly spaced down the beach. They’d last for a few seconds every time there’s a big backwash. Picture courtesy of Professor Andy Short.


A sequence of regular rips

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March 2014 Karon Beach, Phuket, Thailand

Most people think of beaches in Thailand as places of calm water bliss and that's what the tourist brochures show. But you may be surprised to know that all of Thailand's beaches can get waves, mostly during storms, but in the case of the West coast, during the southwest monsoon season which runs from May to October. There's even surfing to be found around Phuket during the monsoon! And with waves, you get rips. And with rips you get drownings. A LOT of people, mostly tourists, drown in rip currents in Thailand and Karon Beach in Phuket is particularly notorious. This is a picture of Karon beach taken from a blog run by Willy Thuan. It's one of the first pictures that comes up when you run a google search for 'Karon Beach'. Looks great, but there are waves and there are a series of semi-regularly spaced deep channels (dark gaps) all the way down the beach. Those are rips and it's no wonder people get in trouble. So please be careful on beaches in Phuket, especially between May and October.


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February 2014 Yanchep Lagoon, Western Australia

Western Australia has some stunning beaches. Beautiful white sand, turquoise waters and of course sharks! But sharks aren't nearly as big a problem as rip currents. Since 2008, 17 people are known to have drowned in rip currents in WA as opposed to 7 fatalities due to sharks. Yanchep Lagoon is a gorgeous beach about 1 hour north of Perth. It's fronted by a limestone reef which creates a nice 'safe' lagoon for kids and families, but there is almost always a strong longshore current that runs along the beach. If you don't pay attention you can be swept past the reef and out through the gap in what is a pretty notorious and consistent rip. You can see from the dye where the rip is heading, but you can also see a big 'bowl' carved out in the beach. The rip is pretty permanent and has eroded it out. I was lucky enough to be invited out by Channel 7 News in Perth in January to do a 2 part story on the rip current hazard on Perth beaches. Part 1 of the video can be seen on Yahoo!7 News.


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January 2014 South Coast, NSW, Australia

Pattern recognition. Spotting rip currents is all about seeing patterns in the surf along the beach. What's different about this beach? Well, there's a pretty obvious green gap heading out from the shore, then a sandbar with whitewater, another green gap, another sandbar and so on. While not all rips (the green gaps) are as obvious as the ones on this beach, it's not hard to see just have to look for them. This beach is somewhere on the South Coast of New South Wales, I think it could be Tathra Beach. I found it while trolling the web, but the South Coast has spectacular beaches, most of them unpatrolled by lifeguards and most of them with tourist parks plonked on top of them. Learn how to spot those rips folks.


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December 2013 Australia

This Rip of the Month might not show you what a rip looks like, but it should show you just how important and dangerous these common hazards on Australian beaches are. A few months ago, we published a fairly simple study in the scientific journal Natural Hazards and Earth Systems Science called ‘A new perspective on the Australian rip current hazard’ (PDF). We compared the best available long term datasets for fatalities in Australia caused by natural hazards such as rip currents, bushfires, cyclones, floods and sharks. On average 21 people drown in rip currents every year (top graph A). This is more than the average number of fatalities per year from bushfires (6), cyclones (8), floods (5) and sharks (1) COMBINED! And it’s an underestimate. Those rip drownings are incidents that were confirmed as being cause by rips, the actual number is probably much higher.

The rip current database only goes back 9 years and when you compare the fatalities over the same time span, bushfires are #1 as shown in the bottom graph B, but only because of the terrible loss of life (173) during the Feb 2009 fires near Melbourne. Over the long term though, rips are definitely the biggest killer. And yet, they really don’t get the respect or attention they deserve. They should, there’s an estimated 17,000 on Australian beaches at any given time. You can read the original research article at


Two bar graphs indcating the number of deaths per year and total deaths in Australia for due to shark attack, floods, bushfires, cyclones and rip currents. Rip currents per annum are greater than the others. Overall bushfires have claimed more lives, but rip currents come in second.

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November 2013 Plettenberg Bay, South Africa

This is simply an extraordinary photo. I have always been interested in rip currents in South Africa. I know the coastline is very similar to the Australian coastline and that there must be a lot of rips and a lot of drownings. In fact, just this May a terrible accident occurred with 6 members of the same rugby team drowning in a rip near Port Elizabeth. But I was never able to find out much about what was being done to educate people in South Africa about rip currents. Then a few months ago I was contacted by Torsten Henschel and Andrew Ingram from the National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI) in South Africa and they sent me this link to a fantastic rip current safety video. One of the best rip videos I've seen I think and I was amazed how similar the beaches looked to Australian beaches! Andrew sent me this picture from Plettenberg Bay on the East Coast of South Africa. It's a popular holiday destination with plenty of many can you count?

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October 2013 Boomerang Beach, NSW, Australia

I've never really thought about it, but that could be the quintessential name for an Australian beach! Fortunately, it's actually tucked away along the mid-north coast of NSW and never gets many crowds. Which is probably a good thing because it's an unpatrolled beach and usually has lots of rips....a bad combination. This picture was taken during the field trip for my 3rd year undergraduate course 'Coastal Geomorphology' at UNSW. One of the students, Josh Park, turns out to be an amazing photographer and snapped this picture of a purple dye release I did at the southern end of the beach in a rip current against the rocks. These 'topographic' or 'headland' rips are fairly permanent features and tend to flow fast and far, but not on this day. I released the dye basically at the shoreline and it slowly, slowly crept out. But in general, unless you're a surfer, it's not a good idea to swim against the headlands. The thing is, the stairs look like they are leading people right to it, which I guess they are!

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September 2013 Salinas Beach, Castrillon, Northern Spain

I keep telling people that the most common type of rip current is one that sits in a deep channel between two shallow sand bars and that they are found over the world. And people keep telling me I'm wrong, but this series of rip currents along Salinas Beach on Spain's northern Atlantic Coast looks pretty convincing to me! This picture was sent to me from Ignacio Florez of the Salinas Lifeguards, who were interested in some advice on conducting beach safety education. I think the same type of advice and knowledge of rips we teach on the east coast of Australia would be just as relevant on this stretch of coast in Spain. The picture was also taken at low tide and it looks like the tidal range might be over 2 m. I wonder how much the people who live or stay in those apartment buildings know about rips?

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August 2013 Haeundae Beach, Korea

This is a rather incredible photograph sent to me by rip current scientist Joo Yong Lee from Sungyunkwan University in Korea. It's of Haeundae Beach, which is the most popular beach in Korea. Not long before this photo was taken, virtually hundreds of people were swept into a rip current in the middle of the beach and carried offshore. People go to the beach and use the yellow inflatable rings for fun, but unfortunately these rings floated them into the rip! After everyone was rescued, a human chain of lifeguards and police kept all the swimmers out of the vicinity of the rip. The rip is the darkish sweep of water heading out through the middle of the cordoned off gap. Amazing stuff. As a result of some serious mass rescues at this beach, the Koreans launched a large program into measuring and monitoring rip currents at this beach and they are hosting the 3rd International Rip Current Symposium in 2014.

beach from high position lots of people in the water except where the rip is present

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July 2013 Park Beach, Coffs Harbour, NSW, Australia

Yep, this is the same beach as the ROTM from May, but this rip is just south of the tidal inlet at the south end of the beach. I took it from the plane while coming in for landing at Coffs Harbour airport and it's a beaut. You can see the 'twin' feeder current channels merging into the main part of the rip - the rip-neck channel, which pushes out about 10-20 m past the line of breaking waves. This is pretty much a classic rip current that we find on the east coast of Australia and there's lots of them. I was in Coffs to work with the Australian Professional Ocean Lifeguard Association (APOLA) who have got funding to develop a beach safety pamphlet for backpackers (in 10 languages). When I showed this picture to them, they told me that there's a nearby backpacker hostel...and the backpackers all walk straight to this unpatrolled section of beach and go swimming straight in the rip! The tidal inlet is interesting as well. Flow during an ebbing tide creates a pretty strong rip as well - a tidal rip; and it pays to stay away as these can flow considerable distances offshore.

Aerial image of a twin feeder current channels merging into a rip.

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June 2013 Rockingham, Western Australia

A few weeks ago I was at the Australian Professional Ocean Lifeguard Association (APOLA) conference at Bondi and one of the lifeguards from the Gold Coast City Council (Brett Paull) asked me to have a look at some pictures a paraglider friend of his (Scott Patman) had taken near Rockingham, which is south of Perth on Australia's west coast. This was one of them. It looks like some sort of rip current vortex and whirlpool of doom! It's an amazing amazing that The Huffington Post picked up on it and it went viral

So what is going on and is it dangerous? Well, what you see are clouds of suspended sand in the water. What you can't see is that the waves were approaching at a strong angle to the beach. This creates a strong alongshore current. At the same time there were big mega-cusps in the beach and the waves breaking on the beach rush up these cusps and then back down as backwash. The combination of water running back out of these cusps and the longshore current causes offshore directed eddies to spin out about 100 m from the shoreline. This carries the fine sand stirred up by the breaking waves and backwash. It looks nasty....but it's really not that dangerous. The water flow is slow and you could probably swim across it no problem, but it's another example of how incredible nature is!

What I worry about is that pictures like this get picked up by the media and all of a sudden everyone starts thinking this is what rips look like...well they don't. This is a very unusual type of rip for sure. There's a YouTube video on the rips as well and there's shots of the beach that show the cusps and give you some more perspective.

Aerial image of a spiral, vortex of sand in water.

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May 2013 Park Beach, Coffs Harbour, NSW Australia

There has been a lot of debate in the rip current world recently on what to call the different types of rips out there. We have ‘accretion’ rips, ‘low-energy’ rips, ‘open beach’ rips, ‘fixed’ rips, ‘transverse bar’ rips and ‘bar-gap’ rips which all really describe the same type of rip – one that sits in a deeper channel between two shallow sand bars. I would argue that this is by far the most common type of rip current on most surf coasts and the one that best looks like a path of dark water heading out through the whitewater of the breaking waves. This picture is taken by John Andrews, who essentially runs the Australian Professional Ocean Lifeguard Association (APOLA) at his home beach in Coffs Harbour. It’s a classic rip, about 10 m wide, heading straight out to sea, and John was ecstatic to hear the term ‘bar-gap’ used to describe this type of rip at the recent Rip Current Symposium in Sydney in October 2012. He reckons it makes the most sense to the average person. So maybe we should listen to the professional lifeguards on this matter!

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April 2013 Stanwell Park, NSW, Australia

The March 2013 Rip of the Month showed a pretty typical picture of breaking waves along a beach and asked the question ‘Are there any rips in this picture’. Well, the answer is ‘No’. If you look closely you might see a bit of a dark gap through the breaking waves towards the left of the photo, but this is just some inconsistent wave breaking. One of the problems with using still images to educate people about how to spot rips is that not all rips are obvious. Most of the time you need to spend a few minutes watching the surf looking for dark gaps that keep appearing in the same place. That’s why movies of rips and talking to lifeguards at the beach are more effective. Also, while some beaches are known for rips, they are not always there. It really depends on the configurations of sand bars and channels, which often change almost constantly. However, there is a rip current in this picture and it should be pretty obvious. It’s a massive rip taken during some big swell at Stanwell Park, just south of the Royal National Park in Sydney. That big green gap between breaking waves is hard to miss. It may look big and nasty, but often we find that wide rips don’t actually flow as fast as narrow rips that are squeezed between sand bars. So in that respect they’re not as dangerous, but as they’re bigger, they are also easier to get into in the first place.

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March 2013 Any surf beach in the world

I've been doing Rip of the Month for 3 years now so if you've been following this, then you should be getting better at spotting rips. So here's a question for you: is there a rip in this picture? What do you think? It's an important question and if you decide to go for a swim at a beach without lifeguards, the correct answer could save your life. I'll give the answer next month!

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February 2013 Bulli Beach, NSW Australia

We've just finished another field experiment to measure how rip currents behave and how swimmers can escape them. To measure rip current flow patterns and speeds, we placed over 30 of these pvc 'drifters' with GPS attached into the rip. Some of the results are so surprising. I'll post them eventually, but there's a lot going on in the surf zone that is completely hidden from the naked eye. It's certainly not textbook stuff that rips just take water offshore! The dye release in the background shows that not all rips flow offshore, some flow at strong angles to the beach. Our experiment at Bulli Beach, just north of Wollongong, NSW was the last of 6 experiments we've done over the last 15 months. We've learned a lot about rips, but also raised a lot of questions. One thing is for sure...there is no single message or action that you should take when you get caught in a rip. Rip flow is incredibly variable and the best action is not to get caught in them in the first place. Swim where lifeguards can see you! Thanks to Barbara Brighton for the pic.

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January 2013 Bilgola Beach, Sydney, Australia

Happy New Year everyone. I'm really hoping that we see a reduction in rip current drownings this summer in Australia. That would be fantastic. But it would help if we had some decent warning signs. I'm not a great fan of signs given that most people can't be bothered reading them, but these 2 signs are pretty standard on Australian surf beaches when it comes to rips and they are pretty useless. There's a very strong rip in the background, it's the main dark gap without breaking waves, but the signs really only mention 'Dangerous Current' and 'Dangerous Surf'. What does that actually mean to the typical person? Probably not much. Would a typical risk taking male be put off swimming? Would an international tourist who can't read english? The educational value is essentially zero...which is why it's still important to understand how rips work and how to spot them. Why not make 'learning how to spot a rip' one of your New Year's resolutions?

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December 2012, Tallows Beach, NSW, Australia

Okay Australia, summer is here and and many of us will be heading off to holiday at beaches just like this...Tallows Beach, just south of Byron Bay in far north New South Wales. And like many beaches on the south-east coast, it’s rip city. There are at least 20 rips running along the beach that I can count before everything starts to get a bit fuzzy! How do you spot them? Look for all those nice dark green gaps running out from the beach that look perfect for swimming. I can’t see any red and yellow beach flags or lifeguards so I’d say your odds of getting caught in a rip are pretty high on a beach like this...unless you know what rips are, what they look like and how to react properly if you get caught in one. The whole Byron region is a mecca for tourists, including backpackers, and this largely unpatrolled beach is easily accessible just like many others. Not surprisingly it’s not uncommon for rip drownings to occur and the region from Ballina to Byron is a known drowning ‘hot spot’. So enjoy, but be careful. Thanks to Jeremy Jacks ( for providing this photo which was taken from the lighthouse at Byron Bay, the easternmost point in Australia. To be honest, every time I go there, it looks exactly the same!

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November 2012 Royal National Park, Sydney, Australia

This month it's a very different type of rip current. Not all rips flow off sandy beaches in channels between bars. This is a tiny beach at the southern end of the Royal National Park in Sydney (near Otford) only accessible by boat or foot. Amazing how they managed to build the little cottages and shacks! The beach has numerous outcrops of a rock platform which underlies the sandy beach. On the day I took this picture the surf was pretty big, about 3 m + and there weren't many rips around, just a lot of water pushing in. But if you look at the middle of the beach you can see a clear darker channel heading offshore a little way from the beach. This channel was squeezed between two rock reef outcrops forming a perfect conduit for water to drain offshore and although you can't tell from the photo, it was pumping. Technically, we'd probably call this a topographic rip as it's created by the fixed rock topography that's exposed. It's another reminder that swimming next to rocks and exposed reefs can be dangerous in any sort of wave conditions.

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October 2012 Whale Beach, NSW, Australia

Sydney's Northern Beaches are off the tourist track, but are a real gem full of stunning little beaches like Bungan, Bilgola, Avalon and Whale Beach. All of them have good surf, with plenty of sandbars and, of course, rip currents. We did a recon of the beaches last week to look for a suitable location for some experiments on rip currents we're hoping to do in early October and Whale Beach came up trumps with this fantastic channelised fixed rip carving through the middle of the beach. On the day we were there, there was a surf competition for kids (grommets) and they were using the rip as an express train to get out the back. So check out the Northern Beaches, you won't be disappointed, but be careful, there's plenty of rips around and it's definitely lifestyles of the rich and famous territory!

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September 2012 Bar Beach, NSW

When waves are big and messy, rip currents can become equally big and messy. While waves can change quickly, sand bars and channels can’t and fixed rips, which have been sitting comfortably in deeper channels between sand bars suddenly start to become unstable. They aren’t particularly good at accommodating all the extra water brought in by the larger waves so the rip flow isn’t as constrained and literally starts ‘popping out’ of the channel and the rip flow becomes wider, more unsteady and unstable, and harder to see. This rip current at Bar Beach (in Newcastle, NSW) is a good example of this. Sometimes the rip flow slows down as the rip expands in width, other times it pulses quite strongly. These types of rips are often called ‘flash’ rips because they vary so much and are unpredictable. While you can still pick out the darker area between breaking waves that is the rip, there’s also a lot of turbulent whitewater, choppier surface conditions, and clouds of suspended sand. We don’t have a good understanding of flash rips and there’s a bit of a debate about what they actually are and how we define them, but they tend to occur more with strong onshore wind waves and storms and pulse a lot. We assume they flow faster, because the waves are larger, but no-one’s really been able to measure them so we’re not sure. When it’s messy, it’s best to swim between the flags (in Australia) or where the lifeguards are. Better yet, talk to a lifeguard about the conditions.

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August 2012 Rip Current Signs

I guess because I’m a scientist and therefore partially a geek, I love collecting pictures of beach signs relating to rip currents. Some are pretty useless and have no educational value at all, while others have so much writing on them, people instantly become bored and ignore them completely. Creating a good sign that attracts attention, actually motivates people to read it and has educational material is a real challenge. Or you can just use fear tactics and intimidation. That’s why this sign is my favourite. I don’t know where it’s from or who took it because I copied it off the web years ago, but I suspect it’s in the US. Not only does it remind swimmers how many people have drowned and that they are in mortal peril if they go swimming, but they can also get fined! The unfortunate reality is that most signs just aren’t effective. Plenty of studies have shown that people don’t pay attention to them because we get so much ‘sign pollution’ we just switch off. One of the biggest problems with rip current and beach safety signs is that they also make a pretty good place to hang your towel. So there’s a challenge for you creative types...create the perfect rip current sign. We need one badly!

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July 2012 Bondi Beach, Sydney, Australia

Bondi Beach seems to be getting a lot of attention here in Australia with almost every reality television show seemingly based around it. It’s also getting a lot of attention from rip current scientists. We’ll be doing some big rip experiments during July and August this year measuring all of the rips on the beach simultaneously using GPS drifters. We’ve also got a long-term coastal imaging camera on one of the local rooftops that creates amazing images like the one in this picture. This was Bondi Beach on March 3, 2012. The camera basically takes a picture every second. If you average all those pictures over a period of 30 minutes, you get what’s called a time exposure. What’s great about these time exposures is that you can clearly see the shallow sandbars (the white areas where the waves are breaking) and the deeper channels, which are darker because less waves are breaking. It’s a great way to monitor the location of the rips and sandbars and if you do it every day, you can see how the beach evolves over time with changing wave conditions. In this picture, on this day, you can see that the outer sandbar is very rhythmic and I can count about 7-8 did you go?

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June 2012: Zenith Beach, Port Stephens, NSW, Australia

How many rips can you see in this picture? The view from Tomaree Headland in Port Stephens, NSW is one of my favourite views on the planet. This only captures some of the stunning 360 degree vista and shows Zenith Beach, a very small embayed beach that is part of Tomaree National Park. It's very accessible, unpatrolled and usually has several rip currents along it. For a short beach, there's a high probability you can get stuck in one! Particularly impressive is the topographic (headland) rip flowing out against the rocks and headland in the foreground. We think that headland rips flow faster and further out to sea than rips in the middle of the beach, but no one has properly measured one because rocks and expensive equipment don't mix very well. This is a fantastic stretch of coastline, just 2 hours drive north of Sydney, and you can see other little beaches nestled in between the headlands, which are made of ancient volcanic rock. There's even a tombolo in the distance connecting the island to the mainland. So enjoy...but be careful and look for those dark gaps...there's 5 rips on the beach. One at each end and two in the middle. Apologies for the round black smudge spot in the sky. That's what happens when little kids keep poking your camera lens!

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May 2012: West Ruggedy Beach, Stewart Island, New Zealand

Stewart Island is situated off the southern end of the South Island of New Zealand and is a hikers (trampers in Kiwi-speak) dream, particularly if you like lots of mud and nasty weather. It pokes into the roaring 40's so it's windy most of the time and the west coast is exposed to massive swell. West Ruggedy happens to be on the west coast and you can see it's a pretty dramatic beach. You need a lot of wave energy and wind to create those big sand dunes blowing inland. Bigger waves also mean bigger rips and there's plenty of big rips on this beach! How many rip channels can you spot? It takes days to hike here and the waters a little cold, so it's not a dangerous beach because no-one really swims, but what an amazing setting. This picture comes from Dr Mike Hilton, a coastal geomorphologist at Otago University in Dunedin, NZ, but it was sent to me by via Dr Patrick Hesp, yet another coastal geomorphologist!

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April 2012: Palm Beach, Sydney, Australia

Another fantastic photo taken by Andre Slade from Palm Beach is Sydney's northern most beach and is a sort of home to the rich and famous, but it's not immune to rips.The rip in this picture is that thin blue line extending out through the whitewater. It may not be very wide, but the water being squeezed between those sandbars can cause very high flow speeds. Most fixed rips (which this one is) flow about 0.5 m/s on average. To put that in perspective, you'd just be able to stand in waste deep water against a current that strong. I wouldn't be surprised if this one was much faster.

Palm Beach is famous in the rip current world. I did my PhD experiments there in 1994 in a rip almost exactly in the same spot shown in the picture. There was also a video camera installed in the lighthouse on top of Barrenjoey Headland at the north end of the beach which did all sorts of image analysis to understand the rip behaviour along the beach for about a 5 year period in the late 90's, early 00's. It's mostly famous though because it's where they film the popular Australian soap opera 'Home and Away'.

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March 2012: Tamarama Beach, Sydney

I have a new favourite rip current photo and what a coincidence, it's of my favourite beach! Tamarama is a small pocket beach in Sydney's Eastern Suburbs situated between Bronte and Bondi Beach. It's a beach to be respected as it is fully exposed to the dominant south-east swell. If it's flat everywhere else, there's almost always a wave at Tama. It's been rated as one of the most dangerous beaches in Australia because of the size of the waves, the frequency of rip currents, and the number of people who visit. Having said that, the Tamarama Surf Life Saving Club is proud of it's motto 'No Lives Lost' and the Waverley Council lifeguards are some of the best in the business so your odds are pretty good of coming out alive. It's also a great bodysurfing beach because when the red and yellow flags are up, fibreglass boards aren't allowed because the beach is so narrow.

Tama normally has a rip either at the northern end of the southern end, but on this day there are two very well defined headland rips at both ends. The rip system almost looks like a boomerang and the sand bar in the middle of the beach is like a refuge for swimmers. Those rips look great for swimming don't they? This picture was snapped by Andre Slade who runs a beach swim/fitness program called Oceanfit and I write a blog for him at

Tamarama is also special to me because I lived in the surf club for 3 years in the mid-1990's and actually wrote my PhD there in my budgie smugglers!

She said the picture was actually taken by Willem Verbeek who I think is her supervisor...but the prize always goes to the student who needs it the most. Good luck with your Masters Gundula.

Photo of Tamarama Beach on a sunny day when the water is fairly calm but there are rips at either end of the beach with a sandbar in the middle.

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February 2012: Egmond aan zee, Netherlands

Yep, there are beaches and rips in Holland. It's not all tulips and dykes. This photo was sent in by Gundula Winter, who is about to submit her Masters at Delft University (Feb 14) so I think to help her along, she'll need to read up on her free copy of my Essential Beach Book! Egmond aan zee is a coastal resort on the North Sea and it does get a fair amount of waves. The Netherlands keeps churning out some amazing coastal scientists who have really influenced our understanding about how waves and beaches work. This picture was taken last year in August during an experiment to look at rip currents, which were identified by lifeguards at the beach as being a problem for swimmers. She and her fellow students and a few more volunteers spent a week jumping in rips with GPS mounted to our heads. The photo is taken from a jet-ski and shows drifters being pulled offshore in a strong rip (up to 0.6 m/s). In the upper she's plotted the measured drifter paths (the colours indicate drifter velocities) and the underlying bathymetry that was surveyed from a jet-ski during the field week. Along with the results from a numerical model the field data provided valuable insight in the parameters that govern rip currents at Egmond aan Zee. I like the fact that the trajectory shows the rip taking a meandering path. It is hard to actually see the rip in this photo, but the surface of the water near the drifters is a bit streaky indicating water moving offshore.

She said the picture was actually taken by Willem Verbeek who I think is her supervisor...but the prize always goes to the student who needs it the most. Good luck with your Masters Gundula.

Rip currents being measured at Egmond aan zee in the Netherlands

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January 2012: Rip Current Experiment at Shelly Beach, NSW

This fantastic picture was taken by Patrick Rynne and shows a bunch of intrepid rip current scientists, students and volunteers venturing out into the jaws of a nasty rip during an experiment at Shelly Beach on the Central Coast of New South Wales last December. The people in the photo are carrying drifters which are designed to 'go with the flow' in the rip and have GPS units attached which enable us to monitor the speed and trajectory of the rip. We're wearing the red and yellow caps because we were instruments too. All of us had GPS units tucked down our wetsuits connected to an antenna in the cap. Our job was to float in the rip and then either swim parallel to the left, right or simply stay afloat to see where we ended up and if we got out of the rip. Some of us were wearing heart rate monitors to test the efforts between these different actions. The research was the first experiment of a 3 year study funded by the Australian Research Council and Surf Life Saving Australia to understand more about Australian rip currents and how people should react if caught in them. The project is being co-ordinated by Rob Brander of the University of New South Wales, but involves significant collaboration with Jamie MacMahan of the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California and Ad Reniers from the University of Miami, Florida. We had some amazing help from our volunteers...thanks folks! I won't tell you the results because it's early days, but we're always looking for more help if you're keen. Patrick is a PhD student at Miami and a professional kite surfer and filmed much of the experiment.

Rip scientists and students launching the drifter into a nasty rip, Shelly Beach.

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December 2011: Bateau Bay Beach, New South Wales, Australia

We're starting a week long rip current experiment at Shelly Beach, NSW next week which is just north of Bateau Bay. I looked up the Google Earth image and couldn't help but notice this monstrous rip in the middle of Bateau Bay. The image was taken during pretty big wave conditions and hopefully you can see the rip as the highway of blue that is funnelling out from the middle of the beach. The rip is 50 metres wide and at least 250 m long en further. That folks, is what we call a mega rip. Bateau Bay doesn't have lifeguards and is a narrow pocket beach with lots of rocks that promote rip current activity. Not surprisingly, there have been numerous rip current drownings at this beach over the years. Please be careful this summer folks and try and swim between the red and yellow flags on patrolled beaches.

Aerial shot of Bateau Bay Beach from google earth with very clear rip.

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November 2011: Pololu Valley, Hawaii

Hawaii has a lot of fantastic beaches, but despite all the great surf, it's not particularly known for it's rip currents. However, don't be fooled, there are some big rips around like this one in the middle of this beautiful black sand beach. The beach is situated at the base of the Pololu Valley on the north shore of the Big Island of Hawaii. I took the picture a few years ago and there's a nice hike down to the beach, but the trail was closed at the time due to instability from a recent earthquake. While rip current drownings aren't considered a huge problem in Hawaii, they do tend to occur on beaches like this one, which are unpatrolled and where people have worked up a sweat to get to...and are keen for a swim. Hopefully you can spot the rip as the big dark gap in the middle of the beach.

Aerial shot of Shelly Beach with a dark area running perpendicular to the shore.

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October 2012 Shelly Beach, New South Wales

This picture is about as good as it gets. It's of a classic fixed rip snuggled between two sand bars at Shelly Beach, NSW which is on the Central Coast just north of Sydney. The beach is what we call a Transverse Bar and Rip Beach and is the most common beach state we get on the south-east coast of Australia. Obviously it's easier to see the rip from the air, but this one would look like a pretty obvious dark gap between regions of white water. You can see the bowl shaped embayment along the beach that the rip has carved out and the narrow rip-neck channel carving through the surf zone. You can actually see the motion of the water heading offshore. All that water coming in across the sandbars with the breaking waves is ending up in the rip which is basically flushing out the system. The picture is courtesy of Allan Cooke and Wyong Shire Council.

Aerial shot of Shelly Beach with a dark area running perpendicular to the shore.

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September 2011: One Mile Beach, Port Stephens, New South Wales

One Mile Beach is a gem of a beach situated in the Port Stephens area. When you walk out at the southern end you are hit with this stunning vista and a normally gentle surf break. The southern end tends to be wide and flat and the waves break across a wide area making it perfect for people who are learning to surf. As you head further north, the beach becomes exposed to more wave energy and you can get rip currents developing. The rip in this picture is the first big dark gap heading seaward.

One mile beach with people in the foreground and a sublte rip in the middle of the frame.

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August 2011: Guincho Beach, Portugal

This picture was sent to me by Nicolas Bruneau, a rip current scientist who's based in Europe. The beach (Praia do Guincho) is located on Portugal's Estoril coast and is about 25 km west of Lisbon. The beach gets small swell and a lot of wind during the summer months making it popular for windsurfers and kitesurfers. Most of the good surf comes during winter. You can clearly see a few rips exposed at low tide. One is in the middle of the beach and is very narrow, heading out at an angle. The other is at the bottom of the picture adjacent to the rocks. Both look like deeper, darker channels. You often get rips occurring where there are rock outcrops along beaches as they tend to focus wave energy and tend to help scour out channels.

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July 2011: Esperance, Western Australia

This is a beautiful picture of the fantastic beach in Esperance, Western Australia. It's a reasonably remote place in the sense that it's a long way from anywhere. Head straight south from Kalgoorlie and east from Albany and you'll find it. The rip current is the hopefully obvious dark channelised gap heading out through the middle of the beach. You can also see a longshore feeder current entering the rip from the right side of the photo. This picture is courtesy of Professor Andy Short who has visited every single beach in Australia and has a photo catalogue of each of them.

Beach in Esperance Western Australia showing a clear blue area of the rip

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June 2011: Zauritz, Spain

Thanks to Timothy Price for sending me these pictures via my Science of the Surf Facebook page. The one on the left shows some well defined rip current channels at low tide. I count 5 (looking for the dark gaps), but the second one up from the bottom of the photo splits into two rips. You'd be hard pressed to find a safe place to swim on this beach. Judging from the width of the beach and the ponded water, it looks like it's got a reasonably large tidal range as well. Rips on beaches with big tides tend to suddenly 'switch on' for short time periods around low tide. The picture on the right is taken at mid-tide (from a different perspective) and shows just how much harder it is to spot the rips when the water depth is greater. And the rips wouldn't be flowing as strong, but the rip at the bottom of the picture seems to be going a long way offshore!

Zauritz, Spain at two different times of the day. Low tide on the left, mid tide on the right.

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May 2011 China Beach, Vietnam

The 2011 World Conference on Drowning Prevention is being held in Danang, Vietnam from May 10-13th. Danang is home to China Beach, made famous as an R&R destination during the Vietnam War and is a stunning stretch of sandy beach that extends right down to the beautiful town of Hoi An, about 30 minutes south. If you visit between April and October, the ocean is a mill pond. November to March is a completely different story as this is the monsoon season when you can actually get some decent surf, typhoons...and rips currents.

This picture from Google Earth is from a stretch of beach several kilometres south of China Beach. You can clearly see 4 fixed rip currents spaced about 150 m apart. You can tell the rips have been in the same place for a while from the embayments they've carved into the beach. Just a reminder that fixed rips, which look like dark gaps between breaking waves, are the most common type of rip and can occur anywhere. Very little information exists about rip drownings in Vietnam, but they do occur.

P.S. I rode from Hoi An to Danang 5 years ago and the beach was pristine. Nothing there, but local fisherman. It was magic. Word has it that resorts have now been developed along the entire stretch of coast. I'm really hoping to find that's not the case.

China Beach, Vietnam from Google Earth. 4 fixed rips 150 metres apart

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April 2011 Bondi Beach, Australia

I love this picture. It was taken late in the summer here in Australia when Bondi was absolutely packed. The photographer is Eugene Tan who runs a website called Aquabumps ( where you can subscribe to a daily email update of some superb photography of Bondi Beach . His pictures are not just about surfing and include phenomenal sunset shots and other pictures that really capture the essence of Bondi, all of which can be purchased online or from his Bondi Gallery. Anyway...a lot of his shots also have amazing rips in them and I hope he doesn't mind me using this one!

You can see the rip current in the middle of the photo thanks to a number of clues: i) there's a nice dark gap heading offshore - that's the rip channel; ii) there's a nice little 'bowl' in the beach. When rips stick around in the same place long enough, they can erode out a little embayment for themselves; and iii) there's no-one in them! Well, maybe a few people. Hope they enjoyed the ride.

beach at Bidart in the Basque region of France

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March 2011 Bidart, France

This picture was sent to me by Alexis Emanuel who has sent me some amazing pictures of rip currents from France. This one is on a beach at Bidart in the Basque region of France, near Biarritz. The main rip in the photo is the big dark gap in the middle. The waves are obviously pretty big and high-energy rips like this can often recur in the same location, but can pop up and disappear from time to time as wave sets come and go. I guess you could call it a persistent high-energy flash rip. It's location also looks to be influenced by the headland and the seawall constructed out of rocks. it's not uncommon for rips to develop off of man-made structures.

beach at Bidart in the Basque region of France

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February 2011 Maroubra Beach, New South Wales

It's been a bad summer here on the Australian East Coast with terrible flooding and Cyclone Yasi, but people have also been drowning in rip currents. It's rare for people to drown in rip currents on a Sydney beach, but 2 people drowned in a rip current at Maroubra Beach in a week.

It may very well have been the rip shown in this photograph. Channel 7 News came to film one of my Science of the Surf talks at the Maroubra Surf Life Saving Club and sent a helicopter to film the dye release. Several days later the first drowning occurred. These images and footage are courtesy of Channel 7.

Channel 7 footage image

To increase awareness of the rip current hazard in Australia, February 6 has been designated 'Rip Current Awareness Day'. This is the anniversary of the infamous mass rescue of hundreds of people caught in a flash rip at Bondi Beach in 1938. Part of this joint initiative between Surf Life Saving Australia and the University of New South Wales will be a release of purple dye into a rip current on 21 Sydney Beaches virtually simultaneously. This all depends on weather, waves, and the beach morphology. If we pull it off, it will be spectacular and will hopefully help with ongoing rip current education.

Kids watching the dye release at Maroubra

More from the Maroubra talk can be found on YouTube

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January 2011 Barlings Beach, New South Wales

Happy New Year everyone. It's still early in the summer here in Australia, but rip current drownings have been few and far between this year, which is great. Of course, there's a lot of factors to consider such as weather, water temperature, lack of waves etc., but lets hope some of the rip current education is paying off.

This picture is from a beach on the South Coast of New South Wales and it's fascinating. I preach 'dark gaps, dark gaps, dark gaps' through the breaking waves as the best way to spot a rip, but these rips are best spotted by the clouds of suspended sand heading out past the line of breaking waves. Rips flow fast enough to transport sand offshore and it's another way to spot them. Look at the picture more closely though and you can see that there are indeed, deeper darker channels running through the surf in line with the sand clouds. The message here is that some rips are easier to spot than others and you really need to spend 5 or 10 minutes watching the surf before you go in to see if there are any rips around. Thanks to Malcolm Buck for contributing his photo.

Rip next to a man made headland
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December 2010: Mar del Plata, Argentina

One type of rip current is a topographic rip. These are found next to fixed features such as headlands, groynes and jetties. Basically the waves push water along the beach, it hits the structure and is forced out to sea. Often these rip currents are permanent, as long as waves are breaking. The beaches along the coast of Mar del Plate, in Buenos Aires Province in Argentina have many groynes and a lot of topographic rips. You can spot the rip as the dark gap next to the groyne. This picture was provided to me from Estela Corelli who tragically lost her son in a rip current. She has launched her own campaign to educate people in Argentina about rip currents and has a Facebook page (in Spanish)

Rip next to a man made headland
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November 2010: Haeundae Beach, South Korea

A few months ago, I started to notice a large number of hits to my rip current YouTube video. I traced them to a newspaper article from the Korean Times which reported a mass rescue in a rip current in a popular beach resort region of South Korea. The article can be viewed at

I had no idea rips were an issue in South Korea and this picture is amazing. You can clearly see the rip from the amount of people on inflatable rafts who were carried along the beach in the feeder current and out in the rip itself! We know very little about rip currents in Asian and South-east Asian countries, but they are clearly a global hazard.

People being rescued on a korean beach
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October 2010: The Great Rip Current Experiment at Bondi Beach, NSW, Australia

The big 'swim parallel' or 'stay afloat' debate about what to do when stuck in a rip is still going. So Surf Life Saving Australia graciously provided myself and some colleagues at the University of New South Wales some funding to run an experiment at Bondi over a few days in September. We worked in the rip in the background of this photo (the dark gap).

Rip Current Experiment

The rocket-like looking things in the picture are specially constructed drifters that are designed to float through the surf. What makes them special is that they've got little GPS devices attached to track where they go. We also attached GPS to volunteer swimmers and floaters who would either jump in the rip and just stay afloat or swim parallel to the beach.

What happened? Most of the drifters went out in the rip and then curved around and came back in towards the beach across the sandbar, completing a circle. Some of them just kept going round and round. The swimmers who just stayed afloat all ended up being carried onto the sandbar safely. The swimmers who swam parallel all swam out of the rip easily. Debate? What debate??? Both options worked!

The thing is, this was a controlled experiment and the waves were actually pretty big and were closing out when they broke offshore, trapping everything inside. The swimmers were all competent swimmers and everyone knew what was going on. We're trying to expand the experiment into a much bigger project depending on the outcomes of a funding application.

Thanks to all the amazing volunteers who helped out on both days and to SLSA for making it happen.

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September 2010: Shelly Beach, Central Coast, New South Wales

Shelly Beach Arial

This is the best picture of rip currents I've ever seen. It has been kindly provided to me by Wyong Shire Council, more specifically, Allan Cooke who runs the lifeguard service there. Obviously it's taken from a plane, and you don't often get to spot rips from the air, but it really shows that the higher you are looking down on a beach, the easier they are to spot. Some pretty stunning channelised rip currents (dark gaps) heading offshore. Four of them to be exact. Allan showed some good initiative hiring a plane to take shots of local beaches and rips which were later included on information signs on the beaches themselves.

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August 2010: Noosa Heads, NSW Australia

Noosa Heads is a pretty popular tourist destination on Queenslands' Sunshine Coast. Waves from the south bend around the headland creating some amazing surfing breaks. If you go to Noosa, you'll also find a pretty strong longshore current flowing to the north. You wouldn't get very far because you'd hit the groyne in the foreground of this picture.

Noosa has a history of some pretty dramatic coastal engineering. The mouth of the Noosa River is in this picture, but it's not in it's normal position. Years ago, it used to come out to the south (at what is now called Main Beach), but was physically diverted there years ago. Not surprisingly, this screwed up the whole beach so now they have to dredge sand from the river mouth and pump it back to the southern end (where all the resorts are funnily enough). This sometimes leaves a giant hole in the beach next to the 2nd groyne!

Anyway, there are 2 rips in this picture between the two rock groynes. Both appear as classic dark gap channels sandwiched between sand bars. The picture was taken during a spring low tide and all the people in the foreground are part of a learn to surf class (they are sometimes taught how to use the rips as an easy way to get out the back). You can also see some weird dark channels heading offshore around the 2nd groyne. Any time you build a structure on a beach, it really messes up the nearby environment.

Noosa Heads
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July 2010: Perranporth Beach, Cornwall, UK

I've already done this beach a few months ago, but it was with dreary pictures I took in the middle of a UK winter. Much better to show English beaches in all their summer glory! And it is summer in the northern hemisphere. Here's proof that people really do swim en masse in the summer in England....and being obedient beach swimmers they have all been shepherded onto the safer shallower sand bars between rip currents. You can see dark rip channels all the way down the beach. Pretty easy to spot if you know what you're looking for.

Perrins Rips

The English lifeguards (run by the RNLI) are pretty proactive, constantly moving the flags and getting on the loud hailer telling people where to move as conditions change with the tide. Amazingly, and unlike Australia, the swimmers actually respond immediately and politely!

Thanks to Dr. Tim Scott for these pictures. I went over to Plymouth last year as part of his PhD examination, got to know him, found out that he takes fantastic pictures and some of them have ended up in my beach book, including the back cover! Funny how things work out.

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June 2010: Truc Vert, France

Truc Vert, France - Rips

Summer is approaching in the Northern Hemisphere which means beach time and if you've ever been to France in the summer, the beaches are packed. I still remember backpacking in August 1988 in the south of France watching news coverage of the crowds of swimmers on the Atlantic coast. The crowds were impressive, but even more amazing were the surfers carving swathes through the hordes. The carnage must have been unbelievable. Yep, France gets some world class surf. It also gets some world class rips.

I got this picture from Jamie MacMahan, the rip guru of Monterey, California, but I think he got it from Bruno Castelle, the rip guru of France, who probably got it from somebody else. Anyway, it's a great picture and to be honest, it looks like a lot of other surf beaches around the world, particularly Australia. But Truc Vert is in Acquitaine which is near Bordeaux on the Atlantic coast of France. It's got a large tide range that really exposes the rip channels at low tide. You can see all the dark gaps between the white water quite easily. The beach also has an outer sand bar that looks pretty rhythmic on this day. It's also been the site of a lot of beach and rip current experiments lately. Much easier putting in the gear at low tide on big tide beaches!

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May 2010: Tamarama Beach in Sydney's Eastern Suburbs

I've spent much of the summer conducting my own little rip current experiments, chucking purple dye in to see how they flow and then chucking myself in to see where I end up. Some of the dye release pics are on the Science of the Surf Facebook page (which everyone should become a Fan of!). I must have done almost 30 rip floats this summer and for the vast majority, if I just stayed afloat and did nothing, the rip ended up dumping me safe and sound on the sand bar. Most of the dye releases showed the dye heading seaward from the shoreline and through the rip and then curling around where it was brought back in by the waves making a complete circle. Sometimes the dye re-circulated a few times. This supports a lot of the results from neat rip research being conducted on rips around the world.

The only problem with staying afloat is that I knew exactly what I was doing and was comfortable. From time to time, waves did break over my head and I can see how this could lead to panic in a non-swimmer who is following the advice of 'just go with the flow'. On the other hand, when I swam parallel out of the rip, I made it onto the sand bars, but it wasn't always easy, and I'm a good swimmer. One thing to note about rips like the one in this picture is that most of the water that enters rips enters from the SIDE by draining off the sand bar. This flow is pretty strong in itself, almost as strong as the rip. So swimming parallel often means swimming against this side drainage which would often overpower a weak swimmer.

So once again, the best advice is to avoid getting in rips by looking for dark gaps and 'calmer' water between areas of white water. Just like this picture shows. It's a pretty simple and clear message (no pun intended).

Tamarama Beach
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April 2010: Palm Beach, Sydney, Australia

This picture was taken in April 1994 during my PhD fieldwork at Sydney's most northernmost beach...Palm Beach. it's sometimes known as 'Summer Bay' for fans of the Australian soap 'Home and Away'. Hopefully you can spot the rip. It was a classic, with two longshore feeder channels along the beach meeting together to form a narrow rip neck channel that headed offshore.....and kept on going! You can see from the purple dye that the rip started along the beach and went almost 200 meters offshore. And it only took about 2 minutes from start to finish.

Palm Beach

The weird thing was that the waves were small and most of the day, the rip had been going out just to the breaking waves where the water was brought back to shore across the bar in a wide circle. What happened here was that a wave set (a group of 5-6 bigger waves) came in, broke, piled extra water up on the beach and created a sudden 'rip pulse' that lasted for about 30 seconds. Rip pulses can double the speed of the rip almost instantaneously and can take swimmers a long way offshore. Once you're out that far, the only thing bringing you back is a long swim. Rips pulse about 20% of the time.....another reason to learn how to spot them and avoid them. My good friend Thomas always likes to point out that he's the one wearing the wet suit in the small crowd of people on the beach!

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March 2010: Somewhere in the Pacific Northwest

This is cool. People are starting to send me pictures of rips from overseas. This one was taken and sent by Andrew Ross, an Australian ex-pat now living in the Pacific Northwest. I can't say where in the Pacific Northwest because he refused to tell me, leading me to believe this picture is of a favourite secret surfing spot (in the Pacific Northwest) and I respect his need for privacy. If it helps, it's somewhere in Northern California, Oregon or Washington State!

Andrew Ross - Oregon Beach

Anyway, the rip in this picture is the line of turbulent and discoloured (from churned up sand) water pushing out to sea from the bottom left of the picture. I'd guess that the beach is probably 100-200 metres to the left. This is a good example of a mega rip which is just a really, really big flash rip. In other words, it doesn't sit in a channel, it just suddenly appears after a big wave set has broken and the water has piled up and pushed the water out in a rip.

The west coast of the US gets some pretty crazy and huge rips that occur on days like this when a nice clean groundswell hits. Most flash rips occur when it's stormy and messy, but the Pacific Northwest gets huge swell waves with periods of 15 to 20 seconds and even though the waves are nice and clean, they tend to promote some big rips. They definitely help the surfers get out the back on days like this....I think the surfer at the bottom right is paddling for the rip for that reason.

Please send me any rip pictures you've got. I'd be happy to show them and describe them.

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February 2010: Soldiers Beach, NSW Australia

Back to Australia this month. It has been an awful summer for rip drownings. Last week two parents drowned in a rip trying to save their kids in Ballina, NSW and a few days ago a father did the same on the South Coast at Lake Conjola. Having said that, this summer is no less tragic for rip drownings than usual. It's just that these incidents are particularly emotional. Nothing changes. Every year someone drowns in a rip approximately every 3 days during the summer here. All on unpatrolled beaches, after patrol hours, or outside the red and yellow flags. I feel like I'm sounding like a broken record.

Soldiers Beach

So this is what the most common type of rip looks like in Australia....a dark gap between breaking waves. This may be an obvious example but spend 5-10 minutes watching the surf before going in for a swim...if you see dark persistent gaps, chances are it's a rip. The problem is...they look like the safest place to swim.

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January 2010: Constantine Bay, Cornwall, UK

I visited the University of Plymouth in the UK in December and Professor Gerd Masselink, a good friend and one of the world's leading coastal geomorphologists, took me on a day tour of part of the Cornwall coast including Perranporth, Fistral Beach, and Newquay. I was blown away. Even though it was a miserable day, the coastline was stunning. Mind-boggingly so. The variety was amazing and it was some of the most beautiful coastal scenery I've ever seen. And there was surf. I knew there was surf in the UK, but it still seemed bizarre to see so many surf shops in these old Cornish towns, not to mention a ton of surfers catching some clean 2 m + winter swell.

The UK also has a rip problem. Not in the winter, because it's far too cold to swim. It's probably far too cold to swim in the summer as well, but hordes of people do and many of them end up getting stuck in rips where they are rescued by RNLI (Royal National Lifeboat Institute) lifeguards. These pictures are from Constantine Bay, rated as one of the most dangerous swimming beaches in the UK in terms of rips. The beaches and rips are a lot different because the tides are so large. Tide range along this coast can be up to 6 m or more which means the shoreline shifts pretty rapidly between low and high tide. The rips sit in distinct channels and only really fire up over a short period of time around low to mid-tide when the water depths are just right for wave breaking and water getting in the rip channels. For this reason, there are often "mass rescue" events where a ton of people get in trouble at the same time. Lifeguards are always shifting the red and yellow flags around as well as sheperding swimmers and waders around with the changing conditions.

Constantine Bay Constatine Bay

The picture with the sign and the arrow shows a rip channel almost exposed at low tide. It's deeper, darker, and very narrow. The other picture shows Gerd standing next to it. It's really not a big deal, but as the tide rises, water depth increases, more waves break on the bars and water starts to flow into the channel. There it gets squeezed and starts flowing faster and if you are not paying attention or aren't a good swimmer, off you go!

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November 2009: Rehoboth Beach, Delaware

I've been working my way down the US East Coast meeting up with people associated with the  Break the Grip of the Rip Campaign . This is the excellent national rip education and awareness campaign that's been up and running in the States for about 6 years. I recently stayed in Lewes, Delaware where Wendy Carey (University of Delaware Sea Grant) organised a workshop on rips for myself and a bunch of regional lifeguards and then took me on a tour of the Delaware and Maryland beaches. This picture was taken from the top of one the local hotels in Rehoboth Beach in Delaware. The weather was pretty dismal with a howling northeaster and record low temperatures, but at least the surf was up (well, only about 1-1.5 m) and we got some great shots of some flash rips.

Reboth Beach

Flash rips are often the hardest rip type to spot as they suddenly pop out of nowhere and only last for a very short period of time (sometimes less than a minute). They appear as streaks of white water with clouds of suspended sediments. The one in this picture is in the middle of the shot and appears as a thin neck pushing out past the surf zone that quickly slows down and turns into a mushroom cloud. Why did it occur? Flash rips form when a group of large waves suddenly break in the same location, momentarily increasing the water level. This results in a sudden "pumping" of water offshore, i.e. the flash rip. What should you have done if you were caught in this one? Nothing at all. If you just relaxed and stayed afloat, the rip would have taken you out the back. A good swimmer would then swim towards the side and then back towards the breaking waves and be brought back to shore quickly. A poor swimmer should just stay afloat and signal for a lifeguard. Of course on this day, the flash rips weren't dangerous at all simply because no-one was swimming.

I'd like to thank Wendy Carey, Deborah Jones, Tim Schott, Steve Pfaff, Spencer Rogers, Katie Mosher, Sandy Sanderson and all the other people from SeaGrant/NWS who have helped organised my rip presentations and workshops and taken the time to meet with me during October. Many thanks also to all the people who attended the workshops. It's been extremely rewarding.

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October 2009: Monterey, California

Well, it's not exactly Monterey. The Monterey Peninsula is basically one big long sandy beach extending north from Monterey to Santa Cruz and there's rips the whole way. In fact, it looks an awful lot like Australia.

Monterey Peninsula

This picture was taken on the beach between the towns of Seaside and Marina by Dr. Jamie MacMahan of the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey. I've been working on rip stuff with Jamie for the last month and he's probably the guru when it comes to measuring rips, not only here, but around the world. He's particularly adept at capturing measurements that no-one else is capable of and his latest breakthrough is throwing fleets of GPS drifters in rips and tracking where they go. His results are pretty significant and show that about 90% of the time, the drifters (and people) will flow around in a big circle without leaving the surf zone and often end up back in shallow water. The message here is that sometimes it pays to just go with the flow when you're stuck in a rip. You can read more about Jamie's research.

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September 2009: Mystery Rip Location

Okay, this picture isn't the best quality. It's an old aerial photograph, but you can still see 5 rip channels heading offshore. They are pretty much the same distance apart and you can spot them by the darkness of the deeper channels compared to the lighter, shallower sand bars. You can also see some curved rip head bars formed by the sand that is carried out by the rips and then dumped when the rip slows down.

Mystery Rip Location

So where's the picture taken? Hmmmmm, could be anywhere in Australia, could be along the Florida Panhandle coast or it could be pretty much any ocean beach in the world with rips. The only problem is, it's actually in Duluth, Minnesota!

It's also not the ocean, it's Lake Superior, the largest freshwater lake in the world. The beach is called Park Point (or Minnesota Point) Beach and is part of the longest bayhead mouth bar in the world. Yep, rips can occur in lakes if they are big enough. You only need wave activity and sand bars. I recently met with Jesse Schomberg (who provided me with this picture) of the Minnesota SeaGrant Program and Dean Packingham of the National Weather Service and they are running an impressive rip education and awareness program for the beach. Rip drownings don't happen often there, but they are treated very seriously. I found it very different from the attitude in Australia where rip drownings are frequent, but there is almost an acceptance and complacency about them.

As it turns out, Great Lakes rips are a big problem, particularly in Lake Superior, Lake Michigan and Lake Erie, and other shorelines where there are sandy beaches. They would be a much bigger problem if you could swim longer than just a few months a year!

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August 2009: Florida, USA

This website is biased towards Australian beaches and rips, but rips occur around the world and are just as much of a problem to swimmers as they are here. Right now it's the middle of summer in the Northern Hemisphere and lifeguards around the United States have their hands full rescuing people in rips. More than 100 people down each year in the US because of rip currents. Dr. Stephen Leatherman is a coastal geomorphologist at Florida International University in Miami and he sent me this picture from a Florida beach taken a few months ago (I think it's somewhere in the Florida Panhandle...there's a lesson ...always write down the details in the e-mail when you download a file!).

Florida Location

It's a good example of a flash rip under high energy conditions. The surf had increased in intensity and flash rips were popping up all over the place. While the rip appeared temporarily as a dark gap between the breaking waves, these rips are very mobile and variable in their appearance. That is why they are particularly dangerous and apparently there were a lot of rescuses along the Florida coast the day this photo was taken.

What is interesting is that this picture could be anywhere...Florida, Australia, South Africa, the Great Lakes, etc. Rips definitely have a lot of characteristics in common no matter where you are.

Dr. Leatherman is also organising the first international Rip Current Symposium in Miami in February 2010. This meeting will bring together rip scientists and educators from around the world.

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July 2009: Burwood Beach, Newcastle

This picture was taken at Burwood Beach which is a "remote" beach just to the north of Merewether Beach in Newcastle, NSW. Strange little beach is Burwood. It's just a 10-15 minute walk south of the very popular Merewether Baths and yet is virtually empty except for a small group of surfers and some nudists. I used it for bodysurfing away from the crowds, which was probably a no-no as there are no flags or lifeguards on the beach.

Burwood Beach

Anyway, the reason why this picture is interesting is that there is a fairly obvious dark area where there's very few breaking waves, a good example of a rip. A recent study by the University of New South Wales and Surf Life Saving Australia incorporated this picture in a questionnaire given to over 400 beachgoers and when they were asked to spot the rip in the picture, 20% said they didn't know what a rip was and about 40% pointed to the wrong place, which means 60% didn't know how to spot the rip! In fact, a lot of people actually pointed at the rip as the safest place to swim!

This was the motivation to focus the research study on trying to figure out the best way to improve people's ability to spot rips and led to the development of the slogan "Don't Get Sucked in by the Rip" which was devised by Julie Hatfield of the UNSW Injury Risk Management Research Centre. I think that is the best educational slogan I've ever heard when it comes to rips as it's preventative in nature. In other words....don't get in a rip in the first place!

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June 2009: The Backpackers Express, Bondi Beach, Australia

Bondi Beach is Australia's most famous beach and is such a national icon, that it was listed on the Australian Natural Heritage list in 2008. It's a great beach and a wacky place in general. Just watch a few episodes of the reality TV show Bondi Rescue and you'll get the general idea. Basically, you either love it or you hate it. Personally, I love it, but usually in the mornings in March and April when the crowds are gone and the water is still warm. It's magic.

However, Bondi can be dangerous. This summer it got a lot of publicity for the shark attack on local surfer Glen Orgias. As horrible as that was, it was the first attack in 80 years and sharks really are not a problem...but they sell newspapers. Much more of a problem is the fact that Bondi usually has about 4-5 rips along the beach, none more famous than the Backpacker's Express at the southern end. It's called this because backpackers (and tourists in general) really have no idea what rips are, jump off the 380 bus, run straight down to the beach, dive into the water and straight into the rip. And off they go. It doesn't help that "Backpackers" is almost ALWAYS THERE. It's a classic example of a permanent headland rip. It's not as funny as it sounds. A huge amount of rescues take place every year in the rip, tourists and Australians alike, and as recently as January, 2007 a doctor from Mongolia, who was about to resume studies at The University of New South Wales, drowned in the rip.

Bondi Beach

In this picture, the rip appears as a clear, seemingly calm, dark channel between breaking waves on the shallow sand bar and the reef.

On this day, the rip channel was oriented offshore in a sort of S-bend direction. You can also see the existence of large ripples within the rip channel itself. Ripples that size are an indication that water is moving fast. You can also see a rip a few hundred metres down the beach. Again it's a classic dark gap between the breaking waves on the shallow sand bars AND you can also see that the rip has eroded the beach creating a little embayment.

The waves on this day were small, but because the channel was so well formed, the rips were flowing pretty fast. Lifeguards will tell you these are the days that most people get into trouble because it looks safe.

If you want to swim at Bondi and don't want to get rescued in a rip, head north to the sets of beach flags in the middle of the beach and at the northern end. Unless of course, you want to end up on Bondi Rescue.

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May 2009: Dixon Park Beach, Newcastle

Newcastle is one of Australia's best kept secrets. It's a 2 hour drive north of Sydney and is the second biggest city in NSW, but unless you actually have a reason to go there, you'll just drive straight by on the Pacific Highway without even getting a glimpse. This is a shame because it has some great coastline and beaches and is a pretty nice place to live as well. Dixon Park is in the middle of an approximately 2 km long beach that is called Merewether at it's southern end.

Dixon Park Beach

Home and home break of one of Australia's surfing legends Mark Richards, Merewether has now been designated a National Surfing Reserve. None of this has anything to do with rips, but for years now I've been giving my Science of the Surf talks at the Dixon Park Surf Life Saving Club because there's often a rip straight out in front. This one is a classic because it clearly shows how "fixed" or "low-energy" rips can be identified by seemingly "calm gaps" between the breaking waves. This one had a longshore feeder flowing from right to left that then angled off into the main rip channel. It wasn't flowing particularly fast because the waves were fairly small and the channel was wide. Rips need a LOT of wave breaking and narrow channels to flow fast.

The most dangerous aspect of this rip is that it looks like the safest place to swim...and it's not. You can always tell it's Newcastle from the ships could very well be the Pasha Bulker, which came ashore in a major East Coast Cyclone in June 2007!

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April 2009: Surfers Paradise, Queensland

In case you were wondering, there is absolutely no connection with the rip picture and the actual month! I'm just putting them up randomly. These pictures were taken from the relatively new Q1 Tower at Surfers Paradise. Whereas most skyscrapers are in the middle of big cities and often all you see is smog, this one is unique as it's RIGHT ON THE BEACH and the views are incredible. From this height you can see straight through the water and I wouldn't be surprised if the media has a photographer permanently hunkered down trying to catch the money shot of a man-eating shark close to swimmers. Of course, what they should be focussing on are the rips. Surfers is notorious for large surf, lots of rips, and lots of tourists. A pretty dangerous combination. In the close up picture you can clearly see 3 rips in deeper, dark channels. They are about 200 metres apart which is pretty common for fixed rips along the east coast. The picture showing a longer stretch of beach shows that the rips go on and on and on. It's very difficult to actually avoid a rip, which is why swimming between the flags is your best bet. The Lifeguards on the Gold Coast do an amazing job and pamphlets on rip awareness and beach safety are handed out at the Gold Coast airport and are available in many motel rooms...something NSW doesn't do, but should.

View from Q1 Tower Surfers Paradise Beach
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March 2009: Bronte Beach, Sydney, NSW

Bronte Beach

Bronte Beach is a great beach, but it is also considered to be one of the most hazardous beaches in New South Wales, mostly because it almost always has a rip on the southern end called "The Bronte Express". This was taken in April 2008 during a fairly stormy day and it shows a distinct darker trough, or longshore feeder current, flowing from left to right (north to south) and then diverting offshore into the main part of the rip. You can clearly spot the rip by the dark gap between breaking waves. Due to the energetic wave conditions on the day, although this rip was channelised, it was on the verge of "popping out" and was starting to move laterally up and down the beach, which signifies the beginning of flash rip conditions. You can actually see streaks in the rip and turbulent clouds of water and sand just beyond the breakers in what is called the rip head, where the rip starts to slow down and decelerate.

The scary thing about this picture is that the flags look like they were placed right in front of the rip! The picture is a bit deceptive, because they weren't, but the rip was starting to shift and flash around and the beach was closed shortly after the picture was taken. Not a good day for swimming. Surfing was bad too because of the strong onshore winds creating messy wind waves on top of the swell. The guys trying to soak up a tan must have been English.

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February 2009: Hot Water Beach, New Zealand

Hot Water Beach Hot Water Beach - Warning

The rip of the month for January showed a massive rip on one of Aucklands extremely dangerous west coast beaches. Tragically, only a week after posting this picture, Sonny Fai a player for the Auckland Warriors National Rugby League team drowned in a rip at nearby Bethells Beach. One of his coaches drowned in similar conditions at the end of January on the same coastline.

There are some beaches that are just not safe for swimming. It is hoped that Sonnys drowning, a result of trying to save his younger brother who got caught by the rip but was saved, will encourage people to think twice about swimming outside the flags. If a young, strong and fit professional rugby player can't save himself from a strong rip current, what chance does the average person have?

The rip picture(s) this month shows another rip in New Zealand, but in contrast, this beach looks perfectly safe. Hot Water Beach is a famous tourist destination in the Coromandel Peninsula because at low tide, natural hot springs bubble up through the sand to the surface. The beach is also known for its rips and although the day I took this picture in 1999 was beautiful and calm, the presence of rocks has created a very subtle and weak rip to the left of the main rock. You can spot this rip because as the water flows offshore from the shoreline it meets the incoming water with the waves causing some surface rippling and disturbance. In other words, the surface of the rip looks different to the surrounding smoother water. I took this picture to show that rips can develop around rocks even on a very SAFE LOOKING day.

Now I show the picture during my educational talks because 30 minutes later the man walking in the shallow water had drowned. A 60 year old German tourist, he couldn't swim, got dragged out in the rip, panicked and had a heart attack. Before the accident happened, I took the picture of the signs up warning people about rips in english and in other languages, including German. What this shows is that if you don't understand what a rip is, signs like this are completely useless. He was the second person to drown in on that beach that week and several people drown on Hot Water Beach every year. Amazingly, we went back for a holiday in December 2009 and the same sign was there except now it's overgrown by vegetation! Signs based on text messages only are totally ineffective and don't's as simple as that. They have no educational value at all. This drowning should never have happened.

If you recognise the picture, it was on the front page of the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper on Saturday December 20, 2008.

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January 2009 - Muriwai Beach, New Zealand.

Muriwai Beach NZ

The West Coast Auckland beaches have some of the largest rips in the world and this picture shows several of them. Muriwai receives typical west coast swell with wave heights of 2.5 m almost everyday. The clear gaps heading off at angles are the rips and these would be classified as fixed rips as they sit in deep channels between sandbars. We jumped in the rip opposite the creek entrance in the middle of the beach, floated along the beach for about 300 m before being carried about 400 m offshore of speeds of 1.5 m/s!!! This picture was scanned from a 35 mm slide that was blown out of my slide carousel and into a puddle while I was getting out of my car in windy Wellington so apologies for the quality.

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