Rip Currents: Surfer’s Guide to Safety and Awareness

For surfers, the ocean is both a playground and a canvas. A realm of boundless adventure and natural beauty. However, mother nature is not one to be messed with. Within the watery depths of the sea lurk rip currents, a force that demands respect and understanding. At Surf Unleashed we have spent years in the sea and aim to dive deeper into what rip currents are, how they impact surfing, and crucial safety measures for navigating these dynamic currents.

What Is A Rip Current? 

Rip currents, often misconceived as undertows, are powerful streams of water flowing from the shore back to the ocean. Unlike undertows that pull swimmers underwater, rip currents are surface phenomena, moving perpendicular to the shoreline. Strong swimmers may not fear rips due to the belief that they can outswim the current. This, however, would be a catastrophic and tragic mistake to make. Their speed can exceed 8 feet per second, which is faster than an Olympic swimmer’s pace. This forceful flow can quickly carry individuals away from the shore, making it challenging to return by swimming against it.

Rip Current

What Causes Rip Currents?

There are various causes of rip currents and understanding them offer some guidance on how to spot them yourselves, or at least identify a potential hazard. When waves crash near the shore, water accumulates and seeks a path of least resistance, creating channels that form rip currents. Coastal features like sandbars, jetties, and piers disrupt water flow, contributing to the formation of these currents. Another feature is the tide times. Rip currents intensify during tidal changes, especially around low tide when water recedes rapidly.

Are There Any Advantages To Surfing Near Rip Currents?

The Surfer’s perspective on rip currents should be to avoid them for safety reasons, however some surfers use rip currents to paddle out beyond breaking waves, conserving energy and accessing the line up more efficiently, however this is not something we advise. Only locals will really understand common forming rips, therefore don’t try to copy those advanced surfers who understand the local area better than yourself.

For those who are regularly in the water, observing rip currents can aid in anticipating wave breaks and selecting better quality waves. This again though is only suited to the local crew who understand their break best.

Surfing Rip Current

 What Should I Do If I Get Stuck In A Rip Current?

Firstly, before you end up being in a rip try to have constant awareness on what is going on around you. Vigilance regarding water conditions is crucial. Surfing requires an acute understanding of rip currents and swift adaptability. Have the waves suddenly started to stop breaking in the zone you are? Have you moved along the shoreline drastically? This will help you to identify whether you are in a rip?

If the answer is yes then remain calm and keep your composure. Remaining calm when caught in a rip current is vital to avoid panic induced decisions and energy depletion. Rather than fighting the current, try to move parallel to the shore to utilise the current’s flow for safe exits and returns. 

Fighting against a rip can be hard work. Conserve your energy by floating on your back. You can use this to signal for assistance by raising one arm and calling for help. It’s important to remember that the rip will eventually subside. Once out of the strongest part of the current, swim at a 45-degree angle towards the shore. This helps you escape the current more efficiently.

What to do in a rip current

The benefit of surfing is that you have a permanent floatation device, as in your board so you should never leave it. This can be a lifesaver as it is a guarantee to keep you afloat and allowing time for a rescue, should you need it.

Our final tip is to try to always go with a buddy, or at least in an area that is lifeguarded. If you are not a seasoned surfer who uses the same break everyday, this will help you stay safe at the beach should you ever get into danger. Bondi Beach in Australia is well known for its challenging surf conditions. There have been several instances of swimmers and surfers getting caught in rip currents. Lifeguards are highly trained and conduct numerous rescues every year. They often stress the importance of swimming between the red and yellow flags,  or surfing the black and white chequered flags which indicate safer areas patrolled by lifeguards.

Lifeguard Rip Currents


Surfers, whether beginners or seasoned pros, must be well-versed in dealing with rip currents to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience in the water. By understanding how to spot rip currents, staying calm, and following the proper steps when caught, you can navigate these challenges and continue to enjoy the thrill of riding the waves responsibly. Remember, knowledge and preparation are the keys to staying safe in the ever-changing and powerful environment of the ocean.