A Girl of the Rugged Coast: Riptide

A Girl of the Rugged Coast: Riptide

If vacation advertising is to be believed, most people think of beaches as long white sandy strips full of sunbathers and volleyball. I think of jagged rocks, stiff salty wind, whales, and shore birds. More often than not, you need a light jacket to visit our beaches and a sense of wonder. To me, a long strip of sandy beach sounds boring. I don’t want to lay on a towel and take in the sun. I need to explore. Our rugged coasts are less of a leisure pursuit and more of an adventure. Come hardy explorers to perch among the rocks. What has the tide brought us? What lurks under the driftwood and in the tidepools?

For many years I went to the coast with my father’s family. It was back during a time when a kid could rise, eat breakfast, and disappear for hours until hunger brought you back. Being back before dinner was the only real requirement. The wild child must be present and presentable for dinner at the nice restaurant. A skirt must be worn for women and girls and a tie and jacket for the boys and men. This rule was in place well into the mid-1990’s.

On a particularly nice day when I was 15 or 16, I was enjoying a bit of “bodysurfing”, but on this occasion the undercurrent was stronger than usual. The sand beneath my feet evaporated. I only got one quick gasp of air before being pulled under and out. I kicked as hard as I could propelling myself in the direction I thought was up. It was only a guess. I kicked and kicked, my lungs burning, begging for air when finally, I broke the surface. The shoreline was so small, the people were the size of ants and no one seemed to notice me out there. I panicked. It’s one of the few times where I thought I might actually die.

There are signs posted near the resorts about what to do if you get pulled into a riptide. I had studied them often out of kid bored, waiting for my dad to check us in or out of a place, pay at a restaurant or while getting gas. I never thought I would have to follow the step in a live scenario. Step 1: “Don’t panic.” Well, too late for that! I did my best to put the emotion aside and focused on step two. Step 2: “Swim at an angle towards the shore.” Mental visualization of the diagram, showing a stick figure swimming parallel or at a slight angle from the shore. I was at least a mile from shore, possibly two. I dare not think it could have been farther.

It took at least two hours of breaststroke and back swimming. I tried to drift in like flotsam at times. When I finally made it shore, I arrived with no fanfare. No one had noticed. I was exhausted. I headed up to the rental and walked in the door. “You’re late!” My dad boomed. “Sorry, I got caught in a riptide.” I grumbled. “Well, get changed! We have to leave for dinner right now!” So, I changed and off to dinner we went. I’ll never know if he didn’t hear me right, didn’t believe me or didn’t understand the implications of what I’d just said.

More to Explore:

Science of Riptides: Rip Current Science (weather.gov) It’s interesting because this and other sites I found say “Riptides don’t pull you under.” I beg to differ. I was definitely pulled under. I suspect it has something to do with the firmness of the sand.

(Pictures: Cape Disappointment, OR. Melanie Reynolds, 2007)