Almost anyone who grew up within an hour's drive of an Australian beach has heard of rips and knows that they're dangerous, but for many of us, that's the extent of our knowledge.
The proper name for a rip is 'rip current'. Some might refer to them as an undertow, but they're not the same thing. A rip current is when water is being pulled out in a fairly narrow path away from the beach and towards the ocean.
Rip currents are not always easily identifiable, but a major sign of one is the appearance of a column of calm water between breakers. If there are waves all around, avoid any unusually calm water between them; it's not calm underneath the surface.
The most commonly known piece of safety advice for getting out of a rip current is to swim parallel to the beach. Basically, swim out the side of it. That sounds easy, but if you're swimming around enjoying yourself and suddenly you're much further out into the ocean than you thought you were, your natural instinct is to swim straight back to the shore, even if you have to fight the current to do so. If you're not a strong swimmer, or if panic sets in, that's when it becomes dangerous.
If you find yourself caught in a rip, firstly, DON'T PANIC, and do not try to swim against it. That will use up all your energy and risk your safety even more.
If you're a strong swimmer, you can get out of the rip current by swimming parallel to the beach. Then you can attempt to swim back to the shore using the breakers to help push you along in the waves.
If you're not a strong swimmer, or you find yourself tiring to the point where you feel you can't swim anymore, face the shore and raise one hand in the air, waving it from side to side. This will attract the attention of the lifeguards so that they can assist you. If you find yourself becoming tired, float on your back to conserve energy.
Even better than knowing how to escape a rip current, however, is avoiding them in the first place.
There are plenty of beaches in Australia that are attended by lifeguards, so above all, the best and easiest way to avoid rip currents is to swim at a patrolled beach. Lifeguards are trained to recognise the signs of rips and keep you and your family safe by showing you the safest place to swim, so always swim between the flags, follow their instructions, and take heed of any danger signs.
Following this basic advice will help to keep you and your kids safe on the Gold Coast beaches this summer. So take care and have fun!