Family Trip to the Beach: Red Flags, Riptides, and Relaxation

momfamily fun & traditions

I grew up in Arizona and was on a swim team every summer until my teens. In addition, my family spent 2 weeks every August vacationing in San Diego, California, where my dad taught me how to body surf and boogie board. Needless to say, I've never been afraid of the water. It's like a second home to me.

I recall seeing red flags at the beach, indicating a strong current. They'd be close to the water, with warning signs extending the length of the dangerous area. I knew never to swim there and I never had a problem.

So, with a long history of swimming success, what ingredients would make the perfect recipe for beach disaster?

  1. Add in one foreign country to the mix—the Costa Del Sol in El Salvador.
  2. Mix up your experience by placing the red flag next to the cabanas where the sand starts and no where near the water's edge—unfamiliar in terms of where I'm used to seeing them (this pic is deceptive and the red flag is actually pretty far away from the beach).
  3. Slowly fold in no warning signs or reason to be nervous.

The concoction? A very dangerous situation—a riptide!

A little background...

I entered the warm Pacific Ocean, thrilled to be heading toward the waves. I assessed the size of those furthest out and gauged how far I wanted to go. I met each wave head on with salty exhilaration until I reached my pre-determined spot. I turned and faced my destination ready to body surf back to shore.

To my surprise, when I swam with the wave that was my ticket home, it took me backward instead of forward. Suddenly, I couldn't touch the ground and I was at the largest wave, a spot much further than I had intended to go.

My husband was on shore waving me back (as he took this pic!). I started hyperventilating, knowing the situation I was in and tried touching ground once more. Luck was on my side and for a brief 30 seconds I could stand. I reached my arms high and signaled an X over and over, letting him know I was in trouble. He kept waving me back, indicating that he didn't understand my rudimentary form of communication.

I made a quick decision to calm down, to quit trying to swim with the waves, to continue trying to communicate, but to relax a bit. Hyperventilating was only going to take me down. As it turns out, Troy had understood me the whole time and the lifeguards had already noticed my plight. In fact, as the largest wave broke over me, I saw Mr. Baywatch himself running toward me (how could he run in a riptide?).

Exhausted, I fell onto the life preserver and after what seemed like forever, we made it back to shore, where I tried to make sense of how in the world I fell into such danger. I looked all around for evidence of warning signals and found the red flag right there next to where we had been sitting, eating lunch. Up by the cabana. Far from the water's edge.

Life lessons from this experience:

  • Find out ahead of time potential dangers for activities you pursue.
  • At first thought of being in a dangerous situation, signal for help.
  • When you find yourself in dangerous situations, use your skills and resources. At the same time, don't fight so hard against the situation that you exhaust yourself and put yourself into further danger.
  • When you feel like you're in trouble, take a deep breath, let the waves roll by, and try to remain calm.
  • When help arrives, take it and be grateful!
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An active part of the Mom It Forward team, Jyl primarily writes about parenting, social good, and all things travel related. In a past life, Jyl was an award-winning copywriter and designer of corporate training programs for Fortune 100 companies. Offline, Jyl is married to @TroyPattee; a mom to two teen boys and a beagle named #Hashtag; loves large amounts of cheese, dancing, and traveling; and lives in the beautiful Rocky Mountains. Topping her bucket list is the goal to visit 50 countries by the time she's 50.

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