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Surviving the California Surf with Beach Safety
Each Year People Die Because they Do Not Understand these Ocean Dangers

Beach Safety  - California Department of Parks and Recreation

The goal of this section is not to scare you but to make you aware of potential dangers that you can encounter when entering the Pacific Ocean.  With an estimated 11 to 14 million people visiting Huntington Beach each year, accidental deaths by drowning are rare. Some common sense tips will help you avoid the pitfalls a few unfortunate people have made.  Just being in a group does not assure you won't encounter problems. One drowning we witnessed happened when an 18-year-old man went too far into the water and was caught unaware by a rip current at Bolsa Chica State Beach. He was up to his chest in water when the rip current grabbed him. He went under and his friends who were only a few feet away could not find him. After an intensive search and rescue effort of 50 lifeguards and 2 helicopters, his body washed ashore in Surfside hours later.

Another extremely unfortunate accident that occurs to even veteran surfers is a broken neck, spinal injury and paralysis. Innocent youth and adults who run and dive into the water can encounter sand instead water. And surfers on boards are injured by being dumped with strong force into sandbars while riding on a wave. Sometimes the accidents just happen and the surfer was unable to anticipate a condition. But at a minimum, do not run and dive into the water near the shore. It's best to walk into the surf.

  • Surfing safety includes several recommendations for beginners. It is a good idea to take a lesson or two when first surfing. Not only will your instructor teach you the basics of surfing, he or she will also watch for your safety. Lessons are available daily from places like Zack's Concessions and by arrangement at surf camps.

  • Stay away from the Huntington Beach Pier pilings when first learning how to surf. Even veteran surfers occasionally are driven toward the pier. The barnacles on the pier tear your skin and create serious damage. You do not want to surf into the pier, ever.

  • Do not challenge surfers or threaten to fight. While most are professional and polite, if a territorial situation occurs, you simply want to move away from the surfer and find another spot. The person you encounter is usually more skilled than yourself on a board and has an advantage over you.

  • Stay out of the water after it rains. Surfers who go in after rain complain of flu-like symptoms, nausea and other illnesses. The bacterial levels after a rain are high and you probably will get sick. Though not fail-proof, check water quality reports and ask lifeguards and locals if there are water quality issues in a particular area. Surfers who spend lots of time in the water get hepatitis shots as preventive maintenance. There is a reason they do so.

Safety Tips from the Beach Lifeguards:

Never swim alone.
Swim near a lifeguard.
Never drink alcohol before swimming.
Check with the lifeguards for current ocean conditions. 
Learn about these currents below:

SLEEPER WAVES:  Without warning, huge "sleeper" waves sometimes hit the shore. These giants crash  much farther up the beach than normal waves. They can knock down both children and adults, and  drag them into deep water. Always keep an eye on the surf and keep children away from the foam line.

RIP CURRENTS:  Rip currents are swift rivers of backwash surging through the surf.  Early breaking waves and choppy foamy or discolored water mark these danger zones. If caught in a rip current, do not  swim against it. Swim parallel to the beach until free of the current, then head for shore.

BACKWASH:  On steep beaches, even normal waves create a dangerous backwash of water rushing back into the sea. 

BLUFF CAUTION:  The bluffs and cliffs along the beaches are often made of sandstone and are constantly eroding. This erosion is usually slow but sometimes can occur in bluff failures or collapses. Avoid walking on or sitting directly underneath unstable bluffs, overhangs and caves.

STINGRAY: Stingrays are found in the shallow water seasonally. They are not aggressive animals but are equipped with a bard and venom gland on their tail that they use as a defense mechanism. To avoid stingrays, shuffle your fee along the sandy bottom while exiting and entering the water. If stung, report to the nearest staffed lifeguard station for first aid. If allergic reaction occurs, call 911 immediately.

JELLYFISH: Jellyfish are free swimming, colorless, and range in size from a few inches to three feet in diameter. They sometimes appear during the summer months. Their tentacles cause an uncomfortable reaction when they come in contact with human skin. Although jellyfish do not cause serious risk, if stung, report to the nearest staffed lifeguard station for first aid. If an allergic reaction occurs, dial 911 immediately.