Topsail Beach motel educates visitors on rip current risk

Rip current worries on Topsail Island

TOPSAIL BEACH, N.C. (WECT) - Businesses on Topsail Island are stepping up to educate their guests on rip current safety after a difficult start to the beach season.

Surf City reported a record number of rip current rescues in the first three weeks. In that same time frame, a father was swept away in a rip current and died in Topsail Beach after trying to rescue his wife and son.

Jonathan Hodge, general manager of the Sea Vista Motel, says he made changes at the motel this season to ensure each and every guest that checks in understands rip currents.

He’s letting people know at check-in about the flags and water conditions, leaving safety brochures in rooms, posting safety information on social media and offering to teach each and every guest how to spot rip currents when they arrive.

Hodge is also working with town officials to bring in nonprofit group ‘Don’t Fight the Rip’ next month to hold demonstrations and talk to the community.

The educational campaign was started after the founders lost their daughter, Paige Merical, in 2019 in Emerald Isle to a rip current.

On the other end of the island, Surf City Fire Chief Allen Wilson also confirms leaders are working with businesses to get educational materials in rental properties.

Last month’s tragedy has opened a lot of people’s eyes to the danger of rip currents, but the work is far from over.

“Its pretty common for folks to get down to the ocean and think it’s nice and friendly, but you need to respect it and know what to look for. Most of the people I spoke to do not know what a rip current looks like, that’s why we make every effort to show them when they check in now,” said Hodge. “Even if its just tips and suggestions we can get out to people to keep them safe; it’s well worth the minimal effort to educate people.”

Hodge was on the beach on May 29 as rescuers pulled the 29-year-old victim from the ocean. He says the entire terrible ordeal happened in the blink of an eye.

Many people across the island have been forever changed by the dangerous start to this year’s beach season.

“I go into the ocean now with a different respect and outlook on it, one I never had before. Unfortunately, sometimes this is the way it happens but most people don’t know what the ocean can do,” said Hodge.

Surf City Fire says they’ve seen fewer rip current rescues in recent weeks than they did at the start of the season, but that does not mean the risk is gone.

Even on days the risk is low for rip currents, there’s still always a chance one could appear.

To learn more about how to safely exit a rip current, NOAA has information posted on their website here and the US Lifesaving Association also has resources on their website here.

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