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Oak Island Water Rescue takes proactive approach with rip current risk, high surf

Published: Jul. 9, 2021 at 10:47 PM EDT
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OAK ISLAND, N.C. (WECT) - Tropical Storm Elsa brought high surf and rip current risk to coastal areas on Thursday and Friday, leading water rescue officials in Oak Island to take a proactive approach in keeping people out of the water.

Oak Island Water Rescue Chief Tony Young said even during his afternoon rip current report on Friday, he spotted three rip currents just within a two block area of the station.

Over the past two days, Young said Oak Island Water Rescue decided to take a proactive approach, not only warning people on social media of the high risk of rip currents, but also going to the beach and removing people from the water.

“We took it on ourselves to go and try to educate people and ask them to get themselves out of the water,” he said. “To be proactive, we went out on the beach and when we found people in the water we asked them to come out.”

Oak Island Water Rescue removed — not rescued — more than two dozen people from the water on Thursday because of the high surf and risk of rip currents.

If anyone had gotten into trouble, there was not much water rescue could do.

“It was too dangerous for us to try and go help somebody if they were out in the surf and yesterday,” said Young. “The surf extended as far as I could see from the beach; there were breaking waves to the horizon. There was just no way our boat could go out.”

Even in knee-deep water, rip currents still pose a danger, which is another reason why water rescue asked people to get out of the water on Thursday.

“All it takes is that one wave that’s a little bit bigger than the rest and suddenly you’re in chest deep water, and if you’re swept off your feet then off you go,” Young said.

A rip current does not feel like an undertow, but a river of water that’s flowing out against the waves, said Young.

“It’s just going to feel like if you stepped into a flowing creek, or down here where the tide is flowing out, it’s just an irresistible force of water heading out to sea” he said.

Although the conditions were worse on Thursday, Friday made water rescue workers even more nervous.

“It’s hot and sunny and the crowd is on the beach like the storm never happened, but guess what — the ocean is still terrible. It’s a terrible day out there,” he said.

Young said he believes a lot of people have heard their messaging surrounding rip currents, and Oak Island Water Rescue’s proactive actions could be paying of.

As of Friday afternoon, water rescue did not have to rescue anyone Thursday or Friday.

It’s also important to mention that if you see someone who appears to be stuck in a rip current, never go and try to save them unless you take something that floats. That could include a boogie board, a surf board, a big beach ball, or a float of any kind.

Young said many rip current deaths come from somebody who’s trying to save the person who was originally caught in the rip current.

Red flags were flying at Oak Island on Thursday and Friday. Young said that means stay out of the water.

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