Lifeguards warn about the dangers of rip currents following teen deaths

BY Andrew Schmertz, Correspondent |

On the beach at Belmar, lifeguard training is underway for the annual summer battle against the dangers in the ocean. But as fast and as good as they may be, the lifeguards need your help in making sure every day at the beach is a good one.

“The main thing is safety first. Know your limit and your ability in the water and just follow the rules of the lifeguards and the beach patrol,” said lifeguard Jordan LaFarge.

This training took place on the same day a funeral was held for two teenage cousins from Belmar. The girls presumably drowned after being caught in a rip current — a dangerous tide that drags victims out to sea. 
At least three deaths of teenagers in New Jersey this season have been attributed to rip currents. With another teen missing, that’s more than all of last summer.

Ray Elms trains the lifeguards in Belmar.

“Sometimes people are in trouble and they don’t even realize it,” he said. “You can see a rip forming and the person in a rip and he doesn’t know it and he’s going backwards and they don’t really know they’re in trouble until the panic sets in.”

Probably the number one safety precaution you can take at the beach is an obvious one — swim only when lifeguards are on duty. It’s believed the vast majority of drownings occur at unguarded locations.

Lifeguards up and down the shore are sharpening their skills, and the biggest skill may not be their swimming ability.

“Lifeguards are here to educate people on what the dangers are on the beach. So someone may come in from out-of-town and may know what a rip current looks like, or that the current’s super strong that day, so I think that unguarded beaches are the main dangers in this area,” said Lt. Ray Reynolds from Sea Bright Ocean Rescue.

“We do our workout and then some sort of training in the water, whether it’s going to be paddle boarding, kayak, some time of line drill or torpedo drill,” said LaFarge.

Rip currents are caused by wind and waves and how they interact with the shore. Meteorologists don’t think rip currents this summer are any stronger than normal, but they are always present.

“A rip current is pretty much always there. Any day that you have waves you’re going to have rip currents. It’s just a matter of when you have high seas and heavy surf, that’s when rip currents become more significant,” said meteorologist John Cifelli.

On Friday, the few beach goers here seemed to get the message.

“I like to look where people are and go close to their group so I know it’s a safe area, and then just listen to the lifeguard,” said Lawrenceville resident Michael Scardelletti.

“I just don’t go far out in the water,” Lawrenceville resident Olivia Corso said.

“If you find yourself in a rip tide the natural instinct is to fight it. You see yourself going away from land, you go ‘I want to go back to land’ and you start swimming toward it. What you want to do is swim parallel to the land. A rip tide is usually 10 to 12 meters wide, that’s a good sized rip tide. If you swim out of it, you’ll be OK,” Elms said.

Beach goers may forget about ocean dangers in the waters, so as the first weekend in the summer begins, lifeguards are here to remind them and prevent more deaths.