This is my new friend Jeff. He rescued me from a riptide in Maui.
That morning, my sister and I went snorkeling at Honolua. It was amaaazing. The sky was perfect. The little cove is totally protected from wind so there are zero waves. It wasn’t very crowded. There were sea turtles! We were snorkeling for maybe an hour, and I could have happily stayed another hour or two.
So I couldn’t wait to get in the water again when we had time later that afternoon back at our own hotel. There were waves out front, but I saw people out in the water. I made sure to read the sign again and I thought I understand. I asked the couple who was just coming in if it wasn’t too choppy out there. They said, no, it’s fine! and asked if I was alone. I said no, my people were right there on the beach behind me. They also said there was a good snorkeling spot right past the last buoy.
So I headed out with my rented waterproof camera and swam out. I was near the buoys, maybe five feet to the right. Around the last buoy I was noticing the waves were pretty rough and it was making me a little nervous. I ducked my head down to look under the water, took one quick photo, confirmed it wasn’t very clear, and turned around to head back to shore.
I started swimming and after a couple minutes realized I hadn’t gotten closer to shore, and was still just a few feet in front of the last buoy. I tried a little more and still made no progress. I was stuck.
It did not occur to me that I was in a riptide.
I hung out for awhile, watching out for the waves. They looked 3-4 feet high, and they freaked me out. I was worried about getting under one of them and being pushed underwater. Thankfully they weren’t really coming my way.
This of course was a bad thing and meant I was in the riptide! I did not understand this!
There were a few rolling waves that lifted me up, and one got some water over my head, which added a little more panic. Then I realized that I had drifted even farther out, now a few feet past the last buoy. This was not good.
So I decided to yell for help. I yelled out, HELP! as loud as I could. It felt weird because I wasn’t really panicking or in actual danger, but I was also stuck. I was starting to get a little bit tired and felt just a glimmer of a little panic. I yelled HELP! I NEED HELP! some more. Nobody seemed to hear me. I waved a couple times. I could easily see my family on the beach. They waved back and I waved my arms again, and yelled out a few more times. I should have waved a lot more.
Then I saw that they had heard me–they suddenly stood up. I saw my sister charge into the water and call something to me. But I couldn’t hear her. Then I saw two men start swimming out to me. Jeff might have gotten there first but the other guy was right behind. I don’t know if they knew each other or not. Anyway, Jeff swam up to me and just said pleasantly, Need some help? I said, yes please. He told me to take his hand, which I did, and he proceeded to swim on his back, towing me to the shore. Nice and easy. I introduced myself, and I asked if he was a lifeguard and if he had done this before. He said no to both, which really surprised me since he seemed so at ease rescuing me. He got me in, and everyone twittered around me freaking out. I hugged Jeff and thanked him a bunch, as did the family. He was like, aw no, you did all the work. (Which clearly I did not! He was just that nice.)
There was a bunch of talking and rehashing on the shore. Onlookers asked if I was okay. Official people from both hotels came to see if I was okay and if everything was alright. I assured them I was. My family told me that they only heard me yell once and that the extra waving of arms also told them I was in trouble, and that they had enlisted the help of the two men.
A couple minutes later, a lifeguard Jetski roared up! We assured him that I was fine. (He almost seemed disappointed that there was no rescue needed.) Then a couple minutes after that, a fire engine screamed up. Apparently someone at the hotel on their balcony, saw me yelling and called 911! So I had to chat with the firemen and give them my info and reassure them that I was fine and did not need any medical attention.
This all made me feel really silly and dumb. All that attention and people out of their way to help and rescue me. I was totally fine! What I kept telling folks was that I’d been fine, but I may not have been for much longer. If I’d still been out there long enough to be rescued by the jetski guard, I would probably not have been fine.
Which is weird, because I had been floating in the ocean all week. So I wasn’t in danger of drowning, right? The waves, though…I really really did not want to be stuck in the waves. Of course the water had calmed down by the time I was out and dry!
I swear I read the sign about it before I went in, but I totally misunderstood what it meant. After I got out, everyone was like, oh you have to swim sideway/parallel to the beach to get out of a riptide. I was like, yeah, but I didn’t understand that I was in a riptide! My brain just narrowed focus to: “I’m stuck; big waves; I need to get out of here”
And for the record, like fifteen minutes later, Jeff and his brother had to go rescue a couple who had gone out on some paddle boards.
I went back to read the sign after the hullaballoo died down (and we took some sunset pictures). I had to stand there and study the thing for like five minutes and finally it clicked what it meant and how I’d misunderstood. Oh, and my sister said she’d never even noticed the sign at all, all week! That’s not good if the sign is not super clear and super obvious. To me, I think there needs to be a big sign–maybe a four-sided one so visible from all directions–that is all red and says DO NOT SWIM HERE. And/or they need a second set of buoys and make the sign say DO NOT SWIM BETWEEN THE BUOYS.
So that’s the story of how I got caught in a riptide. It sounds super dramatic and life-threatening, but it really wasn’t.
However, I spent a lot of time afterward thinking about it: re-hashing it, trying to figure out what I could have done differently, re-imagining being stuck out there with those waves that looked so ominous. (I mean, they weren’t giant storm waves or anything, but with the sandbars and reefs they were breaking not far from me, not just at the shore. Literally, looking at this picture I took out there even now gives me a feeling of dread and slight panic). Then imagining getting dunked by one of the waves. Then trying to re-design the sign to be more obvious. I felt kind of silly to put so much thought into it after the fact.
I guess the lessons are pretty obvious: Don’t swim alone. Look for breaks in the waves and avoid that. Don’t go out in choppy water. (Even the other times we’d gone snorkeling the waves weren’t that big or that frequent.) Always keep an eye on anyone in the ocean because things can change so fast. Don’t let small children anywhere near the ocean. And of course, if you’re stuck, swim parallel to the beach.