SEA ISLE, N.J. — Sunday morning started off as a nice and uneventful day at the shore, just a little windy. The big story on the front page of the Press of Atlantic City was about which pizza was the best on Ocean City’s boardwalk.
After interviewing vacationers eating slices at JoJo’s, Roma, Big Slice, Primavera, Pisa, Angelo’s and Manco & Manco (changed from Mack & Manco this season after a split between the grandkids of Vince Manco and Tony Mackrone, the two guys who started tossing pies on the boardwalk in 1956), the newspaper’s front-page investigative report concluded that “the best pizza is a matter of taste.”
Another front-page article reported on how much money the local shore towns raked in last year from parking meters and electronic kiosks — $2.6 million in Ocean City, $134,000 in Sea Isle, etc.
The news became more serious later in the day when Khitan Devine, a 10-year-old Philadelphia boy, waded into the ocean with his family in Atlantic City at around 7 p.m., an hour after the lifeguards had left the beach.
About 10 minutes later, he was gone, pulled under the water by a strong rip current.
Three days later in Margate, a beach town a few miles south of Atlantic City, Khitan’s body was found by lifeguards who spotted it in the late morning, just a few yards from shore.
There are two lessons.
First, it’s not safe to swim at unguarded beaches. Atlantic City’s Beach Patrol chief, Rod Aluise, said he could remember only one drowning in the past 30 years, with millions of visitors per year, while lifeguards were on duty.
Second, learn about rip currents and what to do if you’re caught being pulled away from the beach.
“When people think about natural hazards, they usually think about tornadoes or hurricanes or earthquakes. But there is another natural hazard that takes more lives in an average year in the United States than any of those — rip currents,” reported science writer Cornelia Dean in a New York Times article on June 7, 2005, “Stalking a Killer That Lurks a Few Feet Offshore.”
Dean reported that “rip currents pull about 100 panicked swimmers to their deaths” each year in American waters. “According to the United States Lifesaving Association, lifeguards pull out at least 70,000 Americans from the surf each year, 80 percent from rip currents.”
While “savvy surfers rely on rip currents for free rides beyond the surf zone,” explained Dean, “unwary bathers may wade into the water only to find themselves suddenly swept away.”
The way to save yourself? “If they keep their heads and swim across the current, parallel to the shore, they can escape its grip and make their way back to the beach,” explained Dean. “But swimmers who try to fight rip currents quickly exhaust themselves and may drown.”
Rip currents can flow at speeds of up to 4 mph, up to 6 feet per second, or even faster, reported Dean. “You would have to be a good swimmer to swim 2 miles per hour, and you cannot do that very long,” explained Dr. Edward Thornton of the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif.
And so, to stay alive, the answer is to not panic, swim parallel to the beach, and keep an eye out for approaching sharks — or just stay in the casino at the Joker Poker machines.