FORT RUCKER, Ala. (Sept. 29, 2016) - I always considered myself a good swimmer. Growing up in Michigan, I began swimming in Lake Superior at an early age and swam in pools, lakes and oceans all my life. One fine day on a beach in Hawaii, however, changed my view on my swimming abilities.

While "PCS-ing" from Korea back to the U.S., my family and I decided to stay a week in Hawaii for a much-needed vacation. While there, my 15-year-old daughter begged me to take her to a beach to snorkel like we had in Guam, so I planned a trip for us to the northwest side of Oahu, near the North Shore.

It was early afternoon when we left, so we stopped to grab lunch and then hit the beach. When we arrived, we saw the locals were surfing on waves between 4 and 6 feet tall. It looked like a lot of fun, but after lunch, I was feeling full and tired. I wasn't sure I would enjoy swimming on a full stomach, but I was going to try and have some fun while at this beautiful beach.

My daughter wanted to swim to a rock about 40 yards out, so we jumped into the water. Having never been to Hawaii, we did not know the strength of the trade winds in December. As we made our way out, it became apparent that swimming in the Pacific with these waves was completely different than swimming in the local pool.

I swallowed about three mouthfuls of seawater and felt my lunch becoming heavier and heavier. I was getting nervous and my heart rate dramatically increased, which caused my breathing to accelerate and lose rhythm. For the first time in my life, I was scared in the water and decided to turn around and head back toward the beach.

At the time, I was only about 30 yards from shore; however, as I found out later, most drowning deaths occur just 20 feet from shore. I was sure I could make it and rolled over and started using the backstroke, keeping my head out of the water and trying to slow my pulse to a comfortable level.

As soon as I turned back, I heard my daughter yell, "Dad!" Now I was frightened for her -- although she is also a good swimmer. She had pulled ahead of me on our way to the rock and was now only a few feet from it. How was I going to save her in these rough seas when I was having trouble myself?

Fortunately, she was only yelling at me to keep on swimming toward the rock. She didn't realize I was in trouble. I yelled for her to come back to shore with me. In typical teenager style, she complained that she was already to the rock, but she eventually followed me. I was exhausted when we made it back to shore and felt like collapsing on the sand. I was relieved we had made it back, although my daughter was still complaining that I made her come back to shore.

I've never been scared in the water before, but this trip was a good lesson for me. I realized swimming in the ocean is totally different than swimming in a public pool. I also learned that you should swim only when you feel comfortable and not push yourself beyond your limits.

The day after our swimming scare, I took my daughter to a calmer beach. The conditions there were more favorable for swimming, and I ate my lunch after getting out of the water. Overconfidence in my abilities almost cost me my life, but it left me with a valuable lesson. I will never underestimate the ocean again.

Breaking the Grip of the Rip

Rip currents are powerful, channeled currents of water that flow away from shore. They typically extend from the shoreline, through the surf zone and past the line of breaking waves. Rip currents can occur at any beach with breaking waves, including the Great Lakes.

The United States Lifesaving Association estimates more than 100 people die each year on U.S. beaches due to rip currents. Rip currents also account for more than 80 percent of rescues performed by beach lifeguards. The National Weather Service offers the following tips on how to survive a rip current:

• Don't fight the current. It's a natural treadmill that travels an average speed of 1-2 feet per second, but has been measured as fast as 8 feet per second --faster than an Olympic swimmer.

• Relax and float to conserve energy. Staying calm may save your life.

• Do NOT try to swim directly into to shore. Swim parallel to the shoreline until you escape the current's pull. When free from the pull of the current, swim at an angle away from the current toward shore.

• If you feel you can't reach shore, relax, face the shore and call or wave for help. Remember: Wave and yell … swim parallel.

Did You Know? The greatest safety precaution to take is to recognize the danger of rip currents and always remember to swim at beaches with lifeguards. The United States Lifesaving Association has calculated the chance that a person will drown while attending a beach protected by USLA-affiliated lifeguards at 1 in 18 million.

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