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Lifeguards say rip currents are a bigger concern at the beach than shark attacks

Posted at 6:59 PM, Jul 01, 2015

Virginia Beach, Va. - Rip currents can turn a quiet day at the beach into an active one in an instant.

In fact, lifeguards say rip currents are a big concern at the beach, much bigger than even shark attacks.

"Rip currents account  for 80-percent of rescues nationwide," said Tom Gill, deputy chief of the Virginia Beach Lifesaving Service.

Just last year, lifeguards at the Virginia Beach Oceanfront rescued about 600 victims from the water.  Already this year, they've pulled more than 300 people to safety.  86 of those people were pulled out in just one day, and it's not even the Independence Day holiday just yet.

"The rips always exist. They're always out there," said Gill.

On Wednesday, lifeguards with the Virginia Beach Lifesaving Service performed a mock rescue for NewsChannel 3 cameras, showing us how quickly a rip current can pull a swimmer away from shore and how fast lifeguards have to take action.

Gill says it's hard for most swimmers to recognize a rip current.

"[It's] much easier to see it from the lifeguard stand six-feet above everything and looking down versus standing along the shoreline and almost impossible to see when you're in the water," said Gill.

Just like shark attacks, lifeguards say rip currents are unpredictable.  But scientists are trying to come up with a way to predict rip currents to find out when they could happen.

"[They're] trying very hard to predict where rip currents and when rip currents are going to occur, but at the end of the day, it's the ocean and the ocean does its own thing," said Gill.

Gill says that's why it's important to keep in mind that rip currents can pop up quickly, a concern we should all have at the beach.