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O.C. SURFING / Rockin' Fig and Dave

How Not to Get Ripped

June 17, 1993|Rick Fignetti and David Reyes | Rockin' Fig is Rick Fignetti, a Huntington Beach surfer/shop owner. Times staff writer David Reyes has reported on U.S. surf teams competing in Bali and Brazil. and

Recent overhead waves from a south swell and a warmer ocean off Orange County's Gold Coast mean only one thing--that summer has arrived!

Instead of grabbing your surfboard and running out to the water's edge, Rockin' Fig wanted to put in a word of caution, especially in view of last month's incident involving Tony Luong, a 10-year-old Santa Ana boy, who was swept out to sea by strong waves and current at Newport Beach. The young boy's body was never found, and he is presumed drowned.

Figgy, isn't it true that surfers feel invincible? That advice is only for a novice?

Yup. That's what gets them into trouble.

Known as littoral, rip or side currents, they can have a light tugging effect or be as strong as a Mack truck, pulling you out to sea.

Capt. Bill Richardson, in charge of the Huntington Beach lifeguards, has been saving lives for 32 1/2 years. His philosophy, and that of the city's, is this: "The ocean is a hazardous area every day. If we used a flag system, we would be flying a yellow flag here all the time."

Huntington prefers to blast warnings on a P.A. system or have the public ask lifeguards about conditions. Other beaches, though, rely on flags. In general, a green flag means that the area is safe for swimming, yellow means use caution and red means dangerous conditions exist. A yellow flag with a black dot means no surfing.

Known as Huntington's "Beach Boss," Richardson has a wealth of ocean knowledge. His advice?

"Never surf alone or swim alone," Richardson said. "And, although the water is warming up, it's always good for surfers to wear a wet suit and use a surfboard leash, too. The suit keeps you warm but also protects you from a blow and injury from being hit by a surfboard. And, it does give you that extra buoyancy for flotation."

I'm a believer in the buddy system , Fig said . It's one of the main reasons I surf at the Huntington Beach Pier, 'cause a lot of my buddies are there and we watch out for each other.

"We want you to talk to us, check in with a lifeguard before you think about going in the water," Richardson said, adding that new lifeguard towers were lowered to make them less intimidating.

The Boss said beach education and prevention, not rescues, are key for lifeguards.

"When we have to do resuscitation, we feel we haven't done as well with prevention as we should have," Richardson said, adding that 7.7 million people visited Huntington Beach last year and there was only one drowning.

Speaking of rip currents, Richardson said last year's El Nino effect brought more winter storms than this year. Consequently, the ocean's contour is not as dramatically altered, which helps create the deadly rip currents.

"But it doesn't preclude the fact that we won't have rip currents this summer," Richardson said. "Good-sized surf (which is a summer staple if we get some big south swells) is one of the primary generating factors for side currents, which during the summer run south to north.

"When we have big surf from hurricanes and Mexican chubascos, we can expect increasing rip activities depending on when they arrive."

Figgy: Isn't there a tide difference, too?

"Right, Fig. On an outgoing tide it pulls stronger, in concert with the rip current," Richardson said. "You have to also be aware of our storm drains, which create a sand spit, making the areas extremely susceptible to side currents."

Those drains, Richardson said, include the groins at Newport Beach, and in Huntington Beach, the foot of Lake Street, 6th, 12th and 17th streets.

Also use caution for the Santa Ana and San Gabriel river mouths, which are all part of the county's flood control system. They increase the flow of water headed out to sea and also carry plenty of debris into the ocean, Richardson said.

Debris? You know, I used to dump my car's antifreeze down the gutters and into the drains, until I saw a sign warning, "Do not dump. This drains into the ocean." So you're the guy that's been causing my eyes to irritate huh?

"Reyes, maybe I should write you out a ticket right now," Richardson said.

Jeez, maybe I outta shut up.

Fig's hint for moms and dads is to enroll their kids in the Junior Lifeguard program where they can get serious ocean training.

Richardson said about 750 children are in the program each summer. He adds that 80% of adult lifeguards have come from the program.

Hey, never swim alone. Make sure you stretch out and take your time. Other than that, have fun. Have a great summer.


Contests: Big-name pro surfers are scheduled to perform at the 12th Annual Op Pro Surfing Championship from June 27 to July 3 at the Huntington Beach Pier. The Op is the biggest contest on the mainland for men and women and will include Kelly Slater of Florida, the 1992 world-tour champion, Barton Lynch of Australia, Sunny Garcia of Hawaii, Nea Post of Huntington Beach and others. Also, the 1993 National Scholastic Surfing Assn. Championships, which includes 400 of the nation's top amateur surfers and bodyboarders, will be held June 22 to 26 at Lower Trestles.

Celebrate: The Huntington Beach International Surfing Museum, which celebrates its third anniversary at 411 Olive St. on Saturday, needs volunteers to increase its summer hours. Those interested can call (714) 960-3483.

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