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Bound for the Beach

June 30, 1995

Warm weather and free time will lure thousands of residents and visitors to Orange County's beaches this holiday weekend. Lifeguards will pluck many from the water. Riptides, powerful waves and stinging sea denizens are among the dangers in the our misleadingly named Pacific Ocean. What some of Orange County's larger beaches offer and how to ensure a safe, fun day in the sun:

Watching the Water

Knowing how to swim and and read the water are big safety bonuses. Some things to consider before taking the plunge:

1. ASK THE LIFEGUARD: If you have any doubts about surf conditions talk to a lifeguard before entering the water. Lifeguards use flags to denote certain conditions. For example: Red means surf is dangerous; yellow, use caution; green, conditions safe. A yellow flag with a black ball means no hardboard surfing allowed.

2. GO WITH THE FLOW: Orange County's prevailing current in summer is south to north. If it is strong, consider entering the water up-current from where you want to exit.

3. CHECK FOR RIPS: Rip currents are identifiable by discolored water, approaching waves that pop up in a particular spot, and accumulating foam at the head of the current.

4. NOTICE WAVE SETS: Waves usually travel in sets of three or four. Move into surf during lulls between sets, which last several minutes.

5. WATCH YOUR STEP: Sandbars and deep trenches caused by wave action create deceptive ocean-floor footing. Use caution when moving into deeper water.

Escaping a Rip Current

Rip currents are commonly created when a large amount of water is funneled by beach topography into narrow channels, and then out to sea. A common mistake by swimmers in a rip current is to trying to swim straight to shore. The proper way to escape:

A. Allow current to move you seaward; don't try to swim against the current, as this can drain your strength.

B. Once the current weakens--normally less than 100 yards from shore--swim parallel to the beach until the rip current disappears.

C. Swim toward the shore, riding incoming waves if possible.

Dancing With Waves

Waves are nature's bouncers, and swimmers do best to follow the path of least resistance when entering the water. On big waves, remember that, when you come up after the wave, the water will be deeper than it was before you went under. How to deal with these powerhouses:

Smaller waves: Turn perpendicular to the wave, raise your arms and let the wave pass.

Medium waves: Your best option is to get to a wave before it breaks. Move forward quickly, dive and swim out the back of wave. Avoid impact the zone where the wave crest curves over, breaks and hits water.

Bigger waves: Go deep and lie flat on the ocean floor until the wave rolls over, then push off with both feet. Come up with hands outstretched, so you can feel anything above before hitting it with your head.

Surf and Turf Rules

Apply sun block rated SPF 15 or higher 30 minutes before exposure; reapply frequently. If burned, take aspirin, apply wet compresses, take cool baths, apply medicated creams.

For jellyfish stings, rinse the wound with cold fresh water, pack in wet sand for relief; if possible, neutralize with vinegar. For stingray, rinse with fresh water as hot as the victim can stand.

If you see someone in distress, notify lifeguards immediately rather than attempting a rescue. Beached animals and foreign debris, such as medical refuse, should be reported to lifeguards.

To the Rescue

Rip currents are responsible for more than 80% of the beach rescues in the county each year. Huntington Beach's city beach is one of the county's more active spots, with more than 10,000 rescues during the last five years. 1990: 1,804 1991: 1,444 1992: 2,393 1993: 2,633 1994: 2,066

String of Pearls Orange County's beaches have a variety of facilities. Fishing is generally allowed at any hour with a license; surfing is permitted mostly at discretion of lifeguards. Snack stands or cart vendors are present at all except Laguna's Main Beach.

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