Water Safety Tips for Surfing

 In Latest at Fistral Beach

Keeping Safe in the Water

Water safety when surfing at any time of year; whether it is the perfect summers day or a windy day in February is essential. You always needs to make sure that you take care in the water and properly assess the conditions that you are surfing in.


Being in the water and going surfing is all about having a good time and enjoying the sport, but, as with anything there are real dangers that you need to understand when in the water.


In Cornwall we are very lucky to have the RNLI lifeguard’s operating on so many beaches. At Fistral Beach the RNLI have a state of the art lifeguard building and cover the beach from Easter until the end of October, with weekend cover on some additional weekends in the winter. Alongside this all surf instructors are qualified lifeguards.

Lifeguards and surf instructors at every beach have very detailed knowledge about the currents on their particular beach at all stages of tides along-with a good understanding of the forecast for their beach. This means they choose the areas of the beaches that they feel are the safest and best suited to different activities. Lifeguards operate from 10am-6pm during the summer months.

RNLI beach flags


“Rip currents sound complicated but they are essentially fast flowing bodies of water that can drag people and debris away from the shoreline.” Greg Spray, RNLI lifeguard manager for Newquay and Padstow.

Spotting a rip:

When at the beach you can look for a rippled patch of sea among otherwise calm water; sometimes rips are most evident by the break in the wave pattern compared to the surrounding water (i.e. may be a lack of waves breaking due to the outward current). There could also be foam on the water’s surface, debris floating out to sea, or discoloured brown water which is caused by the sand on the seabed being stirred up.

Rips are sometimes permanent rips in some areas such as around rocks and structures like piers or sea walls; it is advised to stay away from these. The bigger the waves the more water is moving, so the stronger the rip.


How fast are rip currents?

Average rip currents flow speeds are typically between 1 and 2 mph, but they can exceed 4 mph during pulses. To put this into context, the 400 m freestyle world record (as of 2013) was swum at an average speed of 4.1 mph. The average human swims at about 1 mph and therefore cannot out-swim a rip current. This helps to explain why rip currents are the main hazard to bathers on surf beaches, when they are not reacted to correctly.


General advice if caught in this situation, according to the RNLI, is to remember the three Rs: Relax; Raise (the alarm) and (wait for) Rescue. “If you do get caught in a rip: if you can stand, wade, don’t swim; if you can’t, swim parallel to the shore until free of the rip and then head for shore; raise your hand and shout for help.”

If you unexpectedly get caught in a rip and are being carried further out than you want to be, your instinctive reaction to is head straight for shore. However, this can be an exhaustive exercise. You need to get out of the main current; this is achieved by swimming across the current parallel to shore. The further away from the rip you head the weaker the current will become and then you can start heading back towards the shore. Remember a surfboard/bodyboard is a flotation device do not jump off and start swimming, use it to help conserve your energy and get safely back to shore.

Position in the lineup

The waves, tides and wind create various currents in the water. It is a good idea whenever you go into the water that you clearly identify where you are entering the water and which way the current may be moving you.

  • When you go into the water identify a point and know your position in relation to it
  • When you get to where you are happy in the water line this point up with another (by having 2 lined up with one another you can easily identify which way you are moving, whereas you can move around one point a bit without really noticing)
  • You can always take a point out to the side to know how far out you are

By doing these few simple things you know which way the currents may be taking you, also it means if you find a spot in the water that you are catching good waves from you know exactly where to head back to.

The Wipe Out

“Wiping out is an underappreciated skill” Laird Hamilton

Learning to wipeout is a long process; but there are a couple of points that are important whether you are at the first stages of learning or an accomplished surfer.

  1. Cover your head: Fistral is a beach break meaning the waves break onto sand so there are not many rocks to worry about, but it is very important to protect your head with your arms. This helps protect you from the seabed, your board and other peoples boards. After a wipeout you don’t know exactly where your board is so taking the few seconds to cover your head means that if it were above you it will first knock your arms. It is much nicer not to have to learn this one the hard way.
  2. Don’t jump off head first: there are many unique styles to wiping out but remember that you do not know exactly how deep the water is until it is too late to change your position.
  3. Getting back on your board: You can be watching the next wave approach quite soon after a wipeout so make sure your board is not going to be pushed onto you by the oncoming wave. Make sure your hands don’t get caught in the leash incase the board were to be swept away from you.

A few top tips

  • When surfing somewhere new ask people about the beach and the conditions if you need more information
  • Know your own limits; slowly build up your experience
  • Don’t surf alone; make sure someone always knows where you are
  • Carefully watch the conditions before going in the water; sets can be quite far apart so if you only look at the conditions briefly you may not see what the conditions are really like
  • Use the appropriate equipment; having the right equipment is so important it can mean you stay warm enough/protected in the water, and also if you are ever in a situation where you need to rely on the equipment you have you can
  • Having a lesson is a safe way to learn as instructors are qualified lifeguards and surf coaches
  • Always know whether the tide is going out or coming in

Whether you are surfing, bodyboarding, stand up paddle boarding or any other water activity it is all about having a good time. The vast majority of the time everyone enjoys the water without any problems. It is better to be aware of the conditions and safety points so if you do ever need to react to a situation you can.

Feel free to ask us about the conditions at Fistral when you are here

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