My skin stings as the scorching sun warms in the early afternoon. The cool wind licks the sting and whisks my hair off my damp neck, sending a friendly shiver down my spine. I close my eyes as a smile gently grows, while I listen to my hair dance with the wind behind me.

My toes relax into the sand and welcome the cool touch of the ocean’s kiss. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else in the world right now. “HELP!!” My trance breaks. My eyes dart open. I see in the distance an arm being swallowed. I dive in.

My heart rate quickens and I start fighting against the ocean, punching each wave back and kicking forward into the unknown. I reach the small boy whose eyes see fear and me as a beacon of strength. I am not, and he pushes me under. Shocked, I clamp his arm and pull him towards me as a sign of dominance. My heart pumps adrenaline through my veins and I find strength I never knew I had. I start kicking forward against the unforgiving current. It feels pointless, like we are two magnetic forces colliding.

My breathing soon becomes ragged and my muscles are burning. I want it all to end. What seems like hours go past, and then my toes finally kick off the sand. That one touch sends my heart into a flurry. My breathing quickens – we’ve made it.

Most however, do not make it. Although we are a nation of ocean-lovers, an alarming number of Australians are not surf smart, and people who head off road in search of the perfect beach, normally find themselves in areas where help is a far cry away.

Whether you spend a week camping on the beach, or a day beach driving, make sure you prepare accordingly. The following is a list of vital survival tips for when you and your family next dive into the water.

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Check the wind conditions
Wind is generated by air moving from areas of high pressure to areas of low pressure. Low pressure systems are what you need to steer clear from when planning your beach trip. Big swells are commonly generated around intense storms of low pressure, resulting in dangerous surf conditions and heavy rainfall. Before your next beach trip, check the wind conditions through the Bureau of Meteorology website: www.bom.gov.au.

Check for rips
Rips are also known as ‘rivers of the sea’ and have that name for a reason. They flow from the shoreline to beyond the breakers, returning water brought in by the waves. This motion makes these currents of water strong and concentrated, easily able to pick up anything in its path and take them out kilometres from the shore. With an average of 21 deaths per year caused by rips, it is imperative to understand how to spot them and survive them.

Signs of a rip
• Deeper, darker water
• Fewer breaking waves and calmer water
• Sometimes sandy-coloured water
• Water with different surface texture
• Look for persistent gaps between the breaking waves: that’s the rip current

Rip survival
• For assistance, stay calm, float and raise an arm to attract attention
• As you float, the rip may flow in a circular pattern and return you to an adjacent sandbar
• If you’re a strong swimmer, you may escape by swimming parallel to the beach, towards the breaking waves
• You should regularly assess your situation. If your response is ineffective, you may need to adopt an alternative,
such as floating and attracting attention.

Beach driving tips
• For the best traction, drive just below the high tide mark
• Check out local council websites for information on which beaches permit the use of vehicles
• Lighten your load, the less you have in or on your vehicle, the less likely it’ll get bogged
• Lower your tyre pressure to 25psi, and go down accordingly. The lower the pressure, the longer your footprint which gives you better traction on slippery surfaces
• Always have an air compressor and tyre deflator handy
• Don’t be afraid to go down as low as 14 or 12psi on really soft sand, if you’re worried about losing tyres off the wheel don’t do aggressive manoeuvres on the sand
• Normally stay in high range as low range uses more fuel
• When you stop on a beach, try to face your 4WD down hill so it’s easier to take off again
• Bring your MAXTRAX as you will most likely get bogged

Know your first aid:
There are many first aid courses you can take to ensure you are prepared for when a friend is in peril. Surf Life Saving Australia provides many courses for beach safety, surf rescue and first aid, visit www.sls.com.au to find a course that suits you.

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