Those who love the beach and frolicking in the water on the beautiful beaches of South Florida usually know what kinds of danger to watch out for: rip currents, jellyfish, sharks, polluted water, and so forth.
But your Jupiter orthopedic surgeons at The Medical Group of South Florida, want to warn you about another danger that few people are aware of: shorebreak.
This dangerous phenomenon occurs when waves break directly on the shore, and both large and small waves can be the culprit. Picturesque they may be, but they can cause injuries not only to extremities but to the cervical spine.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), spinal cord injuries most often occur when diving headfirst into the water or when bodysurfers and swimmers are tumbled about or pitched to the ground by the force of the breaking waves.
When waves approach the shore, the force that causes the wave to crest also scoops out water beneath it and piles it on top of the wave. The East Coast is particularly susceptible to this type of wave when tropical systems churning in the Atlantic create larger-than-normal waves. And since now is the peak of hurricane season, we will be at risk of experiencing more of these types of waves.
Sgt. Ed Fisher, a 22-year veteran of the Ocean City Beach Patrol (OCBP) told The Huffington Post, “Shorebreak occurs when waves, rather than breaking on the sandbar, continue to build and crash with full force on the shore with little or no water depth. When unsuspecting victims find themselves on a breaking wave and they are being thrown into shallow water, they have set themselves up for a tragedy.”
So how can you avoid injury or even death in shorebreak? First of all, heed the first rule of frolicking in the surf: “Feet on the sand till the lifeguard stand.” In other words, never enter the water unless you can see the lifeguard. And ask the lifeguard on duty about surf conditions before going in. It’s their job to know what the swimming and surf conditions are like.
Second, judge for yourself. The first time you go into the water, walk in. This gives you the chance to evaluate the conditions, ascertain the depth of the water, and to see where the waves are breaking.
If you are body surfing, you should do it with your head up so you can see the oncoming waves, and keep your arms in front of your body in case you unexpectedly hit ground. If you’re on a surfboard or boogie board, ride the back half to ensure the board hits the shore before you do.
As always, enjoy your time at the beach, but do so sensibly.