Gary Dorion

Watch Those Rip Tides

The following is my post on a Thai Visa forum – a web site for expatriates primarily – and is in response to an article about the dangerous conditions at Kata Beach in Phuket, Thailand. Here’s the Thai Visa link if you want to see other posts and the article. Read below image for my post on this site.

Kata Beach, Phuket, Thailand

Kata Beach, Phuket, Thailand

I would most emphatically, these days, approach any of the western Phuket beaches with a great deal of caution. If you see red flags or if a beach is roped off – even if you are a great swimmer – heed the warnings as these waters are very deceptive and you can go from what appears to be a very safe spot where the water is up to your knees to being in big trouble two or three steps later. I know this from experience as I was fortunate to be rescued by a teenage surfer a few years back on Kata Beach. And when I read sometimes on this forum about how Thais generally are not very helpful to farangs, I immediately recall this kid who probably saved my life after he shot his surfboard over to me while I had been caught in a rip tide and was heading out to sea way over my head. Yes, the red flags were all over the beach that day. I have never seen a beach quite like Kata where you can walk out on these mounds of sand left high due to the erosion by swift moving water beneath the surface. On some occasions I have made one or two steps off of some of these mounds to find myself up to my neck or over my head. That wasn’t the case on the day in question, however, which was in August, 2009. On that day I was having a great time with the waves (several times the lifeguard motioned for me to come back some – I ignored him mostly). I maintained a water level up to my chest but sometimes to my neck. The water was so nice that day that I just had to try swimming out a little – just for a little while, but that is all it took (30 seconds maybe) because, I found out, when my feet couldn’t touch bottom while standing,that the current rapidly put distance between me and the shore line. The water and huge waves were incredible that day, irresistible in fact. That and my arrogance (I’ll say it before you do) were the problems. And I am a very good swimmer. No I didn’t try swimming horizontal to the shore line even though I knew I should to get out of a rip tide. Instead a semi-panic state ensued. I would swim toward the beach and, when tired, do a back float. Problem was that each time I turned back over I was even further away from the beach. When I was at the shore I figured that my fallback in case I got into trouble would be the line of surfers who had been about 100 meters off the beach waiting for waves. And if that didn’t work I had hoped I would be able to drift out directly toward the island off Kata. At least I had a plan and two lines of defense so to speak – better than having no plan and getting swept out in a rip tide. And so there I was heading out towards the surfers and they were spaced widely apart (25 meters). I was lucky that one of them was close enough to hear me shout “Help!” – the first and only time I ever had to do that (not including the time I was diving at 90 feet off Costa Rica and suddenly had no air – I could only shake my head, put my hand in a cutting position at my throat, and flail my arms when the dive guide gestured if I was okay after convincing me – I was totally against it really – to share his air off his auxiliary line because my air was getting a little low because Fernando – that was his name, he’s a little crazy – wanted to continue with the dive rather than go up which is what I wanted to do and I feel a little embarrassed saying this, but that dive was less than nine hours after I got lost, alone, for three nights in Corcovado National Park – another story). Getting back to Kata, the surfer shouted back, “Do you need help?”  Gulping mouthfuls of water as I was tiring and sinking some, I yelled that I did. He shot his board over to me and I grabbed it and swum toward him so that he could use it too. “Wait for a good wave,” he said. “Do you know how to use the board?” I told him I did. We waited until a large wave came and then he pushed me into it and I hit it perfectly and body-surfed until I got back to a safer position. When my toes could touch bottom I shot the board back to him. Everything turned out fine, that time. I’m moving to Rawai in four months – retiring from the NCY Department of Education – and cannot wait to head into the waters around Kata and Karon again. Sure, I will likely push my luck again – that’s in my nature – but just a little bit this time – but I do not recommend it.


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