We’re all (or most of us) are familiar with the following diagram, concept, identification, and actual navigation of a rip current:
There’s a portion of that diagram that isn’t labeled well, which is how in most cases, a rip current happens in between the ‘breakers’ as shown:
Taking this a step further, on a heavy beach break, the focal point of the set can easily shift into the center of the rip current, as I’ve made a rough alteration below:
The first time I personally experienced getting recycled was my very first session ever in Kauai (at a spot called ‘Secrets’ on the north shore) on December 8th, 2011.
The second time happened yesterday at Pupakea. Both were memorable, hence my remembering the exact date, with the latest one being more ruthless.
Basically what happens is a clean-up set rolls in with its peak energy lined up directly in the center of a strong rip current. If you find yourself near the ‘X’ on the altered diagram you’re about to go on a wild ride.
The first one broke outside far enough from me that I opted for the standard duck dive, which was fairly successful. This didn’t help the cause because I wasn’t pushed in towards the beach and out of the line of fire and actually got closer to the detonating lip of the next wave.
Meanwhile the rip current is pushing me out further to the impact zone.
Still not even realizing what is about to go down, I charged ahead for the second one, again opting for a standard duck dive. This one pushed me in a little but not bad. I recovered at the surface and at that moment I realized I was now directly on the ‘X’ in the altered diagram and right where the lip was about to land.
Let the fun begin.
The third wave was an obvious ‘stand on my board and dive‘ scenario and I realized underwater that I was only in about three or four feet of water. Slipped under this one as well and not bad poundings but at this point, we’re at about 45 seconds of significant exertion.
Came up from the third one quickly, reeling in my board turned back and immediately sunk my board and dove off again to avoid the lip and got picked up and slammed on the bottom and pinned down (starfished) flat on my back. Slammed so hard on this one it knocked about half of my air out of my lungs.
Once it let up, placed my feet on the bottom and sprung to the surface just in time to catch a new breath and just submerge myself again square under the lip for the fifth one. Doughnuts on this one. Limbs just flailing every which way underwater.
After this one, I came up seeing stars but got another new breath in time to do the exact same thing on the sixth one as the last one, and this time I knew shit was getting critical and I had to make a move to get the hell out of there.
The rip current was feeding me right to the lip over and over serving me up on a platter. It’s like a real-life scenario of where your controls stop working on some video game and you become defenseless hahaha…
My next move was to reel my board in, grab it, get up on it and try to catch the white water in the prone position. Got absolutely smoked on that attempt!
Tried again on the next one and was far enough in by that point where it actually let me belly ride in a good ways.
8 waves over a two-minute period. Session over. Exhausted. On the beach safe to fight another day. Thankful.
It’s crazy because it happens so fast everything happens instinctively and there is zero time to worry. No time for anything but action.
Another funny thing is that I actually got several decent tubes that session, but all I could think about was getting recycled and the memory of those tubes will fade far before I ever forget about that experience.
The takeaway here is that I could have easily done a half duck dive on the first wave of the set, positioning myself up in the energy of the whitewater and gotten pushed way inside and out of harm’s way, but it doesn’t always turn out that way.
This is a real thing and for whatever reason, you don’t hear much about being recycled, but if you didn’t know, now you know.
To clarify, getting recycled is technically ‘getting caught inside’ but a distinct, more sinister variation where the rip current is repeatedly pinning you to the impact zone.
If your dreams don’t scare you, you’re not dreaming big enough.