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Hey, Try to Stay Calm 

Do You Know the Difference Between a Rip Tide and an Undertow?


This question came to mind a few months back. I was thinking about one of those horrible situations where a happy-go-lucky kid goes out for a day at the beach, not knowing what they don’t know, and gets killed in a senseless, avoidable tragedy. 


Here’s what I learned.


Rip tides and undertows both have to do with waves breaking on the shore, and drainage. The water must flow back out to sea.


A rip tide is from waves breaking, and water volume loading up on the beach. It often chooses a channel to comply with gravity. The water creates a river, a current. Get caught in the current, and it will take you for a long ride you don’t want to take. The risk isn’t so much as immediately drowning, but exhausting yourself against the current, not getting out of it, and going too far out in the ocean with the streaming water. 

The strategy with a rip tide is to not fight the current and to get out of it by swimming across it. The strategy with an undertow is also to not fight it, and to get to the surface. I’ve heard the way to do it is to relax and hold your breath and your natural buoyancy will take you to the surface.


They both are situations that require clear thought and action in panic-creating scenarios where your life is serious, immediate danger. An undertow may actually require you to relax, a tough task against the instinct to fight or flee. 


Here’s a couple of other observations in searching for details about both phenomena:  

  • I read that more people get killed by riptides than undertows.

  • In searching for information about undertows, it’s clear that most of the information popping up is about rip tides, not undertows. I see a lot of advice suggesting “swim parallel to the beach.” That advice just doesn’t seem to make as much sense for an undertow.

  • It would cool to experiment with non-life-threatening rip tides and undertows. 

  • Undertows are more likely and powerful with bigger waves, which makes complete sense. Higher breaking water volume results in bigger and stronger drainage. 


How does this relate to commercial real estate? It really doesn’t. But there are lessons anyway. For instance:

  • Details matter.

  • Staying calm and calculated is important.

  • Having a strategy, even if it’s never been tried personally, is important. 

  • Good judgment and being cool under pressure never go out of style, and can save your life. It boils down to correct analysis as to a context, and good judgement and strategies about how to deal with dangerous stuff. Financial danger or danger of physical harm.

  • Know that you don’t know. 

  • Every moment and context has risk and reward.

  • It’s good to seek guidance and advice from people with expertise and a lot of actual experience, especially when we don’t have any. 


Even now, I have zero experience with actual rip tides and undertows. At least I know now what they are theoretically, and I have strategies I can try to employ if I am caught, and if I can recognize what is happening and stay calm. I’m a little better off. Not knowing a thing about them is an attribute likely shared with almost everyone who has been killed by them through the span of human history.



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