Thursday, February 16, 2012

Water Safety, anyone? -- A prudent view from Tuman Bay, Guam.

Here's an article just published at in the U.S.Territory in the Western Pacific Ocean, where America's Day begins!  The article is entitled "Awareness of water safety is critical" written by Roman Dela Cruz, a resident of Tumon Bay, Guam.
Let me start by saying that I consider myself forever a student in the water and though I feel I'm not anyone to say, I'm going to say it anyways. In a 32-mile long island where the beach is inevitable and never more than 30 minutes away, it's in our island's best favor to make a harder push for improved water safety awareness and water safety education.
Aside from bodyboarding for the past 25 years, I have been standup paddling Tumon Bay the past five just as often if not more than anybody else and after seeing a growing interest, I just wanted to give some proper caution to folks possibly looking into surfing those waters and also for some insight on that reefline in general.
I was paddle surfing over the reef at Tumon Bay (recently) and had to run the risk of spoiling what might've been some serious fun when aggressively advising three younger paddlers to leave and to go back toward shore. I don't really care to yell at anyone and generally hate aggression toward people but I had to take drastic action because of a drastic situation.
They were heading toward the real impact zone, en route to freak sets that were much bigger than they might have appeared from shore. Maybe they could've landed a backflip gloriously for a photo finish and story of a lifetime, or they could've been en route to a violent thrashing between coral heads. The kayak they capsized would've been a hundred times more difficult to turnover in the whitewash. Even if they could've held on to it, the tide was fast pulling out and there was less than an hour left of sunlight.
I'm not sure if it was the same bunch that came back out or if it was a different one, but though they did catch some nice waves, they were extremely lucky that the bigger ones had backed off because the waves they caught and the place they were waiting were in the danger zone.
As inviting as the waves might look and as sunny as the sky might've be, it's a real bad call to chance those waves unless you are fully prepared for the dangers that come with them.
Undercurrents most aren't aware of, a razor-sharp coral reef, and the unbelievable power of sizeable surf can turn a moment of paradise into a state of panic and disaster in a second. The reef we're dealing with has already scarred countless strips of human flesh (including mine) and is just yards away from another surf spot on the reef that unfortunately claimed the lives of two young paddlers barely a year ago.
It has been more than a year since this tragedy and unfortunately, many of us haven't learned from a mistake too often made -- the underestimation of our surrounding reefs and waters. Almost a year to the date, our papers almost had to write the headlines of another two tragedies in Tumon Bay, this time with two standup paddlers. Had it not been for the fine work of our Department of Parks and Recreation lifeguards, we might've been starting the new year with another hard lesson in water safety.
Launching off the same beach on the first weekend of the new year, with waves double overhead over the reef and the tide outgoing, without the sensibility to at least have a leash to your board, is an extremely bad decision. Obviously, we all still need a lot of work.
The dangers of the reefline at Tumon Bay are no joke. In the midst of enjoying the paradise of where America's Day begins, we've got to try to remember to not allow alcohol and the spirit of adventure to cloud the air of common sense. Death-defying acts don't always defy death, but if adventure must be our pursuit, then we should at least go to far measures to be prepared.
When approaching water, remember that we are dealing with something very much alive. It moves in many ways, and what works for us can just as easily work against us. To arrive properly into its dynamics, it's always best to have a good understanding and/or to get a qualifiable opinion of current conditions.
If you're planning a day at the beach, at least understand what the tides are doing. It's on Page 6 of the PDN. Or keep a tide chart handy. Know what time the sun is setting so you're not venturing into the darkness and always, always keep an eye on the kids. It's not much, but it's definitely a start.
Tumon Bay seems to be more active than ever. The paddlers are blazing up and down the coast, as they avoid swimmers, while skimboarders slide along the beach where friends and families might be barbecuing. The hotels are having their dinner shows, the tourists are taking their photos, while a growing amount of runners enjoy the view as standup paddlers happily enjoy the best seat in the house.
The waters of Tumon Bay are truly a place to be, but like anywhere else, are to be done with extreme caution. From the reef, the lifeguard towers are a lot further than they look and people can't necessarily recognize your screams of help if a situation over the reef goes bad.
When in doubt, don't go out. You'll live to ride another day.
I'm not going to lie. I'm the guiltiest of going over that reef when it's cranking, but I'm putting in a ton of work and preparation before doing so, and still I'm just as vulnerable. I'm super stoked on Tumon Bay and its waters, and know for sure that they are best enjoyed when done responsibly, preparedly and truly respectfully.
Let's not wait for another tragedy. Progressively exercise better awareness in water safety to pave the way for less tragedies in the future and work hard to develop the tools and skills for a better chance to turn the monster into majesty, for a better understanding of what to do when a situation goes bad, and for the humility and sensibility to sometimes just sit back, watch and appreciate.
This article is presumably written for Tumon Bay tourists or visitors but the sagacious advises can be applied any nearshore beach areas anywhere in the world.  No one can predict or anticipate what might be happening out there, so an awareness of what might have happen before it's too late is definitely needed.  I am sure many tourist beach area and coast guard authorities have similar advises somewhere, but the problem is clearly how to make it aware to all the visitors -- before any tragic happenings might have happened.  It really can not be over emphasized to reminded everyone that "When approaching water, remember that we are dealing with something very much alive. It moves in many ways, and what works for us can just as easily work against us." Life is too precious to be lost unnecessarily on taking chances!

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