Column/Surviving Spring Break

Published 12:00 am Friday, March 16, 2007

On Wednesday, we ran a Life & Style feature giving safety tips in case you’re heading toward the beach for the upcoming Spring Break.

The tips printed were good, but they are not the same directives I give my nieces and nephews when they head to the Coast.

They know by now that there are three basic rules:

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Rule No. 1: Don’t drown.

Rule No. 2: Don’t get eaten by a shark.

Rule No. 3: Wear sunscreen.

They kind of think I’m joking, but I think of it as a serious matter.

I covered the Coast for more than a dozen years. Almost every year, we had a

drowning on the beach – usually more than one.

These drowning seemed to have three things in common:

The victim was on vacation.

The victim was swimming on a red flag day.

The victim was swimming in an area where there was no lifeguard.

Generally, with the exception of surfers, locals know to stay out of the water on red flag days (these are days when the current is strong, or the water is high and the city parks department puts out red flags).

If you’re staying in a condo, you should check to make sure they have a lifeguard on duty, and that they follow the flag warning system.

As for Rule No. 2, it’s rare, but swimmers have been attacked by sharks.

When I was editor of The Islander, I came into work one day and heard, “someone was attacked by a shark at the beach.”

I thought it was a hoax, but asked our reporter, Jennifer, to check on it. She came back into my office a few minutes later. “The police chief said he wouldn’t have believed it, but it’s true.”

Robertsdale High School coach Chuck Anderson had been attacked and lost his arm. (Another swimmer was also injured in the attack).

The thing to remember is that there are always – always – sharks in the water. It’s where they live.

When I’m sitting across a surfboard with my legs dangling in the water, I am completely aware that one could be swimming beneath my feet and looking at my toes like some kind of yummy snack.

But there are precautions you can take to ensure you’re not the victim of an attack.

Don’t swim at dusk or dawn. This is the time sharks feed.

Don’t wear jewelry, such as a watch, when swimming. Sharks are just looking for that little shine of silver scales and can easily mistake your watch for a bait fish.

Don’t go in the water if you’re bleeding.

Don’t swim near where someone is fishing.

Rule No. 3 goes without saying: We all are aware of the dangers of skin cancer. And, besides, who wants to get a sunburn on your first day out and be miserable for the rest of your vacation?

There’s been other tragedies and incidents we covered over the years.

For example, don’t try walking on the rail of your condo balcony. It doesn’t happen often, but there have been deaths due to falls from balconies. (And even a miraculous survival).

Another: Don’t think police won’t arrest all the underage kids at a drinking party. Gulf Shores police have been known to take 40 or 50 teens to the station, call their parents and wait for the kids to be picked up.

Think about explaining that to your mom or dad after they drive four hours in the middle of the night to get you.

Tammy Leytham is editor of The Selma Times-Journal.