TRAVERSE CITY — Surfers live to play in the waves along the Great Lakes shorelines.
Swimmers, however, can die in them.
More than a quarter of the 87 people who drowned in the Great Lakes last year died because of deadly rip currents, said Larry Bordine, a surfer — and rescuer. Usually it was because the victims didn't know how to get out of forceful drag of the currents, he said.
Bordine, a Traverse City surfboard builder and owner of the BeachNut Surf Shop in Frankfort, is a member of the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project. The group's members aim to lower the number of deaths by teaching people how to recognize rip currents and how to rescue people from them.
Safety efforts by the project and other groups around the lakes may shed light on a spike in rescues cited last fall in a National Weather Service report. The number of saves more than doubled to 68 in 2011 from 26 the year before. Sixty of those rescues were in Lake Michigan. The Weather Service attributed the hike to increased media coverage and awareness.
Bordine believes the actual number of rescues is higher, based on his and other area surfer experiences. He helped six swimmers out of rip currents with his surfboard along Frankfort beaches in 2010.
In one case he assisted a father and daughter to shore.
"The father was extremely tired and barely treading water while his daughter was going under," Bordine said. "It could have been tragic."
The Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project will offer 14 free classes around the Great Lakes this summer. Frankfort's class will be held June 23, at a yet-to-be determined site. The class will be taught by Bob Pratt and Dave Benjamin. Pratt, a retired East Lansing fire marshal, founded the project in 2007. Pratt was named Lifesaver of the Year in March by the Drowning Prevention Alliance and the USA Swimming Foundation for his efforts. Benjamin joined the effort after a 2010 near-drowning rip current experience near Portage, Ind.
The group has a Facebook page or call 941-5322.
The class will teach participants how to:
- Recognize the danger of the surf environment and keep personal safety as the primary responsibility.
- Understand how, where and why rip currents occur and how to survive them.
- Recognize signs of drowning and how to identify a person in trouble.
- Summon help and use a surfboard or other flotation device to rescue a person in distress or a rip current.
- React when encountering injured swimmers or an unconscious victim.
- Enroll in lifesaving, first aid and CPR training from accredited agencies.