One thing you learn as a surfer is never to paddle directly against a rip current. If you feel yourself getting sucked out toward the shipping lanes, you're supposed to paddle across the current to calmer waters. Fighting the current head-on will only make you tired.
This little tidbit came in handy at the end of October when I joined up for my second Dakar-Goree Traverse -- a 5km swim from the city of to the former slaving station at Goree Island. When I did the swim in 2010, it took me about 3 hours and I had a mild panic attack half way through -- I'd never been so far from land without a deck under my feet. This year was much easier for me, but it wasn't without its challenges.
At the very end of the swim, next to Goree Island, there was rip so powerful that it looked like the had been superimposed on the sea. About 50 swimmers battled the current head-on, clustered together in a swirling mass, as I got sucked into the fray. I dodged the flailing arms and legs and doggy-paddled across the rip into the shallow, eddying waters next to the island. One guy followed, and together we zoomed past everyone else through the relatively calm patch. Five minutes later we were on Goree sipping beer.
I didn't think much about it until yesterday, when the Senegalese Swimming Federation sent a letter to all of this year's competitors. It wasn't a note of congratulations, as I had assumed. It was an apology for "an incident that caused frustration to several swimmers".
"Essentially, a strong current affected a large number of swimmers, who were eventually trapped behind the Goree prison, with enormous difficulty getting out (...) In order to avoid risks to the swimmers and to ensure their security, we decided to remove them from the water (...) as many had been in the water for too long."
I was pretty happy not to have been one of them. And I have surfing to thank for it.
***Note: Richard placed second in his division!