This is the best photograph of rip currents I have ever seen. I can explain in the photo below.
Rip currents slide sideways along the beach. The red circle points to a person in danger. As the current swirls down the beach (blue arrow) the person goes from being in six inches of water to suddenly being in 3-4 feet of water that comes on him or her from an unexpected direction. Sometimes the current can be strong and disorienting. All of the sudden, the person is in a situation they cannot handle.
Most rips are more subtle but this photo — and some bring water in from two directions — but, this should give you the idea.
When there are rip current warnings out, be very, very careful you observe the pattern of the waves and flow before entering the water. Then, make sure you stay in shallow water.
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