I agree "undertow" is a myth ....It's usually a misunderstanding of wave motion, longshore currents and rip currents.The infamous ''Undertoad'' mentioned in The World According to Garp is, and always was a complete myth promoted by those unfamiliar with the ocean and currents in the surf zone. People felt the pull on their legs of the water receding after a wave and mistakenly thought that that water movement would pull them under water and all the way out to sea. Those who surf know that to be a complete myth, along with the myth that waves are moving water. The only time water actually moves within a wave is when the wave pulse feels the drag of the bottom and becomes top heavy pitching all of its inner energy up and out.
A rip current is the sum total of all that water dumping on the inside of the sandbar, and since water seeks its own level, it has to go somewhere. The first result is a littoral current running parallel to the beach and when a weak spot in the sandbar gives way to all that mounting shoreline water, a rip develops through the sandbar. As surfers we know that rips love deep water, and waves generally don't break well there. Generic swimmers react with fear of breaking waves since they've always been warned about the ''Undertow'' or the ''rip tide.''
In an effort to educate more swimmers, the US Lifesaving Association and NOAA are circulating this brochure all over the Outer Banks, and maybe it's time to stock area motels in our areas as well: http://www.ripcurrents.noaa.gov/sign...hure_final.pdf http://www.usla.org/ripcurrents/signsbrochures.asp. (It's important to note that this brochure is available in Spanish as well)
With that and the maxim that everyone should know their own limitations, especially when it concerns water, we might have a few less bodies floating around. Take time to educate everyone you know about potential hazards since we know so much more than most others who only visit the ocean. In short, learn not to fear the ocean, but also learn not to ever turn your back on it either.