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Hempstead officials caution swimmers about dangerous riptides

Hempstead Town Supervisor Kate Murray, center, with Town

Hempstead Town Supervisor Kate Murray, center, with Town Clerk Nasrin Ahmad, right, and Don Clavin, Hempstead Town tax receive talk to the media about riptide safety and protection for swimmers in Point Lookout on Wednesday, June 17, 2015. Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Never swim alone. Always swim in view of lifeguards. And beat the grip of the rip.

Those are a few of the safety messages Hempstead Town Supervisor Kate Murray emphasized at a news conference held at the town's Point Lookout park Wednesday morning.

Hempstead's town lifeguards save more than 2,000 people each summer, Murray said. No one has died on a Hempstead beach while a lifeguard was on duty in 80 years, she said.

Andy Healey, of Rockville Centre, a member of the United States Lifesaving Association, said the organization is giving Hempstead its third national award for lifeguard safety. Hempstead is the first municipality in the nation to receive three such awards, officials said.

"It's important for us to recognize that the joy of playing in the ocean is always accompanied by potential danger," Murray said.

She described a rip current as a funnel of water perpendicular to the shoreline that "literally sucks swimmers away from the beach." When caught in a rip, one's gut reaction might be to start swimming furiously against the current, but fighting it is almost always futile, she said.

"An Olympian swimmer probably couldn't get out of a rip current," she said.

Rather, people should swim parallel to the shore. If one can't escape the current, one should float or tread water, she said.

Mal McGarry, who has been Hempstead's aquatics division coordinator since 1992, said the town has 625 lifeguards, 162 of which guard Hempstead's 3.4 miles of beaches that spread across 10 town parks.

He compared a rip current to a treadmill that you can't turn off.

"What are you going to do? Run 'til you die? No, you're going to get to the side of the treadmill," he said.

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