Rare double-red flags don't stop Anna Maria Island daredevils

rdymond@bradenton.comJuly 26, 2013 

COQUINA BEACH -- Tourist Alan Drew of Vincennes, Ind., had to fight up to-15 knot winds, 3-foot surf and up to 3-knot rip currents Thursday in order to capture an image of what the dangerous rip tide was like on Coquina Beach.

After struggling against the surf just to reach knee-depth water, Drew took a photograph of an unidentified swimmer throwing his body into wind-frothed waves.

"You could feel a very strong current moving you south," said Drew, an elementary school principal visiting Coquina Beach with his wife, Donna.

All Anna Maria Island lifeguard-protected beaches, including Coquina and the Manatee County Public Beach, posted either single-red flags for extreme caution or double-red "Beach Closed" flags due to the rare and dangerous combination of wind, waves and rip currents, said Lt. Rex Beach of the Manatee County Marine Rescue.

Rip current conditions were multiplied by a full moon, extremely high tides and heavy wind, Beach said.

The National Weather Service advises that there is a "moderate risk" of rip currents off beaches in Manatee, Sarasota, Pinellas, Hillsborough, Charlotte and Lee counties, through Friday evening.

"We're hoping Friday is better," Beach said.

Despite the caution flags, a handful of people played in the dangerous surf.

Two young children have already died off Anna Maria Island this year after being pulled out by rip currents.

"Waves were crashing over the pier at the south end of Coquina and they put up 'No wading in water' signs," Drew said.

Jim and Nicole Kraabel of Cedar Falls, Iowa, credit The Weather Channel with keeping them safe Thursday on unguarded Bradenton Beach.

Nicole Kraabel had a Weather Channel phone application on her smartphone and, using GPS tracking, the application noted the Kraabels were on Bradenton Beach and posted an alert for rip currents. They learned from the application to "remain calm and swim parallel to shore" if caught in a rip current, Nicole Kraabel said.

"I was swimming and trying not to drown," said 16-year-old Brady Kraabel of the strong currents.

Alejandro Torres, 14, of Kansas City, Mo., who was at Bradenton Beach with his mother, Jennifer Tombaugh, and brother, Nickolas, 8, said he was "sucked out" into the Gulf of Mexico time after time but managed to survive.

"I loved it," Alejandro said. "It was awesome."

Michael Longobardi of Bradenton and his twin daughters, Michael and Jamie, 13, tried to surf Thursday with mixed results.

"It was not good for surfing because the waves were not organizing and the current was very strong," dad said. "The current pulled you sideshore toward the pier."

His daughter Michael, a State College of Florida Collegiate School rising eighth-grader, did what every teen does when it's too rough to surf. She practiced handstands on the beach.

Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-748-0411, ext. 6686.

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