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Riis lifeguard warns swimmers not to panic if caught in riptide

A Riis Park lifeguard offered tips Monday for swimmers caught in riptides, minutes after the body believed to be that of a man who was swept away from the park's waters was recovered.

Bob Gaudenzi, a supervisory lifeguard with 32 years of experience at Riis Park, said this year has been unprecedented for riptides. He said there have been close to 250 rescues so far from the waters off the park's beach.

"This is unusual for the season," Gaudenzi said, noting that normally there are more riptides in August, when there are more storms that cause dangerous conditions.

Riptides, generated from strong swells that form two weeks after a strong storm or from shifting sand, can occur without notice, Gaudenzi said.

"You can't really avoid a riptide. Riptides can happen on the calmest of days," he said, but the lifeguard advised swimmers not to panic and to try to swim parallel or diagonal to shore if they find themselves in one.

Swimmers can identify riptides by silky areas or a discoloration of surface water, Gaudenzi said.

He cautioned swimmers to "know your abilities and really listen to the lifeguards."

The body that was discovered Monday was presumed to be 22-year-old Devon Flanders of Brooklyn. Flanders was swimming at Riis Park after hours, which Gaudenzi called "a major problem" at the beach because there are no lifeguards around.

Gaudenzi said lifeguards are trained at spotting distressed swimmers and are able to rescue ones caught up in a riptide.

"We try to get to victims before they get into the panic or about to drown stage," he said.

Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e-mail at hkoplowitz@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 173.

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