Every year hundreds of visitors to our coast find themselves overwhelmed in Gulf waters. Many times, the problem is due to rip currents.
As of July 1, there have been 56 EMS-dispatched water rescues, and 412 public assists where lifeguards retrieve people in the water without need for EMS or intercept people in the water before they get into trouble.
"Most of those involve rip currents," said South Walton Fire District Beach Safety Director David Vaughan.
While many visitors might have heard of rip currents, they may think such a situation won't affect them as they are strong swimmers.
What they don't realize is that even the strongest swimmer cannot fight the strength of the water when a rip current forms.
Such was the tragic situation that occurred 14 years ago that left two families without a husband or father.
Ken Brindley had brought his family to beautiful Grayton Beach for several years. The summer of 2003 was no exception when he and his wife brought their two young children. Madeline was 6 at the time.
Madeline and her younger brother were in their rental house with their mom when their dad went into the Gulf to try to help a swimmer in distress who had gotten caught in a rip current that Sunday afternoon. Her 36-year-old father did not survive, nor did Larry LaMotte, who Brindley went in to try to save.
South Walton resident and Walton County Sheriff's Office Policy Projects Manager Kelly Layman met Madeline in 2015 through a mutual friend. She had not been back to Grayton Beach since her dad died.
"I knew Madeline's story, and I knew if we were able to do a mini-documentary, it could be powerful and meaningful," said Layman.
Walton County Sheriff Mike Adkinson agreed, as did Madeline Brindley, who traveled back to Grayton Beach to be a part of the moving film that is now available online.
"It's always concerned me that so many people don't heed potential danger," said Adkinson. "We do a lot of work with fliers and our lifeguards are great in doing their best to educate the public. People say 'I was just in the water up to my knees' as they don't understand the power of rip currents.
"Last year we had some folks drown who had just been warned not to go in," he added. "People get very angry when told not to go in the water. This documentary was an opportunity to bring awareness."
Madeline Brindley is featured in the mini-documentary telling how her father's drowning affected her family. She has also written a children's book on water safety and now speaks on the subject.
Several of Adkinson's deputies have needed to be taken to the hospital because of people ignoring water safety warnings when they had to go into unsafe waters to rescue them.
The day in 2003 when Madeline's father died, seven others died in the Gulf that same day. The day is remembered as Black Sunday.
"Until you realize how powerful the water is, there will always be danger and we will continue to try to educate people," said Adkinson.
The documentary can be viewed at waltonso.org/2017/06/29/wcso-launches-mini-documentary-on-rip-current-danger/.