Surf bathing leads to the drowning of thousands of people each summer. “Caught in the undertow” is the usual explanation for these disasters and yet there may be no such thing as undertow. In dictionaries it is defined as “the current beneath the surface which sets seaward when waves are breaking on the shore.” Many geological textbooks contain brief discussions of undertow, ascribing it to the seaward return of landward driven surface water.

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