How to protect yourself from unsafe situations on the beach
By Tarah Nicole Hoffmann
When I was younger, I wanted to learn how to control my body enough that I was able to escape unpredictable situations and come home safely to my family. I studied kickboxing, kung fu, jujitsu, and self defense, and have now practiced for over half my life. I often get messages from fellow beachcombers after they find out I have a background in martial arts on how to stay safe at the beach.
Self defense on the shore starts with the first lesson taught anywhere: Be prepared! Most of us wander on the beaches for a peaceful experience, and we don’t think about having to protect ourselves. But it is the outdoors, and it’s always good to keep an eye out for anything. Be alert, watch your surroundings, and do a 360° scan every few moments to ensure your area is free of any threat.
Never be afraid to call the local police should you see something out of the ordinary, suspicious, or anything that is giving your gut a wrench. It may seem silly for me to say, but many forget this tool when caught off guard. The police can’t help keep our communities safe without help. For personal safety, I keep most towns’ non-emergency police numbers on my phone just in case. And it’s a good idea to read up how to enact the SOS emergency button on your phone. If I ever feel uneasy for any reason, I call from the parking lot to ensure a strong cell signal and ask an officer to please make their presence seen near the beach. They have always responded happily in minutes.
Should you have someone approach you in a manner that makes you feel threatened, use your voice. Practice at home by digging deep into your diaphragm and letting out a blunt shout of “No!” in the mirror before you brush your teeth. Most people don’t expect a shout, and will most likely react immediately and stop.
In the event that you need to make an escape from an assailant, it can be helpful to have a tool to stun them. In my many years of teaching I get a lot of questions about mace, and I always answer that while mace is useful in many situations, it can often also debilitate the user. When I’m out wandering, I carry a taser and a small solid three-foot bamboo rattan stick.
But perhaps the most useful tool is a walking buddy. If you have to walk alone, be sure to have a friend or family member track your phone location so you’re never truly by yourself.
Another self-defense tip I often get asked about is putting my keys in between my fingers like a weapon. Please do not do this. You have many fragile bones and tendons in your hands, and if you’re not conditioned to hitting hard objects with your bare hands, the keys can hurt you more than your assailant. As my instructor taught me: You are not Wolverine, and this method will not hurt anyone but yourself. If you need to defend yourself, use the palms of your hands, elbows, forearms, knees, and shins for striking an attacker.
Beach Safety Tips
Having tools and a plan of action to take if needed can help immensely. Awareness and knowledge empower us and help keep us safe. Here are some important tips for staying safe on the beach, or wherever your adventures take you:
- Be prepared by watching your surroundings. Scan often.
- If you feel unsafe, don’t wait to react.
- Use the tools you already have: voice, palms, forearms, elbows, knees, shins, and even spitting!
- Use other tools from home and your surroundings: taser, pepper spray, stick, rocks, sand, whistle, shovel, etc.
- Inform a family member or friend of your location (even your secret beach!) so they know where to find you if you are late.
- Save the local police number on your phone.
- Enable voice-activated services like Siri on your phone for emergency situations.
- Beachcombing is safer—and more fun—with a buddy, so bring along a friend (or your dog) on your next beach trip. Be safe out there!
I’ve been hunting on many shores most of my lifetime, at any time of day, in any weather. I’ve only had to call the police once because I felt unsafe when someone persisted beyond my comfort zone. I was lucky that officers were nearby and came to my aid quickly. The police approached us on the shore, made contact with the aggressor, escorted him off the shore and out of the park, and ensured he was on the main road over a mile away from the shore location before I walked with the officers over to my car, as I didn’t want him to be able to identify anything personal of mine. The officers said they were happy I had called. Again, this was one instance in many years being a beachcomber, so you shouldn’t be panicked, just ready to take care of yourself.
This article appeared in the Beachcombing Magazine March/April 2020 issue.