Yellow flags flapping in the wind to signal a swim advisory on many North Side beaches Monday didn't deter beachcombers from wading into the waves for a Labor Day dunk. But swimmers could only venture a short distance from the shore before lifeguards stopped them.
"It was kind of like Poseidon's Rage," said Alvin Diaz, 35 of Romeoville, comparing the currents at Foster Beach to a simulated surf pool with towering breakers at a Wisconsin Dells water park. "You could really feel the impact of the waves." Lifeguards let Diaz and his son wade only up to their chests, he said.
The last official day for Chicago's Lake Michigan swimming season fell on a partly sunny Labor Day, with a morning forecast of winds up to 20 mph, waves as high as 7 feet and strong rip currents and structural currents, according to the National Weather Service. The agency issued a beach hazards statement through Tuesday evening, predicting "dangerous pounding waves and life-threatening rip currents."
That forecast encouraged thrill-seekers like Rabel Betshmuel, 32, who came down to Montrose Beach from the Roscoe Village neighborhood to confront the waves with his buddies. His kayak flipped twice, and eventually all of them washed ashore.
"It was a combination of a sense of freedom and fear," Betshmuel said. "That's what we came out here to experience, but we didn't think it would be that aggressive."
Rip currents are powerful water channels that flow quickly away from shore, and are most often found at low spots or in breaks in sandbars, according to the Weather Service. Similarly, structural currents are found in lake areas where currents and waves hit a structure, such as a pier or a break wall. Both types of currents can quickly and unpredictably pull someone away from shore.
Sergio Rivera, 27, of the Albany Park neighborhood, spotted the swim advisory on Twitter and texted a warning to his friend Nikki Zender before they took his Shih Tzu, Paco, out to the dog beach north of Montrose.
"You don't want to swim against it or it will tire you out and then you'll drown," Rivera said. "My exact words were 'go with the flow.'" Zender said she would avoid the water instead.
Denise Iwinski, 27, of the Logan Square neighborhood, didn't know about the swim advisory and didn't really care.
"It's Monday. We're off," said Iwinski as she lounged on a blanket next to Paco, laughing at other pups playing in the sand. "What better thing to do than relax on the beach? It's a nice place to go for free."