"It's a nice beach, but don't swim there.''

It's advice commonly dished out to visitors or new arrivals to Napier - people are told Marine Parade's Pacific Beach is too dangerous to swim at. And those of us who are told pass the message on, often without ever swimming there.

It's not hard to see why it's considered dangerous. The swells that roll on to the beach break at the last minute, on the beach. Tonnes of salt water can churn thousands of pebbles in a cloudy vortex, as the water sucks back into the sea from the lip of the land.

Beach goers sit safely on the pebbly shore as the surf pummels Pacific Beach.
Beach goers sit safely on the pebbly shore as the surf pummels Pacific Beach.

When a big swell is running, it's an impressive sight, best viewed from the safety of the Marine Parade viewing platform.

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In some parts, the sea floor also drops off sharply, getting deep very quickly.

There is the risk, when the conditions are rough, of being knocked over, and sucked backwards into the boiling sea where the real killer - panic and fear, can take over.

Chris Swain is a former champion surf life saver, and this week was critical of locals who he reckons should make more of an effort to learn the Pacific Beach conditions, and when it is safe to swim, rather than shun the beach as a "no-go zone".

He was speaking after big swells pummeled the beach this week and visitors took to the waves, albeit briefly after being knocked over and realising that the advice they had been given was indeed true.

"We knew that it is dangerous," one of the swimmers told Hawke's Bay Today.

Swain is right - there are safe spots to swim on the beach. A good place to start is in front of the Pacific Surf Lifesaving Club, between the flags.

His observation that locals should get to know the beach more are valid, and come from the perspective of someone who is a strong swimmer.

There are also many people who are not confident in the water, and rather than risk Pacific Beach, shun it for the tepid waters of Pandora Pond, where there is a different type of risk.

There are also people who have seen waves on Pacific Beach snatch a loved one, with fatal consequences.

It is not a user friendly beach, but to the right user, it is safe.

May they continue to keep an eye out for those of us who venture naively or foolishly toward the sometimes not-so-friendly embrace of the Pacific Ocean.