Rip currents (sometimes also called rip tides) are caused when wind and waves pushes water toward the shore, forcing the shoreline waters to move parallel to the shoreline, and eventually finding a way back out to the ocean. The way out for the “crowded” water can be in any area that takes advantage of an anomaly like piers or jetties. The opening where water returns oceanward can move along the beach as well, making rip currents difficult to track.
Rip currents are formed when “waves break strongly in some locations and weakly in others.” This results in the formation of circulation cells that are fast-moving and potentially dangerous. The above response explains it pretty concisely, and below are some pictures that might help you visualize how rip currents develop.
All images taken from this page.
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