I like to surf. I’m not some kid that shreds with lots of turns and cutbacks, but I can hold my own in some pretty sizable surf. Or so I thought. California had an El Nino winter during 2009/2010. what that means is the storms that generate waves tend to be more or less direct hits on Northern and Central California. And that means the waves tend to have more power and size. In layman’s terms, they are big, fast, walls of water instead of the slower, rounded and sloped waves in a normal year.
I’d already been out to one of my favorite point breaks a couple of times during high-surf periods. These are the times when reporters warn people to stay out of the water, and there are signs all along the beach warning of the high surf. I think you see where this is going.
The first couple of times were physically demanding, but I was able to paddle out and ride some big waves. The waves on those days ranged from 8-12 feet (measured from the back, not the face so the face is usually larger).
The third time, well, it didn’t turn out so good. The waves were about the same size. Reports said 9-13 feet, so the faces would be up to 15 feet. I started to paddle out thinking I could manage, because I’d done it before. But I failed to take into account one critical point. There were no lulls between sets. That is why only about a dozen guys were out at a place that normally sees 100.
Without the lulls, it’s incredibly difficult to wrestle a longboard out to sea through waves that large. In fact, it’s damn near impossible. And then the fun began.
The currents drove me along the shore, until I was dangerously inside. “Inside” means I’m sitting where the waves are breaking, and I’m getting concerned as I see a line of huge, Hawaii-syule walled up waves moving in. I realized there is no way I’m going to be able to paddle out past these monsters, and decide to save my energy and air to deal with them when they hit. Maybe not my best choice.
The first waves breaks a few feet out, and drives me down into the blackness. I relax to conserve the oxygen in my body. As I surface, I see yet another wave about to break. I try to paddle into a better position but the wave is too quick. I’m sucked up into the lip of the wave and thrown back down to be impaled on my board. I surface again and, you guessed it, wave number three drives me so far down my ears pop. I find my way back to the surface and see waves 4,5,6, and more coming in. I am completely screwed and I know it. As wave number 4 destroys me, I am out of air and strength, and realize I might actually drown.
Here’s where it gets weird. I wasn’t worried about the things I haven’t accomplished yet in life, or about my family and friends. No. My thoughts were about how embarrassing it would be if I nearly drowned and had to be rescued. I’d never be able to surf there again! The second thought was how the hell I was going to afford to pay for the rescue and medical bills. Wow. I had to find the strength to get to shore, or I was going to be really embarrassed and broke if I didn’t end up dead.
I stopped counting on the ninth wave, as there were more coming. I managed to maneuver myself into a position to be driven towards the shore when the next waves broke. It was rough going, but eventually I found my way to show.
I crawled up on the rocks, bruised, bleeding, and in a great deal of pain. But I wasn’t going to be embarrassed. I had gotten myself out of there.