A winter Sunday at the Jersey Shore. Waves are big and messy. Water temp, 40 degrees. Air temp, less.
My three surfing friends: Sunday, Pete and Clint (with ass crack showing). And me.
Oh and let's not forget....
It's a big wave day - big for the Jersey shore at least. 6 - 7 foot waves, hollow, fast. Arriving at our surf spot late, I'm amped up but a little nervous. I make sure my wetsuit is on properly. You can't mess around in this temperature. It's a few degrees above freezing after all.
I run onto the beach and Sunday is getting out of the water already. What? Sunday is a marathon surfer. She'll stay in forever. She has a frozen smile on her face but something appears to be wrong.
"I got hit in the leg with my board. And the paddle out is a bitch. Walk up north a while. The current is strong. You'll get pulled toward the jetties quickly."
Quick lesson: paddling out is the most strenuous part of surfing. It's when you are literally swimming upstream. Once you are out past the breakers, you can sit on your board and catch your breath and wait until you're ready to grab a wave. Until then, you are in danger zone.
| Me last winter, paddling out and punching my board through|
an oncoming wave.
Now if you're paddling out and there's a current, you have added problem. You need to paddle out quickly so you don't accidentally hit these:
Jetties are rocks used to prevent beach erosion. Slimy unyielding rocks.
Pete has gotten out of the water as well. He says the same thing: "Give yourself some distance. The current is strong."
Okay, fine. So I start walking up the beach, away from the jetties, about a 1/8 of a mile so I have lots of room to get pulled down and still make it past the jetties. Which are rocks. Slimy, sharp...oh I told you.
But suddenly, I see a lull. Calm as a lake for a second! Go, go! I decide to forgo advice and paddle out just a little closer to the jetties. I can make it out in puhlenty of time. It's easy.
Leaping into the ice cold ocean water, I begin my paddle out. Interesting...that lull seems to have suddenly disappeared, replaced by a set of large waves heading toward me. Not a problem. I'll rock it. I'll just get past these waves, the lull will return, and I'll be fine.
Looking over to the right, I see the jetties a little closer than I remembered only a minute ago, but I still have a good amount of distance. Not nervous yet...nope, nope, nope.
Then a larger wave hits me directly and I rag doll around. When I finally resurface, I look to the right and what do my wide eyes see?
Hello large objects.
Oh, this is bad. Really bad. I'm only a few feet from the jetties now. If the next wave hits me, it will put me on top of those rocks. I jump off the board and start swimming furiously in the other direction. This is a silly move but what happens when you panic.
At this point, I can feel the pulling action of the jetties. The jetties have currents swirling around them. To be caught in one of these currents is an unmistakable sensation. You can't move. It's nature's supermagnet. You don't stand a chance.
I see an approaching wave. I know this is the one. The waves lifts me up like on a wrestler's shoulder and slam, right on the rocks. I lay there for a moment, stunned. At the shoreline, I see Sunday, Pete and Clint in a stunned panic, not sure what to do. Sunday has her hands over her mouth.
There's nothing they can do. Short of an airlift, nobody can get to me. It's too dangerous.
I look behind me and realize the fun has only just begun. Another wave hits. Slam, lift, slam!
You're in a mild state of shock and everything slows down to a surreal craw. You notice small things, unable to take in the big picture. There's seaweed on my face. I wish I wasn't here right now. I hope my board is all right.
I belly-crawl over to my board and lift it up, determined not to let it hit the rocks again. BAM! Another wave hits and the board is taken again. How futile!
Damnit why must my my new board take a beating too? It's one of the only things I've purchased for myself in like a year. It was a gift to myself.
I can see the dings on it already. It looked so pretty and white before...hopeful. Now it's getting banged up repeatedly so it fits in with everything else in my life, including me at this moment.
Suddenly, Clint appears right next to me. He paddled out to the "safe" side of the jetties. He still needs to stay several yards away or he too could get sucked in, even on his side.
"You're in danger! You need to get off of the rocks now!"
Somehow I manage an ounce of sarcasm: "Ya think?"
"Are you alright?"
I check in with my body for the first time. Nothing is broken. Bruised, yes. Wetsuit, torn. My body feels strangely relaxed. Starfish, you're supposed to pose like a starfish when this happens (just in case you're ever caught on top of jetties.) Lay low, flat and outstretched. Don't even think of standing or even crawling....just let the waves wash you off, eventually. If you're lucky.
I look behind me and see another wave approaching. This time, I work with the propelling direction and it propels me off the rocks, rather smoothly. Like it escorted me to the door and let me out. Goodbye, sucker, it said to me.
I start paddling out to the breakers instead of heading back to the beach. Hell, I made it this far, right?
Clint paddles up to me.
"You're in shock. You know that, right?"
"Story of my life."
Later that night, I sit with Clint in front of the fire. The aches are beginning to set in and I pop an Advil or two.
"Why Clint? Why didn't I care about myself? Why did I only worry about my board?"
"Maybe you just knew you'd be alright. Maybe God was with you."
"Maybe all of the above."
Me and few of my "war wounds":
This is a MUCH more extreme version of a difficult paddle out.