Last night, I caught the best wave of my life and it taught me a lesson.
The wave taught me the following, (I’m paraphrasing) it said, “DT, stop being such a dick.”
All day, my head was full of fuzz because some poor Hispanic dudes were outside cutting down trees. All day I forgot that I have a healthy family, live in a beautiful spot in the world and altogether, have it pretty damn good.
I just forgot and I let some bullshit trump the larger picture.
I paddled out into uncomfortably large surf. The report put the swell at 5-7 feet but it was clean and deep (high tide) so it felt even larger. All of my close friends were on the beach as were my wife and daughter. We were all eating dinner when I decided to “go take a few.”
Earlier, some kid in a pink ocean kayak tried paddling directly into the break. Within 2 minutes, he was separated from the kayak and getting sucked out by a strong rip current. On the shore, no one seemed to notice.
I was talking to a friend about nothing… he was there, talking about real estate, and I just started walking away, following the kid’s head as it was pulled out deeper with the current. He was probably 20 yards out, past the main shorebreak, but getting rolled by the constant white water from the larger waves breaking further out. I watched, feeling pretty helpless, as I walked down the beach closer to where he was.
He started to flail his arms and panic.
Jesus Fucking Christ, I thought.
I bumped into a hot blond in a pink bikini taking pictures of the whole thing with a fancy camera. I couldn’t take my eyes off of that head. I was just walking completely transfixed and terrified. I couldn’t swim out there and get him, even though I surf, I’m just not the strongest swimmer. I mean I can swim well, but I didn’t have a board, or any flotation device… it would have been a questionable procedure.
There were surfers out to the right. That’s where the “takeoff” is. The wave rolls in and peels to the left (surfers right) and basically ends close to the where the rip current was pulling. So it was maddening to watch 3 or 4 surfers pull off of waves not 20 feet from the kid and not even notice him there.
Thank goodness for the fat longboarder.
Honestly, I had never seen this dude before. He was fat like a dumptruck and on a huge yellow and pink longboard. The thing must have been over 10 feet long, wide, and thick. The first thing he did after splashing off the wave, was to go over to the kid and let him grab onto his board. Then the two of them proceeded to kick together out of the rip and towards the shore. They got completely pummeled by the shorebreak… but made it to dry sand.
The kayak kid just bent over at his knees and heaved for about 30 seconds. The fat longboarder walked right by me. He had a face, wide, dark, and deeply carved, that had seen a lot of sun.
He came from the ocean and he saved the guy’s life.
There was no applause. No one slapped him on the back. No one had even noticed. And I was lost in a state of bewilderment. I couldn’t believe that someone could just die like that, so easily, on a perfect summer night, on a beach full of people eating grilled chicken and drinking white wine.
But man, people die all the time. And why should we deny it?
I couldn’t stop talking about it for the rest of the evening.
“Did you see the dude on the pink kayak?” I’d say.
No one had.
So I had this all on my mind when I took that same rip current out to the lineup. I paddled right over the spot where that kid had flailed. The surf was big for me and my heart was beating faster than it really needed to.
Just then I heard a familiar voice. “Hey DT!” It was a relatively new friend of mine and he was paddling up next to me. “You look like you saw a ghost, man. What’s up?”
“It’s huge out here. I’m just a bit out of my league.” I explained.
“Ah, you’re fine. Enjoy this. It’s not going to be here much longer.” And off he paddled, the picture of insouciance.
As he said this, someone in the lineup yelled “Outside!” and the horizon seemed to lift. A huge set was feathering out there and was sure to break before it reached us. It did, heavily and with a rumble that gave the water some extra texture. With a deafening hiss, the white water rushed to where I straddled my board.
Now I have a longboard. It’s thick and buoyant. When a large wave breaks over me, I have to “turtle roll” which means I paddled towards the white water, take a deep breath, and then grasp both rails of my board, and roll over with it into the wave, fin side of the board facing the sky.
Then, with my legs, I kick towards the wave for all I’m worth.
I rolled through that first wave and looked around. Heads were popping up here and there, many separated from their boards, and a foam was sizzling on the surface. Oddly, and I remember this exactly, it smelled of fresh laundry.
The second wall of white water rolled toward me with the same force and speed as the first and I “turtled” under it as well. Man, my heart was thumping. I saw my friend paddling further outside, i.e., away from the shore, towards the open ocean horizon. The third wave just swallowed him and I was forced to roll again.
After that huge set, a calm descended onto the scene.
In the setting sun, most surfers looked kind of yellow. Due to all the white water, the surface of the sea was soft and foamy and the rising air bubbles touching the face of the water made a cool “shhhhhhh” sound. In this peaceful moment, I began to paddle for the next wave.
After the last set, the wave didn’t seem like much. But it was my perspective playing games with me. It was large enough. I paddled and the wave picked me up easily. I slid down the drop and just saw it stretch out ahead to my right. A slowly building wall of light green water, and white foam.
I didn’t “work it” by tearing up and down it like a maniac. I managed a couple of turns up and down the face of the wave but quickly realized I needed more speed if I was to continue along the line without getting “closed out” on. So I stepped up on my board, gained speed, and tore down the line.
The wave changed character as I moved closer to shore. What really happened, is that I had reached the rip, and so the water rushing out to the horizon from the shore met the wall of water that I was on, which was racing towards the shore. At this point, I got completely “destructed” as the wave picked right up and threw me down, hard.
Under the water, which was now, quite dark and gloomy, I searched for light to find the “top.” It seemed like forever under there, always does, and I wondered if anyone was watching my drama unfold from the shore, as I had watched the pink kayak guy. But you know, it wasn’t all that dramatic afterall, I quickly surfaced, in the rip of course, and was lucky enough to jump onto my board just before another avalanche of white water pushed me to shore.
That one wave was my entire session.
I pulled myself out of the water (which, given the circumstances of the shorebreak and the rip, was quite difficult) slid my board under my arm, and walked over to Judy.
“You see that?” I said, all excited.
“No. What?” She was brushing some sand off our daughter’s butt.
“That wave I caught! It was massive! My best ride ever!”
“No, sorry… it’s hard to watch all the time. By the way, Frank’s birthday is gonna be this Saturday. Jill just told me.”
And I thought then about that kid on the pink kayak again. And about perspective. And the difference between being out in the rip, in the waves, and standing on the shore. And the horizon, and how even it changes and is inconstant.
And just writing this now, I think about my best friend, who died almost 9 years ago, suddenly, and I wish that he could’ve been there tonight, standing on the shore with his kid and Judy, not watching me catch the ride of my life.
And I figured that most of the time I’m a selfish fuck, but every now and then, you catch a glimpse of light. And how important it is to remember what the light looks like when things go dark so that you know how to find your way back up to the “top.”