About four months ago, I went out for a surf on the blue longboard. I hadn’t been trying to surf for very long, and my lack of skills were evident that day as I failed to catch every single wave. Beginning to tire immensely, with my arms starting to give out, I shouted to my extremely skilled surfer boyfriend that I was going to catch the next wave in. The waves had started to climb from the three foot waves that I could handle into these monstrous waves that held the force of tons of water and energy in their curls. I was starting to become scared, and decided to call it to be safe. The last thing I needed was to be caught in a riptide with no energy left.
The next wave began to build behind me. I tried to paddle but my bum shoulder gave out and I started to be pulled back into a bad angle of the wave. As the back of the board began to rise into the air, I heard my boyfriend yell, “BAIL BAIL BAIL!!” Thinking this meant to not try and catch the wave, I held onto the board…as the wave picked me into the air and threw me down its face, down about six feet onto the unbroken ocean below me. I was flipped completely onto my back as I slammed into the water and felt my board and tons of water crash over me.
My head cracked the bottom of ocean, slamming into the sand, and I lost my hold on the board. As I was being pinned down by the water, I thought, “This is it, this is when I get hit by the board. I have no idea where it is and I can’t protect myself from it.” Seconds after I thought that, my board flew into my head and knocked me back down into the sand. Like a ping pong ball, my head bounced between the board and the bottom of the ocean.
I was starting to panic. I couldn’t tell which way was up and I couldn’t get away from the board as I continued to be tossed around like dirty underwear enduring the wash cycle. My air supply started to run out and I felt more waves churning the water around me. The ocean had started a new cycle of waves with my killer wave, and I knew these waves wouldn’t subside for another ten minutes or so.
My eyes strained to see the light that signified the surface…but the churning ocean was full of sand that distorted my view.
I had no other options. I knew my air was about thirty seconds from being completely out…
So I went limp. I felt every muscle in my body relax, minus my panicked heart, as I tried to preserve air. Panic can cause your muscles to seize up and use more oxygen, so I knew that I needed to only relax and hope I would get a reprieve soon. The next few seconds were eerie as my body tumbled over and over like a rag doll, getting dragged further away from the shore.
Suddenly, I saw a flash of light above me, and I kicked my legs down hard, making slight contact with the sand as I flailed my arms to get myself upwards. Straining to reach the light, I knew I was seconds from air…
And another wave came.
So I stayed down, looking up at the swell as it passed over me. The moment the wave passed, I burst to the surface and gulped a giant breath of air, complete with some saltwater because I didn’t wait until I was high enough out of the water. I was so desperate for air that I choked and flailed and swallowed a lot of water.
I stumbled out of the ocean, my board dragging behind me, and fell into the sand just outside the break. Onlookers had seen the wipeout and were standing up to see if they needed to come save me. Two men had started running from the sidewalk and slowed as they saw me reach the shore. Coughing and shaking, I crawled hands and knees to drier sand, still dragging the board attached to my ankle like a ball on a chain.
Embarrassed at how everyone was watching me because they were freaked out that I had almost died, I stood on jelly legs and dragged the board up near the rocks that lined the beach and sat down.
I couldn’t see straight. My vision was more than doubled and I tried to focus on my hands, seeing them waver and shake in front of me. “This isn’t good,” I thought to myself. “This isn’t good at all.” Water poured from my nose in the most miraculous display of surfer’s brain drain that I had ever felt or seen. My wetsuit was covered in sand and snot. My adrenaline began to subside and I started to realize how much I hurt. And I started to cry.
Being pinned down by something so heavy, so unimaginably strong, and forced to lose what we need to live is a lot like real life, is it not? You go along, playing in the waves, and things start to get rough. When you try to play it safe, you can be caught off guard by something that you hadn’t planned for, something that wasn’t supposed to happen because you were safe, right? You did everything right, right? But suddenly your life is turned upside down, multiple times, and you don’t know which way is up. You start to suffocate, you start to think this may be the end, and you panic, desperate to save yourself.
During these times of turmoil, you need to realize that fighting the ocean, the waves that are crashing around you, will only cause you to become exhausted and more confused. Waves will always keep coming, but you need to relax and trust that you will surface in time. Getting through a wipeout in life can take time, and when you do resurface to see the light of day again, you might be crying, covered in snot and struggling to breathe, but you will be breathing.
So the next question to ask yourself is, “Do you pick up the board and try again?”
Waves will always come. Relax.
I wrote about drowning in one of my short stories, The Swell, a few months before this incident that happened in real life. The Swell is fictional, obviously, and romanticizes something that is actually horrific. I just wrote how I imagined drowning would be, all vague and romantic in my explanation. Now that I know this feeling of drowning, my ending would be different.
Pro-tip: bail evidently means to get the eff away from the surfboard and go left or right. THANKS FOR TELLING ME BEFOREHAND, PAUL! Haha, nah, that’s on me.
Side-note: the featured image is not me, but it sure felt like that. #painful
I think I had a concussion. It took a few days for my vision to settle. And it took me a few months to try and surf again, because I was terrified of the waves. But eventually I got back out there, because what kind of life is one lived in fear?