The Swell

The men sat around sipping coffee in their bright yellow windbreakers. They were a familiar crowd of retirees, lazily enjoying their coffee and conversation. The sun wrinkled faces smiled and argued over the topics of the day: the value of hardwork and something they vehemently disagreed with: Bitcoin. One man’s jowls shook as he waved his hands around to argue with the man directly across from him at the pushed together tables.

“Kids these days can’t even count cash anymore! How are we supposed to trust our money to the damn computers?! The end is coming, I tell ya!”

I smiled silently to myself and sipped my Mexican mocha. I sat by the coffee shop’s single window and watched the waves come in as I eavesdropped. Pulling out my phone, I checked my investments, including bitcoin, and felt good about the returns. The new age is here, my friends.

Finally seeing swells of six feet or so, I downed the rest of my drink and scooted to the edge of the booth. I grabbed my notebook and stood up, tossing my cup into the trash can by the door on my way out. Swinging by my car, I dumped my phone and notebook in the passenger’s seat and crawled in the back to haphazardly change into my wetsuit. The water was too cold for me to risk going out without it. No one was around my car in the parking lot, but I liked to go nude under the suit and needed to show some semblance of modesty for the men in the coffee shop across the street, lest they tired from their bitcoin argument and decided to watch the ocean. I struggled to pull the suit up, my legs sprawling into the air as I wiggled the tight material onto my body.

Once my arms were through the wetsuit sleeves, I climbed out of the car, glad of the cold wind that brushed over my face and blew my tangled hair into my eyes. The water may be cold, but the wetsuit made my body hot in the wintery air. I reached behind my back and pulled the long strand of coarse fabric that was attached to the zipper that ran up the back of the suit. The zipper closed the tight fabric up my naked back; I wrapped the velcro seam around my neck closed and my body’s suffocation was complete.

Grabbing my board, I locked my car and tossed the keys behind the right front tire. It was just me, my board, and my wetsuit. Stepping barefoot onto the cold sand, I closed my eyes and deeply breathed in the salty brisk air. I wiggled my toes, sinking a little as the sand moved around my feet. Opening my eyes, I started walking towards the smaller swells that were beckoning me. The water was completely clear, with gold flecks of sand that were reflecting off the early morning sun. It looked like I would be stepping into King Midas’ tumultuous bathwater.

I stepped in, gasping at the sudden freeze that enveloped my feet to the ankles. They went numb rapidly, but the numbness stopped at the beginning of my wetsuit. I kept walking, thankful that my numb feet couldn’t feel the smooth rocks that I was stepping on and scraping against. The water reached my waist, cooling my body down significantly before I threw my board onto its surface. My board was perfect, light orange with white swirls that mimicked the waves I had caught on big island ten years ago. I had gone to the local board maker with my design idea. He had taught me how to carve the board, smoothing out the roughness and ensuring the board’s dynamics were perfect before sending me off to enjoy it.

Front end towards the ocean…

The words of the boyfriend who had taught me how to surf echoed in my head as they always did when I would first go into the water. He had chastised me for walking out with the fin end forward and I had mocked him and stuck out my tongue as I turned the board around. I never failed to chuckle at the memory of him rolling his eyes at my childish behavior as he taught me to surf.

Decades ago…

Perhaps he was why I continued to surf. I felt close to him when I caught a wave, as close as I could get to a man who had disappeared three years into our relationship. He was always a drifter; I could feel his itch to walk out every time we sat too still on my couch. He stayed with me for longer than I thought he would. But that one fight proved to be too much. I never saw him again after he walked out that time.

Jolting back to the present, I swung up onto the board with both hands and began paddling out to meet my warmup waves.

The first few were good waves, solid and easy to ditch when they lost their power to the whitewash. My hair was completely wet, dangling around my face. I was nicely warmed up, my breath was quickened and the wetsuit was a perfect temperature of solid cool. Flipping my hair out of my face, I started towards the bigger swells. They had started to reach eight feet, which was no big deal; they were nothing like the thunderous swells the typhoons brought in.

I reached the right area during a period of calm, and I closed my eyes as I sat on my board with my feet dangling into the water. The water swirled around my feet, making my legs weightless and easing them of aches. I felt giddy and opened my eyes to a large swell. I pushed my board through, relying on my weight to force the board through the wave and prevent the board from popping up and getting dragged to the shore. I sat up and shook the water from my face as I spun my board around to catch the next wave.

I started paddling to stay within the right part of the swell. My right shoulder began to ache with the old injury, but I ignored it as the wave lifted my board and I was able to quickly pop up to my feet. I began to ride with the wind pushing drops of water into my ears as I traveled quickly down the face of the wave. The water was wrinkly and smooth between the wrinkles. I smiled as I gained speed and shot down through the wrinkles. My board rode diagonally across the wave smoothly, and I uncharacteristically felt the need to glance up at the shore.

He was there. He was on the shore, watching me. It had to be him; no one else would be in sandals on this freezing wintery day with a light jacket on. He always said he never felt the cold; years of surfing with the old school wetsuits that didn’t protect him from the elements seemed to have permanently damaged the cold sensitivity receptor nerves of his body.  He watched me surf without any emotion on his face. He simply studied me.

Startled, my body jerked backwards and my board shot forwards. I fell into the wave as it broke over me. The wave had me firmly in its grasp as I tumbled over and over in its break. It held me at the bottom of the ocean, pressing my face and hands into the smooth rocks that were rough with impact. I went limp, willing the ocean to take me in whatever fashion would get me to air the quickest. I had learned long ago, from him, that you couldn’t fight a lost wave; the ocean will always win. If you struggle against the wave, you will lose precious energy in the fight for a sense of direction as you are dragged under, over and over. He had taught me to go limp and let the ocean have me, and hopefully the ocean would determine that it wasn’t my time and let me go. The ocean had always let me go in the past.

My lungs began to burn and in my panic, I started to fight to find my way up to the water’s surface. Scratching, clawing, my shoulder muscle ached with shoots of fire as I tried to swim.

I was able to briefly surface, and as I rapidly drew in a strangled gasp of air, I saw flashes of what looked like a yellow windbreaker running down to the water before I was dragged back under by a second large swell perfectly timed to crush me.

I hadn’t seen him.

My last breath wasn’t enough for me to remain limp during the pull and crashing of the second wave; my body panicked immediately and I tried swimming to the surface again. My nails scraped rock. I was swimming the wrong way with no oxygen left. Panic overrode my entire body as I realized what was happening.

As everything darkened around me, I thought I felt his arms grab me into a strong hug, just like the ones he used to give me as I lay in his arms those many years ago. I thought I felt his body pressed against mine, his naked skin clinging to my wetsuit as he pulled me in tightly…tight enough to be safe, tight enough to return me back to the girl I was when he first loved me, tight enough that I couldn’t breathe, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to breathe anymore.

The gold-flaked waves continued to crash repeatedly, unconcerned, pounding onto the smooth rocks and dragging my orange and white-swirled board to rest alone on the unmarked sand of the shore.

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