sit in my office working on the song I am going to sing at my friend
David Edgar's wedding in just a few short days, I am reminded of
the time David and I almost got to experience first hand what it
is like to drown. It's a crazy story, all true, albeit somewhat
it was a dark and stormy night… well, ok, actually it was a beautiful
bright sunshiny day at the beach where my friend, Boris, and I had
been beach lifeguards for the past three years while attending college.
Boris and I had been on duty all morning and in agony had been watching
the 8-10 foot surf pound the shoreline. We were avid surfers and
couldn't stand to be cooped up in the tower all day while all the
great surf went to waste.
we would switch off an hour at a time allowing the other "guard"
to catch some waves. Boris was feeling a little tired and decided
not to go out on this day as the surf was about as big as we had
ever seen it. I, however, was not the least bit tired and my adrenaline
was pumping from sitting in the tower watching this "hawaiin"
like surf rolling in. Our mutual friend David was there and was
eager to paddle out. I needed no coercion to get me out in the water.
After all, I was a beach lifeguard, and nothing could happen to
and I paddled out, we marveled at how strong we were to be able
to paddle out into surf this big and not get pushed back into shore.
We felt that it didn't matter what size the waves were, we could
handle anything. While paddling, a few sets with about eight foot
faces came through and we were anticipating some great surfing.
The paddle out was longer than usual because the larger the waves
are, the farther out they break. By the time we made it to the lineup
(where the waves break), we were a good 1/3 of a mile from the beach,
much further than usual, and only a few hundred feet from a kelp
bed that normally seemed way out to sea.
and I sat up on our boards waiting for the perfect wave. I saw an
eight footer coming, dropped to my board and paddled hard to catch
it. I stood up and slid down the face, accelerating the whole time.
I was hoping Boris was watching with the binoculars from the beach
so he could see the huge wave I was riding. Seeing as how the paddle
out was so long, I decided to turn off the back of the wave so I
could get back to the lineup faster. In the meantime, David was
nowhere in sight.
for me, I had not followed the cardinal rule of never taking the
first few waves of a set. The problem with taking the first few
waves is that sets usually come in six, eight, or even ten. If a
surfer takes one of the first waves, when he gets off that wave
and turns around, he is faced with the onslaught of the next half-dozen
or so waves. This is especially dangerous when the waves are big
for obvious reasons, but it is also dangerous because the surfer
has expended his energy on the wave he just rode and needs a minute
to catch his breathe. As I turned to face the oncoming waves, I
pushed hard, using all my strength to get through the approaching
as I cleared the last one, I could see David about 100 yards further
out than me. The waves had been so big that he had been paddling
out the whole time I was riding, and he had just made it over the
last wave (usually the biggest) without it crashing on his head.
As I paddled towards David, he continued paddling out to sea. I
wondered if he knew something I didn't. Over the next few minutes
we both continued paddling out with David about 100 yards further
than me just about to reach the kelp beds.
the inevitable happened. The horizon started shifting as it did
when a set of waves was coming. I could see this set was going to
be big. In the distance I could see the undulating kelp with David
fast approaching. I paddled harder and harder hoping to make it
over the first wave. This was a rogue set. Every so often, ranging
from a few hours to a few days, the swells coming in from all different
directions would line up producing a single set of waves double
the normal wave height of the day, and this was it!
was fast and heavy and my heart was pounding as I reached the first
wave and the kelp bed simultaneously, just clearing the crest of
the twelve foot wave. Ahead were rolling hills of water extending
as far as I could see. David had disappeared between the swells
but was clearly in a better position being much further out than
me. As I paddled ferociously, I feared getting tangled in the kelp.
I thought about turning around and trying to catch one of the monstrous
waves but just wasn't out far enough to be able to turn around and
not have the wave break on my head, knocking me unconscious. So,
I continued paddling out as fast as I could. Each time I barely
cleared the crests as the waves kept getting bigger. My vision was
limited to the wave in front of me because of their size and I could
only wait to clear the next crest to see what I would have to face
came over the top of the fifth wave I saw the biggest wave I had
ever seen in person coming towards me. It had to be at least fifteen
feet and it was a futile attempt to make it out beyond the set.
This wave was going to break directly on top of me and I couldn't
do anything about it. It meant certain unconsciousness and probably
death. I had only one last out, and that was to get off my board,
submerge myself and swim for the bottom of the ocean. The only problem
was that I was completely out of breathe. But, that didn't matter.
I figured my friend Boris, the other lifeguard, had been watching
this whole fiasco through his binoculars and would be out to rescue
me in no time. I took one last look at the blue sky and clouds,
took a quick breathe and dove for the bottom. Unfortunately, I forgot
to untie the leash that held my ankle to my floating surfboard.
As the wave came over the top of me, I was protected in the water
below, but my surfboard was caught in the wave. Instead of surfacing
behind the wave and calmly taking a breathe to dive under the next
wave, my surfboard leash tightened up on my ankle yanking me towards
the shore with tremendous velocity. I was sure my leash would snap
but it didn't. The drag from my body eventually pulled my surfboard
out of the wave and I surfaced gasping for air just as the next
even larger wave was about to come down on my head.
didn't get deep under the water in the next few seconds this wave
would suck me up and over the falls and probably drown me. I took
another breathe and dove for the bottom. Once again, my board got
caught up in the wave, dragging me back and towards the surface.
By now I couldn't hold my breathe anymore. I was scared, winded,
and needed Oxygen badly! As I hit the surface I turned once again
to see an even bigger wave, at least sixteen feet tall, about to
break on my head. I was dizzy and felt as though I could no longer
hold my breathe, but once again, I submerged myself. As I got below
the wave I started to feel as though I was going to pass out. I
had fought so hard in such a short period of time and my body was
exhausted to the point where I could go no more. My lungs hurt terribly
and my muscles were aching all over.
then a deep sense of calm came over me. My mind started thinking
it would be a whole lot less pain if I was to just breathe in the
water and give up the fight. I wondered if this was what it was
like to drown. Watching movies and reading books had led me to believe
it was a horrible excruciating experience, but to me it seemed like
it would me much more pleasurable to drown than to continue to fight.
I let myself float and was just about to take in a mouthful of water
when I broke the surface. Immediately I took in much needed gulps
of air and noticed there were no more waves coming. That wave had
been the last of the rogue set. It had dragged me over halfway to
the shore, all underwater. I hobbled onto my board barely able to
move my arms and made for the beach as fast as I could.
make it to shore before the next set came, but I was far enough
in to ride the white water all the way to the sand. As I limped
up onto the sand I thought for sure my buddy Boris would come running
over to administer first aid, but no one was there. I laid on the
sand for what seemed like hours until David, finding a break between
sets, had paddled in. He had seen me disappear and was glad I was
at the bottom somewhere. By now I had recuperated enough to get
up and walk, but my back and lungs still ached immensely. David
and I had a long walk, having drifted quite far from the tower where
Boris was at. After about ten minutes we made it back to the safety
of the tower. As David and I climbed the steps, we called out to
Boris to tell him of our adventure and ask him if he had seen everything
why he didn't come out. Not surprisingly, there was no one in the
water at the time, and there was no answer as we entered the top
to find Boris gayly dozing the sleepy afternoon away!