Sunday, November 20, 2005

Slippery When Wet

It's easy to forget how dangerous surfing is.

Actually, I take that back. It's not that it's easy to forget how dangerous surfing is. It's just that we tend to focus on the spectacularly dangerous aspects of surfing - the really scary, sexy dangers that seldom happen (the sharks, the reef at 'chopes, the kickboxing wolfpack) - and forget about the stupid little things that actually do happen.

Think plane crash vs. car crash.

And it's those stupid little accidents that we should be afraid of. Just ask Jesse Billauer.

On Friday I had a nice little reminder.

It was super low tide, and getting lower. Probably -.5, with another hour to go. I was surfing without a leash, which I do a lot when the waves are small. As a matter of fact, there was almost nothing about the session that was even slightly unusual. Except for the fact that, because the tide was still dropping so fast, there was a fairly steady (but slow) current pulling straight out to sea.

So I catch a little waist-high right, do a few pumps, and then as it starts to closeout, pop a little backside kickout. I timed it a little late though, and while my board made it over as the wave dumped on the inside, my balance was off and I fell backwards over the falls.

Not a big deal. Like I said, the waves were small.

I pop up and see my board about 20 feet away. I start after it, doing the casual waist-high hop n' splash. But I quickly notice that it's steadily moving back out towards the lineup and that I'm not catching up with it. So I start swimming...steadily at first, then panicked as a wave starts breaking on the outside and I realize my board is gonna go right up the face and right in the way of the guy now taking off.

Now I'm swimming like mad, closing the gap, but it's too late. The surfer sees my board, gives me a disgusted, filthy look, and pulls out the back just a few feet before colliding with this six foot piece of blue flotsam. Still desperate to get it back under my control, I make one last mad sprint for the tail when I realize I'm not going to catch it in time. It tracks up the face and gets caught perfectly in the lip.

To quote a million cheesy action flicks, suddenly the hunter has become the hunted.

I stick my arms out to try and "catch it", but mostly I'm just blocking. In a split-second, it comes down with the lip, hits both my hands, accordions my arms like they couldn't bench-press a Harry Potter book, and, deck first, just CRUSHES me in the side of the head. I mean, it clobbered me.

I came up, not only seeing stars and convinced my head had been split open like a watermelon, but with such a crazy ringing in my head that I was pretty sure my earplug had been knocked deep into my skull, and was now bouncing around in there like a rubber pinball.

I start doing the slap n' look, where you claw at the damaged area, pull your hand away and inspect your fingers for blood, and then repeat about 50 times.

Amazingly, no blood, no crushed skull, and my earplug is still sitting where it belongs.

I started having flashbacks of another lowtide session, 15 years ago, at Carmel Beach. I had just done a failed floater on a head-high wave into 3 feet of water. Me, the wave, and the board all combined into a perfectly symbiotic fusion of vertical energy and just imploded there on the sand. I popped up first and immediately looked around for my board. Like the dude sticking his face over the egg in Alien (ALWAYS a bad idea), I looked straight down and my board popped straight up, knocking me on my ass and opening up a nice two-inch split next to my eye.

Damn, surfing is dangerous. No two ways about it. Ruptured ear drums, nose gashes, fin slices, head whacks, neck-breaking sandbars, pier collisions, leash name it.

30 foot Jaws? Ha. I survived 2-foot HB.

The Colonel says, "Let's be careful out there."