Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Another Lesson In Perspective

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."


fufufnik said...

Great post DT. Very touching and great vivid imagery. It's been a while since I have read one of those posts from you here. And, to use "insouciance". Nice! Thanks for sharing mate, good stuff.


Anonymous said...

Nicely done.

Jawbreaker said...

Good story. I served in Gulf war 1 and have experienced death very up close and personel. Its good to get a real perspective on things if only once in awhile. We all get caught up in the rat race. You have a talent for bringing stories to life.

Dinosaur Trader said...

Thanks guys.

One thing I know jaw, is that I couldn't handle being in a war. I also wouldn't get past the psychological exam... they give you one, right?


Pete said...

good post-
gotta scare yourself once in awhile- old cliche of making yourself feel alive. ive had some solo scares back in my back country skiing days out west and recently kiteboarding - particularly hatteras in giant swell. definite high walking around afterwards- esp when you see most people never challenge themselves to see what they are made of.

Jawbreaker said...

I think you are capable of much more then you think. The exams are basic till i went through some of the more advanced schools and joined an elite unit. Anyhow, my buddy told me the surf has beed great up by you. Really want to get out there ASAP but my 7 year old son has me running around too much. take care DT.

Tomer said...

Being in the army is very easy, you just need to be born in Israel, they'll get you into the war (I'm from Israel, I know hehe), we've acually got one captain in Israel that said that he was having a near death expiriences in the wars in Israel, and so he said "if risking you life, why not doing it for things that you like?"

Let's say that he is now base jumping, downhill biker, surfer, and much more.. the guy is an extreme living legend :)

S. said...

I generally prefer reading with a book. Being curled up in bed with a good book or a magazine = heaven. Somehow it's not quite the same with a laptop and coaxial cable snaking across the sheets. Reading online is hard on the eyes, and there are too many distractions.

So it's not often that I get so engrossed in something I'm reading online that I forget what I am, what I'm doing...

Bluedog said...

Great story, DT. I was a lifeguard for 7 years and always thought it was amazing how many kids nearly die out there. It does give you perspective. I felt the same way when a fellow triathlete got attacked and killed by a shark out here a few months ago. Same waters I competed in (triathlon), same waters I surf around. It makes you pause and reflect on what you have, and how much we let the BS get to us.


HPT said...

Awesome Post DT. It really touched me. I've never surfed before but I felt I was right there with you the way you described it. You are a great writer. Sometimes in life, you just need to sit down in a quiet place and put your soul at rest. Forget about the stresses of everyday life and focus about the good things in your life and the great experiences you've already enjoyed. We all take life for granted until its gone.(that sounds really poetic). Reminds me of the song by Sixx Am, which I will probably see in concert this August. I'll post it on my blog just for you. The lyrics are awesome.

lisa said...

Clearly, you are the writer in your family - there are no others when it comes to a post like that!
Thanks for moving me, unexpectedly, to tears at the end, which, just like your wave, I didn't see coming....sometimes you need that.

Dinosaur Trader said...

Wow, thanks everyone. I appreciate the kind words.

Lisa, I'm sorry I made you cry.


ainkurn said...

Damn you, now I wish I was in Hawaii surfing instead of Mississippi studying Life Insurance! I've never surfed before, but you just convinced me to give it a try sometime.

lisa said...

nothing to apologize for! That is what great writing should do to the reader. To not see the end coming is a rare treat these days in a world of instant everything.
Thanks for sharing with us.

Woodshedder said...

Well done DT.

I have caught that same wave, several times. Once in Fla, once in the OBX, and a few times at my home break. No one ever sees you ride them.

Funny thing about the big waves. They are much easier to catch and easier to ride. Assuming you are able to get to the shoulder before the close out, I find them much more graceful and calm to ride than the smaller waves.

Anyway, excellent writing my friend.

howard said...

good stuff DT

jpm said...

Best post in a long time DT. Well done Indeed. I don't surf, but I can clearly read your physical, spiritual, and mental connection to it in your writing. Excellent perspective you've shared.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful piece. I can relate to the experience of the guy in the pink kayak. I, too, had an adventure with the sea. Neptune called; Neptune seduced. As I tumbled back and forth in the white water, watching those on shore, looking at the sky, searching the horizon, and struggling to call for help, and I wondered if this was how it would end. In the end, Neptune let me go. He and I may meet another day. I will wait for his caress and his touch. It will be on my terms...I hope.

Mykl said...


Words escape me. Excellent post and the only thing that would have made it complete, for myself at least, would have been if you had taken the camera out of the blonde's hands and heaved it as hard and as far into the ocean as you possibly could.

Taking pictures of someone dying? Of course he was saved but at the time, no one outside of yourself - let alone the blonde waste of oxygen - saw what was going on and to do nothing but take pictures is the epitome of how desensitized we have become as a society; almost as if it's just a big video game and it's just a matter of hitting the "reset" button when you "die" and all is good once again in the world.

A most disturbing and disgusting example of humanity in an otherwise beautiful story of a life being saved.

Oh, and for the record? Those "poor hispanics" aren't poor at all - the overwhelming majority of them are here illegally, and therefore are getting myriad federally subsidized benefits that they are not deserved of, not to mention that they are doing a job that a whole bunch of people would love to do, hence the fallicy of "they're just doing jobs that no one else wants to do" is just that - a fallicy - and is such a bald faced lie, it's mind numbing that it's allowed to propagate the way it has, and does.

The only jobs they do that "no one" wants is field work. Which is sad and says a lot about the youngsters of today and their sense of entitlement. I worked in the fields when I was too young to work normally and it went along way towards my overall work ethic, something that is sorely missing, again in today's youth.

But hey, that's what's beautiful about life - the meaningful and perfectly okay disagreements and discussions, without all the hyperbole and marginalizing that seems to hold sway in today's "everything is political" atmosphere.