Normally, if you're standing on the shore and you can't see the waves breaking, you don't paddle out.
However, last night we were at the beach, so I had a pretty good idea what I was paddling into this morning. That said, I was pretty unprepared for the thickness of the fog once I got out to what I presumed to be "the lineup."
I was out with 2 friends and after I caught one wave, lost them. Now and then through the white I'd briefly see a silhouette of a surfer, but the conditions were a little wild, and it was hard to stay close together. I could hear dogs barking on the shore through the sound of the distant shorebreak and the terns above me, but I could see nothing other than the white walls of fog that were about 25 feet away from me on all sides.
It was lonely and quiet in that white room. You can really get some thoughts going in your head when you're out there like that.
The night before, a very good surfer paddled in and was talking about "huge whirls" that were coming to the surface. With a large swell, sometimes fat sea bass come and feed close to the shore, chasing the little bait fish into the rock shallows. So people laughed him off, talking about the "Great White Sea Bass" and stuff, but it definitely felt "sharky" out there this morning, in the fog. So when a fairly large fish jumped clear out of the water about 10 feet from where I sat on my board, I could only wonder was was swimming beneath him, chasing him to the surface like that.
I took a wave, a long right, and as the wave petered out, found myself among boulders. Where the hell was I? As it turned out, I was two beaches over from where I originally paddled out. I managed to get out of the water, unharmed, and began stepping among the huge boulders on shore to get back to the break. I walked by a parking area where a few surfers where standing staring out into the fog.
"Anything out there?" one asked.
"Yeah, if you can find it." I said.
I paddled back out and remarkably, found one of my friends. "We're over at Boulders, man!" I yelled over.
"No fuck! Let's paddle back over to where the car is."
And so we paddled, silently, through the fog while the waves passed under us on their way towards shore. We found our other friend. He was out of breath and disoriented.
"Where the hell are we?" he shouted.
We told him, and now three of us paddled west, through the white, through the quiet. After some time, we got to a place where the waves seemed to be breaking in a coherent way, and we stopped, exhausted, assuming we were back at our original break.
I took a wave, and as I neared the shore, I saw a couple of lifeguard chairs and a few houses dotting the dunes. Once again, I hadn't the slightest idea where we were. I paddled in to shore and stood on the beach staring out into the solid white mist looking for signs of my friends.
After a couple of minutes, a dog heaved past me, all wild-eyes and hanging tongue, chasing after a ball. That was reassuring and brought me back to land. Moments later, my friends washed in, rather loosely, on their boards.
As it turns out, we had overshot the original break by a half mile. All told, we'd only been in the water for an hour but probably traveled over a mile back and forth, from one break to another, parallel to the shore. We couldn't see how strong the drift was through the fog...
When you're confused about your surroundings, time really slows down... it felt like we were out there for hours, lost and paddling. It taught me an important lesson... you have to keep your cool... I mean, we were never more than a couple hundred meters from shore, but it felt like we were in the middle of the ocean since we couldn't see anything. I let that perception trump the reality of the situation, and the rollercoaster my mind went on, ended up exhausting my body.
Anyway, we were able to laugh about it over egg sandwiches and coffee 20 minutes later, but I don't think I'll be paddling into fog again anytime soon.