Double Wave Hold Down
I stood leaning on the tailgate of my pickup, watching the waves of Ocean Beach from the parking lot. They were huge. They didn’t give a shit. They were charging in, lurching up into perfect fifteen-foot walls, and clobbering the crap out of everyone. I wanted to surf one.
It was several years ago back when my moxie had a bigger mouth than my good sense. Waves have a dangerous lure to them. A primal call to lethal adventure. But I’d been surfing plenty and felt ready. Just then a huge raven landed on the roof of my truck. He cocked his head at me and stared. I was going to shoo him away but a second glance gave pause. He seemed to have purpose.
“Whaddya think of these waves?” I asked him not knowing what else to say. I started feeling a bit silly for asking, but then he answered. It was one loud “CAW!” while spreading out his wings. Then he held my gaze longer than comfortable. Was he hoping I would understand? I didn’t. Looking back, it couldn’t have been more obvious. It was a simple big fat “NO!”
My attention was pulled back to the ocean as a perfectly formed giant barrel rolled in - a beautiful siren of peril. Clapping my hands and ignoring the raven, I chose the devil’s path. I stretched into my wetsuit and offered my fate to the Gremlins who snickered and readied their lessons.
It was a rare warm day at the San Francisco beach as I made the walk to the south end. I was giddy and nervous as I came up on my entry point. As I approached, I passed an attractive young lady laying out on a beach towel in a bikini. She felt someone passing and looked up shading her eyes with her hand. Feeling noticed, I squared up my strut and nodded a greeting. I was a brave warrior heading to battle after all. She laid her head back down without reaction, but I could feel her eyes roll behind her sunglasses. Oh well. I turned my attention back to the beautiful demons of Neptune.
It’s always that first slap in the face from the shore break that brings your attention and the snub from the girl on the beach was instantly washed away. It was a tough day indeed with breaker after breaker beating me down and sending me back to kindergarten. I was already getting tired but was determined. I caught a brief lull and started making headway into the cabbage patch between the shore break and the outer main break. It was relentless ducking under the soup of wave after wave of the main breaks that were strong and heavy like wet cement as they battered my bones. Must keep paddling! I thought. Must keep paddling! As I got closer to the main break, the violence ramped up. I was approaching the impact zone; the true battleground. Ducking one more bar of cement soup, I was in the dreaded zone; a fishing bobber in a waterfall! It was when my eyes cleared that I saw the wall. It was a building. A moving building made of tons of seawater. I was setting up to punch through this rushing tower of water and get past the break when I realized I was in the sweet spot! If I spun, I could actually RIDE this monster son of a bitch! But wait! I shouldn’t! I should duck it and rest! But I’m at the sweet spot! But it’s smarter to rest! Gaah! What to do? Then the gremlins whispered. “Go for it, fool!” I took the bait and spun my board. It was too late. The wall of seawater didn’t care.
The biggest mistake a surfer can make is to stop and think. My board got sideways and I got sucked over the falls getting ripped apart like a rag doll and was sent deep down to Davy Jones’ Locker. I also made the second biggest mistake: not getting a last lung full gulp of air. I went down on an exhale and sank like an anchor. My lungs were instantly cramping for air! It was completely dark in the turmoil and I couldn’t tell which way was up as I tumbled through the rapids. “STAY CALM!” said my inner voice. “FIND YOUR WAY UP!” Then the wave let go for just enough of a moment that I could claw my way to the surface. My head finally popped to the top for a split second where I got half a breath that was more of a frantic gasp, only to see another rushing tower. Another wave as big as the first slammed me right back into the washing machine. It was my first Double Wave Hold Down. I had heard the dark tales of this calamity with stories of death and panic set in. My inner voice was changing its message. Was this it? Is this how it’s going to end? After an endless tumble, I somehow got to the surface again for another bitty gulp of air. But the ocean wasn’t finished. Yet another rushing wall even larger than the first two was there to meet me and took me down for the third time; a TRIPLE wave hold down! I was back to the bottom of the sea - Davy Jones’ Locker. Would these be my last thoughts? I was out of air. I was out of hope. I was drowning.
Davy Jones could have had my bones that day. But he snickered and flicked me back to the land of the living. Through no efforts of mine (I was fresh out) the currents of fate swept me to the surface and out of the roil. Somehow I was back in the magic lull of the cabbage patch. I gulped in the glorious air like the dying man that I was. And like a dream, my board nudged me like a horse nudging his shot up cowboy. I grabbed the board and got ahead of the next wave of raging wet concrete and clutched my way back to the blessed beach. I had nothing left as I washed up on shore like driftwood. It was the scene of a hundred movies with the castaway crawling up the beach from his broken raft. I was that guy. I crawled on my hands and knees through the hot sand and - yes - I actually kissed it!
And then I puked my guts out.
It was after I finished puking that I realized that I was only a few yards from the sunbathing girl in the bikini. She was staring at me with half pity and half disgust. In truth, only ten minutes had passed since I had strutted by her, the surf hero. Such a fine showing I was making. Such a fine showing.
All I could do was pick up my board and make my way down the beach back to my truck, dragging my dignity behind. As I passed the bikini girl, I could see her stifling her laughter. It stung, but I was fine with that. Making it back to the beach was a miracle. Suffering the embarrassment was a more than fair price.
“This wetsuit was almost a goddamn body bag!” I muttered as I peeled it off like a sack of shame. I had plenty to think about on the ride home and for a long time to come. So many lessons learned:
Punch through the waves and rest before you try to surf one
Get that lung full of air as you’re wiping out
Don’t surf beyond your abilities
Stop struttin - karma will get you
And for god sakes - LISTEN TO THE GOD DAMN RAVENS!