I left the house around four am and got there before the sun. Lots of people staring at but not getting into the water. I had just driven for a long time with the plan of getting in right away then going to work, and had no intention of lazing around in the parking lot waiting for everything to be “just right,” less wind, smaller cleaner waves...so I said “FUCK IT” and suited up and walked past the onlookers and sat on the shore for a few minutes. What I saw when I looked at the waves was a battle ahead of me- total warfare. Survival would depend upon knowledge and skill. Ok, so I exaggerate but makes for better storytelling.
Dawn patrol is awesome. Less cars on the road, less surfers in the water, more waves and more fun in general. I like getting in first, makes for a great start to any day. There’s a price to pay though, around five or six that night- “why am I so tired—- OHHH YEAH, I surfed this morning, that’s why!”
I sat on the shore and the three footers smashed themselves upon the rocks just feet away from me as I contemplated where I was going to surf and how I was going to get out there. The conditions were not ideal- lots of close outs (when the huge waves flop forward all at once- unsurfable) but every now and then there were HUGE well-formed perfect waves with giant barrels that makes for a great session. The wind seemed like hurricane force which was great because that condition keeps fair weather surfers out of the water- leaving the place to me and a few others.
As I sat there on the wet rocks buffeted by the fifty mile an hour winds I wondered how the hell I was going to get out there. The day before I had been “denied,” a rare event for me (incoming waves prevented me from getting out to surf). I just went west half a mile or so, found a rip that made it easier to penetrate the incoming waves so I could go to my spot, then had to paddle back over to where I love to sit waiting for waves.
The strong winds were getting me cold so I just said “fuck it” again and hopped in. I paddled straight out but got swept west in one of the strongest sideways rip currents I’ve ever been in. As hard as I tried I couldn’t get out through the breakers, so I just literally “went with the flow” and paddled over towards where I knew they were not breaking anymore so I could start heading out to sea.
I know this place like the back of my hand. I knew I was going sideways really fast, I could tell by the kinds of waves that were in front of me. First the big right, then the bowl (not a place you want to get stuck in front of because you sometimes can't get out), then the BIG left that goes on and on and on forever. When I got to the side of the big left break I turned around to ascertain my position in front of the land and saw that I was a few tenths of a mile past the restaurant- NOT a good place to be with an unknown future for anyone getting swept away from there. Didn't feel good about this development.
I wouldn't be stretching the truth to say that I was scared. You would be too if you were there. The incoming waves towered above my head and imploded upon themselves with thunderous explosions right next to me. I did not want to be caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, so I paddled with a worried look on my face. I was alone, and it was not even seven am yet- nobody was out watching the waves. If something happened to me- tough shit, I was on my own, that's what you get for disrespecting mother nature.
I had to paddle way way way out to get past the huge swells- didn't want to get caught by surprise by some humongous set then get pushed back towards shore and have to start all over again. I paddled for a VERY long time back towards my starting point. I saw another guy waiting for waves ahead of me and felt a great deal of relief knowing that I wasn't alone anymore. As I got closer, I saw that he had not one care in the world about me. Closer and closer I got..... then I realized that this is one of those guys with either such intense focus he had no time for interpersonal interaction, or such minimal personal skills that he just did not have any interest in the comfort another person brings to this type of event. WHATEVER, I paddled past him without waving, shouting hello, or anything of the sort. Paddled past him uncomfortably realizing that my own focus had shifted from fear to comfort. When one no longer worries about survival and instead thinks about people stuff, you know you are going to be ok.
Once I had paddled past the silent guy I was closer to where I like to sit waiting for waves. I saw a guy paddling out who I had surfed with there the day before and I was very much relieved. We hung out there for a long time, basically had the entire surf spot to ourselves. After a few waves, I got REALLY cocky and paddled over to where everyone sits all the time- where the break is the very best and biggest. I sat there for a few hours taking any wave I wanted to.
The wind was right up there with the strongest wind that I have ever surfed in, and the waves were incredibly strong. I got rolled over the falls and abused repeatedly. I got destroyed on multiple occasions, and once was rolled and tossed about and held under for a long time until my body was shoved onto the rocky bottom for the first time ever in my life. It didn't hurt, but sure was a wake up call. You can get hurt doing this!
After I touched down on the rocks, I had to pull myself up back to the surface using the leash attached to my board. I felt strange doing this- I had heard about having to resurface using the leash before, but only in Hawaii- Waimea bay and the like, but have never had to do it myself. Sobering experience, especially when your breath has almost run out. Because I had been shoved shorewards and held under for so long, I was on the inside, so I had to paddle all the way over then back out then back to my takeoff spot which took, I dunno, twenty minutes...not fun, but all that is part of the deal. When you eat dinner, you gotta clean up after yourself; the good always comes with a little bad. That's all part of the deal, and if you don't like it, find some other sport.
My surf session ended early, unfortunately, when my leash broke. I actually do not remember how it happened but I was on a wave and when it decided to destroy me, it also decided to separate me from my board by snapping my leash. HOLY SHIT!!! I swam like hell after that board and had it in my hands just as another wave landed on top of both of us and took the board away. I swam like hell again and caught up to it before we got separated again. I lay on top of it and rode that thing all the way back to the beach where I got out after hours of exerting 100% and worrying during the entire experience. It's saturday now, and as I type this I realize that my body is still really sore, and has not yet converted from sore muscles to the endorphin high that for me lasts about a week after intense physical efforts like the past two days.
What a lucky guy I am for being able to navigate in big water like this. I again tip my hat to the world-class competitive swimming experiences that I had in my life that enable me to do this sport, and to walk past onlookers standing on the beach as I am getting into the water (although looking back at the beginning of this little story I wasn't so sure of my abilities the entire time).
I got back to the truck and fidgeted with my equipment, got dry boots on and was prepared to go back out when I realized that I also have a job that needs my attention. I got dressed into street clothes and backed out of my parking spot feeling like a million bucks!!!
Hi, my name is
David Benjamin and I started swimming in Chappaqua, NY., swam for Badger swim team, Mercersburg Academy, NC State University, then Westport YMCA masters. I got bored of the ol' back and forth of competitive swimming and the high cost of skiing. Surfing took over and I never looked back.