Drowsy, and tasting none other than bad breath, I woke up in the backseat of our family’s grey and slightly cramped suburban. Only a few hours ago, my parents, my siblings, and I decided to go on a day surfing trip with a few of my dad’s friends. We were headed to one of my favorite places, Pacific City. It’s a beach with decent waves and a huge sand dune, that the beach is famous for. Someone once made a rule that when we pass “no-talk-rock,” if any of us talk we’ll have bad luck. You have to be silent until its out of view.
I had been sleeping since we left Battle Ground and, being it was 6 o’ clock am, I finally woke up and the rig had passed no-talk-rock awhile back. When you get closer to the beach you can see sprinkles of sand on the road and old surf shops scattered throughout town. We arrived at the traditional Pacific City General and got snacks for the beach I got my favorite—peach rings and hot cheetos. One of the most satisfying feelings is coming up from the water, stomach growling, and finding food that the little kids hadn’t completely devoured yet or ruined with their sandy hands. Just across the road was the beach! Ahhh… the seagulls squawking and hot air was, surprisingly, refreshing! Some of us had just woken up we had that giddy-tired-puffy-eyed look, stretching and rolling the windows down to smell the beach. Everyone made a quick dash for their flip flops all at once, which made for the inevitable and very familiar chaos. We piled out and hauled our bags into the scrappy bathrooms that the beach provides. My sisters and I, Natalie and Jolene, eventually managed to stretch and squeeze into our spandex wetsuits and went to grab our boards. Amidst all the commotion everyone was in high spirits, laughing and joking. People say us three girls all look alike, with our blue-green eyes, heart-shaped faces and dirty blonde hair. We lathered sunscreen on our faces, and didn’t want to make a mistake of forgetting that like the last skiing trip! Jojo always put a little less than us so she could still get more of a tan. She headed off for the beach, lugging her board in arm, leaving Natalie and I racing after her.
We all hit the water at the same time, unwrapped our leashes and velcroed them to our booties, which were a size too big. We never had the funds to get our own size, just as long as they kept our feet warm and mobile, we were happy. Thrashing through the cool green water, I could hear Natalie singing “Knee-deep in the Water Somewhere” by Zach Brown Band. She was obsessed! I sighed and laid down on my board and paddled past the small breakers, letting my fingers slowly flow through the cold water, relishing in each moment. We sat on our boards with our backs to the beach, sun beating down, waiting for a good one to roll in. A few small waves came and went and we chatted about who was going to beat who to the top of the sand dune after.
Jolene caught the first one. We both cheered when we saw her pop back up, cheesing with accomplishment, her now wet hair slick to her head. I figured out over the years that if you don’t concentrate on your foot placement, riding feels less awkward. So, when “my” wave came I paddled like mad and, after feeling the success of catching it, I stood on my knees, then feet. The wave was just the right size for me to get the hang of it, it’s always like the first run every time you go skiing. After an hour or so, the girls announced they were heading back.
“More waves for me!” I practically screamed, doubting they even heard over the roaring waves. I realized my leg rope had slipped away and the only thing keeping me attached was my insane grip on the poor thing. Surfboards can be dangerous as they are fun, pointed at one end with three switchblade-like fins on the other. The key is to keep out of their malevolent way when you wipe out. I reached down to reattach it, an uncomfortable position in the water. I velcroed it tighter and tied it for extra effect. I was so focused on it that I wasn't paying attention to the ocean, by doing so asking for trouble. I looked up only to notice I was drifting along the shoreline, farther and farther away from my original spot. My sisters were already little ants, so far down the shore I was getting concerned, how far had I gone? I had my back to the ocean, it was so loud, and I had gotten used to the sound of the waves crashing here and there. When the monster of the day came sneaking up behind me, I didn’t realize it. I turned towards the horizon, sitting on my board with stringy hair and bloodshot eyes. I remember seeing a sheet of water much taller than me, so picture perfect. With one effortless flick, it sent me tossing and tumbling into utter confusion. Luckily, I finally popped up sputtering and somehow managed to have held onto my board. I needed a second to recuperate. I took a spasmodic breath paddling aimlessly. Ignoring the fresh wax I had gotten before the trip, my board tore out of my hands with the next wave I didn’t have time to prepare for. My leash was tugging on my foot when the wave passed and my board was nowhere in sight. I realized I was caught in the deadly current known as the “Riptide.” Struggling to stay above water, I turned to see I was headed straight for the shredding rocks down the shore, only about 100 feet away. I felt a blow and then a sharp pain on the back of my head. It felt as if not a single muscle in my body would move, I screamed mindlessly as I sank slowly. After a moment, I could taste blood in the water and I began to panic. My mind, racing and unable to think productively. My body, yearning for me to take a breath. As if in slow motion I turned and majestically opened my eyes to see the sharp wall of rocks through the blurry ocean water. Everything turned yellow and cloudy, and then black.
I scanned my binoculars over the waves, looking for a decent surfer to watch. It was then that I realized my daughter, Lindsey, was nowhere in sight. I could feel my heart rate quicken. I hoped I was making a mountain out of a molehill and she would be alright. She always got the worst of accidents in our family expeditions. There was a unusual splash of waves over by the side of our inlet. I was quaking in fear and my face got hot and tears sprang to my eyes. I saw the white of her board in the air for a split second as I was frantically hoping she wasn’t anywhere those protruding, dagger-like rocks. It struck her in the back of the head and she flopped almost immediately onto her board for a second before a tremendous wave took her down. After seeing the image of her limp body I threw down my binos, grabbed my board, and took off faster than I thought possible through the thigh deep water. Nothing was slowing me down, I was invincible. I thought of blood, sharks, and pretty much every and any outcome. If she hadn’t fell on her board when she went down, she would have been dead by now, There would’ve been no chance. In the midst of my panic I had the adrenaline to paddle faster and more ferocious. The riptide was pulling her, and now me too, towards the rocky shoreline. I finally got within five feet, and I saw blood pooling on her board. Sharks, I thought. It was a miracle I didn’t see fins circling by now. The fear of the unknown deep sea below washed over me. I pulled her out of the water, it was suddenly calm. I laid her on my board, ripped of her leash and leaving her precious surfboard behind. Hans, my good friend and excellent surfer, had also paddled out without me realizing it. We both swam like mad guiding my unconscious daughter parallel to the shore, pulling us out of the riptide that caused all this mess.
When I woke up, I was in a crowded hospital room with my family. I tried jumping up only to be dizzied and my eyes pulled down. The only thought in my mind was of my board, insensibly. I kept drifting in and out of consciousness, never opening my eyes because I didn’t want to face the reality of what happened to the “perfect” surfing day. I don’t remember the hospital trip or even the rest of the accident that my dad and family saw. Hearing that I could have been killed by sharks made me even more dizzy and light headed than I already was. Everyone was abuzz with excitement and questions. Kendall, my smart and thoughtful little brother, asked if I possibly had been sleep talking past no talk rock! That was clearly the only explanation for this incident because an “experienced surfer such as I” would never allow this! Turns out I had drowned, but a lifeguard-school drop out aiming for a chill day at the beach, reanimated me for a long time.
I learned a lot that day, about how the ocean is heartless and merciless and can trick you into thinking it’s a paradise. The “calm” is sometimes just the calm before the storm. I had to wear a head wrap for awhile, which made me feel as invincible as ever of course. They had to shave off some of my hair which I was not too happy about either. I didn’t even get a cool battle wound to show people. Besides all that, I had my first “surfing story” of many to come.