When I rented my gear I talked with the shop owner and went with my regular soft-top this time. I told him I'm just not ready for another learning curve. (I need some progress on my current board first!) The girl charged me full price for everything and the dude told her - "Hey, LSL's becoming a regular. We give her a discount. We're about to write her name on a wetsuit in the back." Yay, bro deal! (Wo deal? I'm going to have to think about this.) Before I left he warned me to be careful. "It's supposed to get big out there later."
When Jules and I go out together, part of our beach talk is checking 3 things: the swell size, the tide and the wind. Those two days of surfing alone, I did the same survey of conditions before going in, but I'm still learning what the conditions mean. The swell was just over 5' and the wind was moderate. The waves were pretty close together - just maybe 4 seconds, which isn't ideal. And I noticed immediately that the few surfers that were out all seemed pretty experienced and all were quite shallow. There wasn't one person who'd paddled out. That's rare - usually the experienced kids are way out of the cove where I can barely see them through the waves.
So when I got in the water (I love those first few steps in the water) I immediately felt uneasy about the conditions. It was chaos. The waves weren't lapping up on the beach - they were washing in and then churning backwards almost violently. There was a strong undercurrent - when I wiped out, I got carried out very quickly, and I actually got a charlie horse in my calf that stayed for days from trying to dig my feet in the sand to stop myself from moving. There was also something funky going on where I was in knee-deep water one minute and chest-deep the next (without moving.) The waves were incredibly strong and too close together. When I would take one, it was like being shot out of a cannon, and I also noticed I wasn't riding on top of the water - half the wave was coming over me as well. Total suck. Later that night I wondered if I was surfing in a riptide, but I moved around to a few spots and the whole damn ocean felt like a riptide. At the time I was more confused than scared. I took about three rides and then just got out of the water. I wanted so badly to ask other surfers what the hell was going on, but I didn't have the courage.
I sat on the beach for about 45 minutes and used the time to meditate about September 11th and those directly affected. I was glad to be outside with Mama Earth that day, and figured the conditions would be back to normal when I got back in the water.
Yeah, they weren't. There was one point after a wipeout where I was carried out very quickly and there was nothing I could do about it. I couldn't stand up. I panicked for just a minute and then forced myself to relax knowing it wouldn't help to freak. There were two experienced surfers very close to me and I'd hoped they were aware of me. I told myself I'd stop surfing if they went in. But the whole thing sucked. I took one great, great ride - only on my knees, but it still felt great. It was the most powerful wave I've surfed, and I was on both knees with a totally straight back looking around and going very fast. I rode it the entire way in and then sat back down on the board. Other than that, every wave was a wipeout and every wipeout was a confusing mess of being held underwater and feeling disoriented when I could finally get back up.
So the story goes that I got tired and disoriented and in the worst position possible - standing up with my board between me and the wave - and I took the board to my head quite hard. I hate thinking about it. There were two strong waves coming at me one second apart, and right before they hit, I realized my mistake. I said quietly, "Oh no" and then got smacked in the head with my board. I didn't have the presence of mind to protect my head with my arms until I hit the water, but the board was already long gone by then, leash pulling at my ankle.
The wave knocked me down and held me under and by the time I was able to come up, I was done. The board hit hard and I started hurting right away. I thought it hit the side of my head, but the black eye that I almost immediately got tells me it hit my face as well. I grabbed the board and walked out of the water and up to my car. I was completely freaked out.
Angry, angry water that day. *Shudder.* By the time I left the waves were well over 7'. The surf report said they were 9' and later grew to 12'. I would have loved to have Jules with me to explain wtf was going on. I still feel a little freaked out. The whole thing happened in one second, but it felt like slow motion, and I've replayed it over and over in my mind. Pause on the part where the board is coming at me.
It's such a vulnerable place to be; I have all my armor off out there. It's by design - you can't get in the ocean without admitting that you're at it's mercy. (But you can be a lot smarter than I was and not surf in conditions you don't recognize.) So I got a good reminder on Friday. And I got a shiner like a diamond. I'm going to learn what I can from the experience and keep on surfing. I'll go out again by myself, and I'll keep taking lessons with Jules to help my confidence.
(At this point I would like to say that in my life leading up to this point, the biggest injury I have risked is probably a paper cut.)
Upside: Now I can use that "You should see the other guy" joke.