Tuesday, October 17, 2006

For the Brandons (Schenck and Bruce)

And for anyone else that I've had a conversation with about the north shore...

Last Thursday, October 12th, 2006, marked a very important day in my life. It was the day I checked the last item off of my "Things I need to do while I live in Hawaii" list.

After school, I took my board and a more experienced surfer with me to the North Shore of O'Ahu, to a break called "Leftovers" just past Laniakea beach and Chun's reef. The rain added to the drama of the first "winter" swell of the year. The swell was supposed to be on the decline, but as we arrived, there were glassy conditions with 8 ft waves (faces) with the occasional 10 footer poking through (for those of you who don't know...that's big, the waves in my surfing pics are about 2ft).

As I tried to swallow my heart, we grabbed our boards and walked down the volcanic rock decent to the water. Picking our way around the sharp rocks, we walked out to waist deep and put our boards in the water. I immediately sensed that something was different...the water felt thicker? heavier? stronger? no, none of those, just different. Following specific reef avoidance instructions I began the paddle out. Surprisingly, paddling out was a piece of cake. I almost got seasick from the waves rolling underneath, but nothing was breaking over my head. We paddled out to the lineup and I sat up on my board to get the lay of the land. As soon as had I sat up, a 10ft wave jacked up and began to break immediately to my left. As the silence of the gray afternoon was shattered by thunderous crash of thousands of gallons of water, my legs went numb. I decided to paddle out a little further just to watch, and await my impending doom.

So I sat. I watched people successfully paddle, drop-in, ride the wave, bail, and paddle back out all without dying several times and saw my anxiety began to decline (from paralyzed-with-fear to I-think-I-can-feel-my-legs), some idle chatter from my surfing buddy and another fellow DOE employee we met in the water helped.

Slowly, I began to paddle the right direction to catch a few waves with no intention of completing my task. After about thirty minutes I began to think that I could do this. I saw what looked like a smallish wave coming through and started paddling, hard. I got to the point where the wave jacked up and I was looking down the face...(imagine lying on a plank from a second story balcony) and oh wait, there's my surfing buddy straight down in front of me. I'm thinking, "I'm going to land right on top of him" so I take one last look down the face of this wave and pull up, harmlessly sliding down the backside. I saw the flick of spray as Corey caught the wave and then the thing collapsed in a fit of white. "Ummm, he's dead," I thought. Then 20 seconds later, he pops over a wave about 100 yards to my right. Cool, he's alive.

"So, he didn't die and he's just slightly a better surfer than me. I can really do this"...I look over my shoulder and there is a big wave bearing down on me. As I begin to paddle with renewed determination, I realize that the wave is already decending on top of me. I heard myself "eeep" and then feel the blow of the wave hitting me simultaneously from the top, bottom, front, and back. I was flung from my board and slowly became aware that I was being flipped over and over as the wave tumbled toward shore. I covered my head and waited for my body to start floating toward the surface, then swam the remaining three feet. Just asI was thinking, "I really need to breathe soon," I broke the surface, and inhaled sharply like a newborn that just got smacked. I had one second to think, "That wasn't so bad" before I realized that the next wave in the set was about to do the same thing to my hapless body. I managed to hurl myself atop my board and paddle outside the swath of destruction of the next wave, paddle back outside, and try and regain sanity. That's what we (in the surfing community, ha!) call "taking one on the head" or "getting caught inside."

I had a few more near catches, several mistakes, and took at least two more on the head and then I caught one. It was nothing spectacular and it lasted for maybe 5 seconds before I failed to outrun the whitewater and flipped over backwards, but I did it. I rode a wave at Leftovers.

I surfed the North Shore.

I can't wait until next time.

This is the best pic I could find of Leftovers. The wave looks slightly smaller and not nearly as clean as it was on that fateful day. That's still a monster wave though...and it's about to eat dat braddah.


Jennie said...

I don't know if you're stupid or extremely brave...what did JoAnna say? As I read this, I had to remind myself to breath!!

Anonymous said...

A next time? Are you sure about that? Wait... do I get a say in this? I am glad you survived and came home without any injuries the first time. Love your wife and your 2 baby boys.

Brandon said...

I'm so proud.

Brandon said...

Didn't you have "dancing around fire in grass skirt and cocunut bra" on the list as well?

Brandon & Jennifer said...

Congrats Tim!

That's an amazing description of learning to surf in big waves. Incredible!

I surfed at Chun's Reef this summer. I liked Waikiki and Maui too!

Later on,

Brandon Bruce