Monday, June 17, 2013

Lessons Learned

Yeah, we all think we are waterman of some sort.  We know how tides work, how winds can free our waves and kill them, what "fetch" is and where our waves come from.  We know how to duck dive and take a beating.  We all think we can ride big waves.  We're all geniuses of some sort until a mega swell hits and we are standing on the shore whispering to ourselves "What the fuck am I getting myself into?".  Yeah, I had that moment on June 7, 2013.  I just stood their with good 'ol Panama Red somewhere on the Eastside of Santa Cruz at a spot that is usually a non lethal, forgiving, long board wave.  362 days out of the year I wouldn't be caught dead paddling out at this spot, but on June 7, 2013, this spot got major.  We're talking world class major.  We're talking about 40 yard double barrel's, with the hope of getting a third barrel at the "Pipe".  Yeah, epic would sum it up.  Let's add two more words, nerve-racking.  All the "wisdom" I thought I knew, yeah, after five hours of non-stop washing machine/ getting blown up/ eyes popping out of my head/ hitting bottom/ paddling for my life/ ride of my life/ walls forever/ barrels...  I really didn't know shit.  Here are some lessons learned from the last mega south swell. 

Lesson numero uno:  Never go for the first wave during a mega swell, especially a south swell.

No one else was paddling for them, so why not?  All I saw was guys paddling out deep, letting the first go by.  So I paddled for it.  And my kook butt went for the first sectioning barrel.  I was in it for about three seconds, but I surfed the barrel horribly and didn't make it out.  Where was I when I came out of the washing machine?  Directly in the impact zone.  When I popped my head up from the foam from hell,  all before me were lined up bombs coming straight for my head, the first one with a guy so deep in the barrel that he looked like one of those circus fellas getting ready to be shot out of a cannon.  And he was coming straight for my head.  He missed me.  But the six mega bombs that followed didn't.  And this leads me to my second lesson.

Lesson numero dos:  Never let go of your board.

As I was getting tumbled and humbled, I held on to my board for dear life.  I had just got done reading a chapter out of Gerry Lopez's book "Surf Is Where You Find It", and he talked about getting his most violent hold down at Pipe.  So violent that he had an out of body experience.  Gerry wrote that he's biggest mistake was letting go of his board.  While getting knocked around, I remembered G-Lo's wise words and bear hugged my board like their was no tomorrow.  I saw guys ditching their boards left and right then coming up for air with their eye's popping out of their heads and panting like a dog that just chased two cars around the block.  My board saved my life that day.  No, f-ing, doubt.

Lesson numero Tres:  Take three deep breaths before you know your about to get pounded.

I paddled for my life during some sets.  There was one set in particular that looked like it had no end.  I swear I paddled over six waves and was half way to Monterrey but they still kept coming.  And they kept breaking farther out.  My shoulders were burning and my lungs were at overdrive, and with the monster wave of the set coming straight for my head, I knew and everybody else around me knew that we didn't have a chance.  I accepted it, that I was going to get rag dolled like I had never been.  But I told myself that I had to be calm, go to a "safe place" in my head and take three deep breaths.  As the wave approached, I took the three deepest breaths ever.  By the second breath, I was calm, my "fight or flight" response had eased and my thoughts were pretty clear.  After the third breath, I knew I was going to be o.k. and then BOOM!  I was in washing machine heaven, saying hello to Tide, All and it's family of fabric softeners. But I let it all go, let the wave do it's thing, held on to my board and found my way back up.  The three breath rule worked and it led me to this final lesson.

Lesson numero cuatro:  Hold your ground.

(I want to put up a disclaimer on this lesson.  Try this particular advice/ lesson at your own risk.)

I had a pretty good feel for the swell after a couple hours of getting beat down, but at the same time catching some of the rides of my life.  The set waves were coming in so frequently that it became obvious that there were going to be at least six waves per set.  I wanted the third wave of each set.  Perfect size and shape for my skill set.  But for me to remain in position for the third wave, I had to take a beating, sometimes before the wave but most times after it if I didn't make the sections.  But I was tactful, really trying to calculate my way to the take off point, while adjusting my position according to the tide.  It took a lot of my nerve as I lined up a bit inside knowing that this swell was not going to let up for anybody.  That swell just wanted to eat people up.  It was starving like Marvin and the only thing that could satisfy it's hunger was human flesh, epoxy, PU, foam and fear.  But I used my breathing techniques, took my beatings and caught some of the rides of my short lived surf life.  All to holding my ground, breathing and letting that pretty little first wave roll under my board.  Yeah, I was fearful at times and backed off on a number of death defying would be drops.  But on this day, nobody was like "Damn!  If you paddle for it you have to go!"  No, everybody that day was like "Damn, that was a fucking bomb!"  No shame in my game.

That swell was one of the largest and most powerful south swells I ever surfed in (pretty much up there with the swell at El Salvador but about 5 feet smaller).  But let's be honest, I have only been surfing for about two and a half years, so that ain't saying much.  But it was big and full of raw energy.  I guess when the South Pacific wants to unleash it's power, watch out.

I guess the final lesson learned was just knowing my limitations.  The swell peaked during late noon on June 7th.  When I saw how straight up "Mondo" it had gotten, I held my ground with the fellas and sat that session out.  There were rides to be ridden, but a lot of just mega closed out bombs that usually would of held up at this particular spot that usually catches the wrap pretty well.  But this spot couldn't even handle it.  Do I regret sitting out that session?  No way.  Besides, I lived another day to surf, and the next day was just as good.  I'd go into more detail, but that's for another entry : )


  1. What board were you riding? I to have been working on not ditching my board in bigger surf (for me), do you just duck dive and get plumbed?

    1. I rode my 6'4 M-10 that weekend. That's been my "step up" when things get double over head. I never ditch my board now days, I feel lost without it. I just try and duck dive like there is no tomorrow. My duck dive has become pretty proficient, but depending where I'm at on waves, I still take a beating. But I never let go of my board. That's my number one rule.

  2. By the way I like your list, all points are true.