2013 THANKSGIVING NEAR DROWNING
The bottom line is that I got a second chance. By luck, the Grace of God, God’s good humor, determination or will to live, I made it and am living to tell about it. My 2013 Thanksgiving Near Drowning event at Salt Creek in Dana Point, California, has without question caused me to reflect back and put life in perspective. It should virtually be flat tomorrow, Thanksgiving 2014, and I may be found walking the shore staring out over the ocean. Recently I had a conversation with JR, the only friend and ally that I had in my near death experience on Thanksgiving 2013, and I found some things out I hadn’t really discussed previously. When you are coughing up salt water and nearly blacking out, the finer details of the experience really don’t come into focus. Your immediate thoughts are, “Wow! I dodged a bullet.” and “Am I going to be okay? I laid on my board in a full wet suit unable to move for nearly 45 minutes. It was so concerning to a particular set of beach visitors that they offered to call 911 on each side of their walk down the beach and back. Swallowing sea water is both a terrifying and sickening ordeal as it literally causes you to be heavy, and makes you sick to your stomach. There is a reason you can’t drink salt water! The body rejects it!
The conversation was built around a scenario where a mutual friend Jack exited the water several weeks ago a little shook up. I had an eye on him, and when he got to the beach safely I felt like I didn’t need to check on him. This conversation with JR and I was basically Jack heckling me for not being more concerned about his well-being, and JR laughed. It took a millisecond to blurt at JR that he nearly watched my 2013 Thanksgiving Near Drowning. It was one of those knee jerk responses,but before I could stop my mouth, it came flying out. His response was telling. Apparently, he had been slapped around pretty good himself but was in a much safer spot than I was when the long set of double overhead waves bore down on us. Honestly, there was size and the set waves were big, but I have seen waves like that many times before. The thing that really put me in a bad spot was giving up my board and swallowing an ocean full of water underneath one of the waves. As soon as I swallowed the water the dangers were very real because I couldn’t get under the waves far enough. With a chest full of water I was a sitting duck for wave after wave which resulted in some pretty intense beatings. It felt like someone handed me a grand piano while I was struggling and in moments failing to keep my head above water. I remember being suspended under water dazed and confused wondering if this was it. By this time I was in the mind set of letting go. Everything became very bright and I started slipping into an inner peace that mad it okay to go right then and there. What followed was a dose of reality punching me in the face and a reacquired sense of urgency motivating me to make sure this is not how I would go out. The worst thing you could do to a mom that expected you at the dinner table on Thanksgiving would be to not show up because you managed to drown in the ocean and big waves. When I sort of woke up from my salt water stupor, I instinctively rolled to my back and kicked for shore. When I got to shore I was weak and had no legs, stumbling and collapsing on the shore with heart racing and out of breath. It was intense. I learned after the fact from JR in the most recent conversation that the waves were in the 10-12 foot range. I ate every bit of a set that JR called 14 waves deep. It was impossible to count the waves with each succeeding blow to my chances of survival. There were warnings about a powerful and fast moving swell with sneaker sets for west facing beaches that day. It certainly wasn’t the biggest I have been out in at Salt Creek, but it produced an experience I will never forget.
In reflecting back on my 2013 Thanksgiving Near Drowning Event, it is cemented in my mind what a gift life is. There is no guarantee for tomorrow and while I, like many wave riders, am unfazed by the power of the ocean most of the time, my respect level for it rose to new heights. The curtain almost fell on me that day and I am glad that it didn’t. One of the most amazing things about getting out of that life threatening situation is that I realize how crucial swim lessons as a kid were. I literally could not move in a way that would allow me to dive under the waves once I swallowed a bunch of sea water. I could not lift my arms to free style swim to shore. My only hope was a wounded but effective backstroke that was just good enough to bring me to shore safely. That was the kind of scenario that swim lessons prepare you for, and without them I was toast. Today, I am extremely grateful to be alive. I have a renewed enthusiasm for everything that I am doing, and while taking one day at a time, I take nothing for granted. I look at the natural world around me wide-eyed and with a smile of quiet content that reflects my respect for the gift and blessing that is my life. Being around for Thanksgiving 2014 is a testament to the human will to live and the ability of people in their worst moments to use skills they have learned over a life time to carry them through the toughest of times. So while I am very thankful this year, my feeling is that if I inspire one person to fight for their own life, and to approach the world thankful for what they have and looking forward to each day as a blessing and an opportunity, then I would say that is the impact I would like to have on others anywhere and everywhere, and as much as I can.
Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!