13 September 2010

Day 170: The Wave

The Wave: In Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks, and Giants of the Ocean by Susan Casey  ISBN: 9780767928847 (Bound Galley).

The next time I really got tossed on my ass by a wave was in Hawaii.  I can't remember which island we were on at the time, because I've visited two.  I'm fairly certain we were on Hawaii (the Big Island) at the time.  It was the last real family vacation I ever went on, and we had both sets of grandparents along with us.  About a year later, my parents would be embroiled in divorce proceedings and my brother's drug problems and violence towards me would escalate.  But for the time, we were all happy and having a wonderful tropical vacation.

It was near the end of the vacation, and we had already packed in quite a bit.  We visited old lava flows and the petroglyphs and black sand beaches.  There was snorkeling and lots of time spent out in the sun, with all of the grandparents in full wide-brim hats and zinc on their noses to protect paper thin skin.  It was just me, my brother, and my parents out on the beach at that point.  The grandparents were tired, but my brother and I wanted to continue body surfing.  The tide was just starting to turn and the waves alternated between gentle swells and what seemed like giants.

I didn't have my back turned this time, so much as I picked the wrong part of the wave to ride.  For those of you who haven't been body surfing, you have to choose the exact right part of the wave.  You want to surf the top near the crest of the wave, but not so close that you'll end up in the whitewater (the part that crashes - either onto land or more water depending on how far out you are).  If you catch it too far back you won't go very far and it makes for a disappointing wave, whereas if you catch it too early...

This is what happened to me that day.  I jumped with the wave a little too early, and it decided to pipeline.  I was caught in a sort of horizontal water tornado.  It brought me up and up, and then I lost all sense of direction as it flipped me over.  At some point my head hit the bottom of the ocean, bruising my forehead.  Luckily we were on a soft sand beach (fine grains, with little to no rocks), but it was still enough force to make me dizzy.  When I finally found my footing I headed back for shore as quickly as possible, afraid that I might lose consciousness in the ocean.  My brother mocked me, but having previous experience with the ocean's moods, I knew better than to risk it.

You don't have to be a surfer to die in the surf.  You don't even have to be out in twenty, thirty, fifty, or eighty foot swells.  You can die just as easily on an eight foot wave.  Sharks are less likely to kill you than the ocean itself, but it's too hard to make a monster out of something so transient and ever-changing.  It's why we keep getting back in the water, and why it keeps reminding us that doing so, even in the calmest situations, is not always safe.  But then that's life.

My review can be found on Goodreads.

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