I Almost Drowned in Oahu

I can only remember coming close to drowning once in my life, until yesterday. When I was about five my mom & I were at a party. I was out by the pool, alone, chasing a beach ball & it fell in the water. When I tried to retrieve it I fell in & can remember sinking slowly down to the bottom, looking up. Then I remember my mom’s friend Jerry jumping in & grabbing me, taking me to safety. I was then towel dried by a bunch of women and got to wear one of Jerry’s shirts while I waited for my clothes to dry.

Yesterday was quite different. My mom and I went up to the North Shore of Oahu, full of famous surfing spots and rough winter waves. It was so beautiful and so refreshing from the commercialism of Honolulu. We kept seeing bumper stickers and t-shirts reading “Keep the Country Country”. The inhabitants of this part of Oahu have been incredibly successful in keeping development to a minimum. Even such a famous beach as Pipeline has no large signs, no crazy parking lots. It’s all really simple and old school. I like it.

Midday we went to Waimea Bay Beach Park. And that’s where I almost drowned. I knew I wanted to get in the ocean, but it looked really rough. Some locals I spoke to gave me this advice, “The whiter the wave, dive!” I sat for a long while studying the ocean watching surfers and body boarders and swimmers get pounded by waves. Then I decided to get my feet wet.

It started innocently enough. Just my feet went in. But that oceanic pull is strong (both literally & figuratively) and I found myself wading out. I stayed near a group of three men. It was fun. I got a little braver.

But see, at least to my novice eyes, the waves are unpredictable and suddenly we got slammed. I think that beach in the winter is known for its’ shore breakers (when waves break near the shore). And suddenly there were some big ones. The first one hit and I didn’t dive deeply enough. I’d had a few successful dive-unders where it felt like I was still and quiet and right above me, but not able to touch me, was the crazy crash and thrash of the wave. Well, it didn’t happen that way this time. I got worked. The wave caught me and pushed and spun me around and I couldn’t find up for a little bit. I got salt water up my nose and in my mouth and I felt like I would burst with the sheer excitement and lack of breath. I finally made it to the light, got a quick gulp of air and got slammed again, in almost the same way.

When I finally found the light again I was much farther out than I’d anticipated and the current made it hard to move anymore except further out. I was really tired and almost called for help. But I pulled myself together and luckily caught a couple of gentler waves that brought me to shore where I sputtered and spit and tumbled to sit and catch my breath.

My nose and throat burned and for hours later if I bent over for any longer than 10 seconds a stream of salt water came out of my nose. I sat for awhile recuperating. I could still feel that strong ocean pull inside of me and even as I write I can sense it. It makes me a little dizzy. But the funny thing was and still is – in some ways it felt really good. It was a challenge. It felt like I’d been tested and that I’d found a way to make it back. And it was a great release of all the pent up energy I’d had since the soul snatching commercial luau my mom and I went to the night before. This, was some real shit.

The ocean is a living entity and in her shallows and depths are things that can sting, eat, drown, and fascinate us. I have a deep respect for it. And I know many people who live on the North Shore feel the same way, maybe even more so as they’ve seen people’s lives extinguished in an instant.

Sunset Beach, North Shore, Oahu

Water has taught me some strong lessons in my life. And this isn’t the first time that I’ve been reminded that there is deep stillness and sometimes a pull just under the surface of tumult. And when you get caught in the tumult don’t panic. Work instinctively. And maybe, like me, you’ll be lucky. (Also, you can get some ocean education, that shit will help too).

Have you ever almost drowned? What are your thoughts and feelings on water? Share below, I’d love to hear from you.

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14 Responses to I Almost Drowned in Oahu

  1. nancy says:

    I nearly lost both of my children at this very beach. January, 1988…one was 6 and one was 13. I stood on the shore in frozen panic as a rogue wave sucked both of them out and tossed them around like rag dolls. The older one had a hold on the younger one until the third wave ripped them apart. He washed up alone about 20 yards down the beach…she was still out there…alone. Every time I started in to the water, they moved – or disappeared. Finally, a lifeguard spotted us and raced out to rescue her. Brought her in like watermelon on his hip. Can’t tell you how many times I’ve relived this moment. Both kids vividly remember it too, some 25 years later. Both kids went on to be summer lifeguards during school…now both successful, professional adults. But both will still tell you about their near-drowning experience. Very scary!

    • electrickat says:

      Thanks for sharing this story Nancy – that must have been so frightening! It seems this beach has many of these kinds of stories. Glad both your children lived to be lifeguards:)

  2. Amanda says:

    I too, almost drowned at Waiema Bay. It was late Spring and we were in the water playing in the smaller waves on the east side of the bay. We watched from the water the bigger shore breaks and saw a bunch of people having fun in them so decided we should join in and play with the big boys.
    It was a lot of fun for awhile, dove under the breaking waves, chilling out in that happy spot where the waves break after they roll over you.
    Then the lifeguards made their announcement. Said they were off for the day and that the waves rolling in have been fairly large, so to “be careful.” Not five minutes after they’ve gone when a huge sucker came rolling in…and I wasn’t far enough out.
    I tried diving under it, but got picked up, rolled around, and slammed into the sand, held under until till the last second where I managed to pop up for air…RIGHT on the shore break. Crap. I got hit by three more waves before I managed to pull my weary body up and onto the beach.
    I recovered, I survived. I was picking out sand from my ears for MONTHS afterwards. But full respect to the beautiful beast that is the ocean and I have the same appreciation for it now as you do.

    • chaiyoon says:

      Good to know you are ok. Be careful out there. Hawaii is different because its in the middle of the pacific. I think a lot of new folks think it is safe, but the ocean does not care.

  3. Ji-Hoon says:

    I almost drowned at Waimea Beach, too. It was about 10 years ago, and the waves were big, but back then I wasn’t too worried about drowning or anything like that. I went in with my bogey board and was in amazement how big the waves were, especially up close in the water! I swam deeper because I didnt feel comfortable taking on those big waves, and was just looking for a break to make it to shore. Well, as I was trying to make it to shore, a huge wave knocked me off my bogey board and dragged me out to the ocean. I did not have a leash on my board so I lost it and was on my own, getting pulled deeper and deeper in the ocean. I swam to shore as hard and fast as I could for a few minutes, looking up and only realizing that I was actually getting farther and farther away! I didn’t understand it at the time, but the beach looked so far away and I was getting exhausted and started to panic. I now realize I probably got caught in a rip current. I could barely stay afloat as I had exerted all my energy into trying to get to shore and I decided I needed to wave and call for help. This was the absolute last thing I wanted to do even though I shouldve done it earlier, but just as I was about to go under, a surfer came and saved me, followed by a lifeguard not too long after that. I am lucky for a few reasons that day: that a surfer was paying attention to me for being so far from the shore with no board, that a shark didn’t find me first, and that I called for help at just the right time.
    I still love the ocean and swim, but I am just more cautious of the size of the waves and currents before hand. I like to just watch from the sand if the waves are big. I guess you could say it was an experience of a life time I would just like to exerience just once.

    • electrickat says:

      Ji-Hoon, wow, what a story! I know that feeling, of being on the brink and needing help. Mine came in the form of a wave towards shore:) A “once in a lifetime experience that I only want to experience once”. I love it. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Leah says:

    I’ve almost drowned 3 times, so far. Once in a pool when I was 4, and twice in the ocean. And, yet, I keep swimming. When I was 4 I was in a pool hanging on to the edge and I didn’t know how to swim, let go and no one noticed I wasn’t there until someone found me unconscious at the bottom. Fortunately, I was only out for a couple minutes and started breathing spontaneously, so I made it. When I was 16 I was swimming in and got caught in a set of large shore breaks. Only had the opportunity to gasp for air between each wave before I got pounded. I couldn’t fight anymore and gave up. The next wave somehow spat me up on to the shore. On my last visit to O’ahu my husband and I got caught in a rip current and got swept out to sea so fast we didn’t even realize what had happened until we saw how far away we were from shore. No lifegaurds, only us. Panic set in, but then something my husband said kicked me in to survival mode. He told me he was getting tired, so I problem solved. Swim parallel. Sounds easy, but when it’s happening it’s a different story. We live in Hawaii now, and only one of us is a dare devil in the ocean and it’s not me. I’m the ocean safety queen. I border on being paranoid, but I’m really just using common sense. The ocean in Hawaii is also very different than where I grew up in California. It’s very dynamic, always changing. The ocean is a love of mine and I have to see it, feel it, touch it, so no matter what I’m going in. I’m just really careful about where and when.

  5. chaiyoon says:

    I just had a near death experience at Sandy Beach. This was my third time at that beach. The first time I was there, I saw some signs that said strong current and I spent a lot of time watching others swim before I went in. It was really fun the first and second time I went. The third time I went, there were red flags everywhere, and the sun was out and 85 degrees. There was a sign that said “No Swimming”. So I sat there and just watch the body boarders and a few guys go into the waters. I figured if those guys can go in and out I can do the same, plus it was getting freakin hot. I waves were really big, but I waited for the next break, and dove in and swam out a big. I realized quickly that I was further out than I wanted, because these huge waves were breaking near the shoreline, and I needed to duck under them and move further out. I realized quickly I was getting tired fast, and there was no sand underneath my feet like usual where I could take a break. I then realized I was losing strength quickly. I was going to call out for help, but tried to swim instead, but I felt like i was going no where and just wasting energy. I called out to a few guys nearby me to help me. They asked if I had a cramp and I said yes, and they agreed to help pull me out. At first only one guy was helping, but it did not seem to work too well, then more came to help me, and I had 2 + a life guard come to help. I barely got onto the beach as we kept getting tumbled over by the waves. I crawled out of the beach on all fours exhausted like never in my life. The amulance came, they had O2 on me, and I later threw up while walking to the bathroom. I suggest staying away from the beaches with warning signs. While I was trying to catch my breath, a girl came up to me and ask how I was doing… She said she was also saved recently and she was an 2012 Olympic Polo Player. This just tells you, doesn’t matter how good a swimmer you are, Hawaii waters are very dangerous as they have no reefs that reduce the waves and currents like the mainland does.

  6. Pingback: Awake and Kicking in 2012 | Electric Kat

  7. oh kat! love it!
    north of santa cruz, scotts creek: out surfing in pretty big waves. caught one, fell, got crazy tumbled, leash wrapped around my neck as the heavy surf pushed me down and my buoyant surfboard pulled me up. actually climbed up my leash to release its hold on my neck! narrowly avoided a rocky reef point as the final three waves of the set landed on my head. i just softly tucked into fetal ragdoll and let it carry me, before finally paddling like hell out of there and collapsing on the beach, woah!
    btw: the water out the nose thing, no big deal! if you start surfing it will be a regular feature of your post surf wardrobe!

  8. Sol says:

    Thank you for not actually drowning. I love you.

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