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.
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.