On the night of Nov 19th 98', I heard rumors of hurricane forced winds exceeding 50 mph off the coast of Vancouver Island. I've never been in a storm that viciousup here. The only place that came close to that was the El Nino last year in Baja,Mexico(Hurricane Guillermo).
I decided to check the Navy buoys and see if there was actually a storm front moving inovernight. At about 9pm, the buoys were reading at 5.2 meters! and the winds were blowingoffshore. That made my decision up for me. I decided that I'd drive up to Tofino tonight.I didn't bother calling anyone, because I only know a handful of surfers that would go outin conditions like these. I grabbed my surfboards, wetsuit, some munchies and my 1stAidkit n' hopped in my Jeep.
The drive up there was a little 'sketchy' because it was so windy and the raindropslooked like small water-balloons, so I had to go a little slower than usual. I made it upthere by midnight and was able to get to sleep by 12:30.
I woke up to the sound of waves crashing
I was quite surprised that at 5am itwasn't raining hard. Actually, the sky looked like it had a few clear patches in it. Thewind was blowing like crazy, and I was so anxious to see what the waves looked like. Ijumped into my Jeep and drove the 5 minutes to the beach. First, I drove to Long Beach,because that's usually the place where you can judge the size of the swell hitting thecoastline. There wasn't a single vehicle in the parking lot. I wasn't surprised. The wavesweren't gigantic, but they were very hollow considering that the winds were blowingoffshore and running up the face of the waves.
I love it when the weather is so harsh, yet the water is so clean and glassy. I'm gladI came up here to surf at dawn.
I knew the Cox Bay would be too big and mushy to surf today, so I drove to NorthChesterman's beach. Again, no vehicles. The town must still be sleeping. I ran down thepathway to the beach and I had to brush the sand off my jaw, because it slammed down onthe sand as soon as I saw the hollow, unridden tubes that were hitting the beach.
I sat down on a dead log and munched on some yummies while I looked at the sets comingin, debating where I should paddle out. The smell of saltwater and the soft breeze againstmy face was mystifying. I figured out that no matter where I paddle out, I'll still have ahard time due to the strong riptide around the rocks. I sat there for about 10 minutes andthen told myself I can do it.
I ran back to my Jeep and still couldn't see a soul anywhere! I quickly pulled on mywetsuit and waxed my board. I ran back to the beach and silently stood there in awe as adouble-overhead set rolled in.
I thought to myself, this is why I live
for indescribable moments like this one.
I stretched out my body calmly while anxiously awaiting the paddle out. Normally, Iwouldn't spend like 5 minutes stretching out, but in this case, I felt that being flexibleout there meant less of a chance to get injured.
I was surprised at how warm the water temperature was (about 12*C), so I didn't evenbother wearing my booties or hood or gloves. I ran towards the water and skipped like alittle kid in the shallow part. I took a deep breath, and ducked underwater to getaccustomed to the frigid coolness. I walked out until the water was chest-high, and slidonto my board. Some of my friends thought it was funny that I call my surfboard my newgirlfriend. Maybe, it's because we ride so well together (lol). The paddle out was very hard. That's one thing that I don't like about surfing beachbreaks. It's the fact that the waves come in so fast and hard, that there isn't a channel to paddle out in. You have topunch through the waves to get out past the break. After about 15 minutes or so, I madeit.
I sat there on my board completely exhausted, so I waited for about 10 minutes to catchmy breath and regain my energy. I was positioned to the right of this really large rock inthe middle of the bay. That's one way to measure the actual size of the swell coming in.Usually, the waves break near the middle to 3/4 section of the top of the rock. I satthere and relished the sensation of sitting in the ocean while it was so unpredictable andviolent. I waited patiently for a nice sized set to come in, and I was completely taken aback by the actual size of the waves. I figured the wave height to be around 10ft range.
I was wrong.
I huge set rolled in and hit the rock. The whitewater wrapped around the sides of therock and an enormous burst of water sprayed over the tip of the rock
This is scary
I let the first two waves race underneath me and I found myself to be in a really goodposition for the third wave. I turned around and started paddling. My heart was racing sofast that I thought it would jump out! I could feel the wave lifting me up and beginningto get real hollow. I popped up on my board and tried to get a good line down the face ofthe wave.
Not a chance
I didn't even manage to ride 1/3 of the face down. The wave was so hollow and peaked soquickly that I 'air-dropped' and for a split-second, I thought to myself that I would makethe drop.
I felt the wind gust underneath my board and then I just lost it. I got sucked over andhit the bottom of the wave real hard.
I didn't think that this wipeout would be any different than some other big ones I'vehad last winter. The thing that made this one completely different is that as soon as Ihit the water, I let out a lot of oxygen and I got the wind knocked out of me. I gotslammed underwater and worked vigorously. My lungs were burning and I knew that I needed air real bad. I tried to stay calm as I went for a 'washing machine' ride underwater andjust let my body flow with the wave. I started counting after about 5 seconds and reached 15...
15 seconds isn't a long period of time to hold your breath. Try to breathe fast, thenexhale and hold your breath for as long as you can. Then imagine yourself in a giantwashing machine.
At that point, I couldn't hold back. My lungs needed air and my mouth instinctivelyopened to suck in some oxygen. The problem was that I was underwater. I sucked in amouthful of saltwater and it burned going down my throat. That caused my brain tocounter-react and my throat muscles started convulsing. Opening and closing. Letting inmore saltwater. That lasted maybe 2 seconds at the most. There were so many things runningthrough my head. The main one being that I didn't want to die. I felt like I was going toblackout and fought to stay conscious. I pushed hard off the sandy bottom and tried topunch through the mushywater. I did. It didn't matter if I was underwater or above, I was still going to breath in whatever I could. Luckily, this time, it was air.
My lungs and throat burned like crazy as I took a very long deep breath of air. Ihopped back on my board and rode a small wave into shore. I crawled onto the beach and laythere for a few minutes just trying to let reality sink in and get all my marblestogether. An old couple walked up to me and asked me if I was ok. I asked them if therewas anyone else out in the water. They said they didn't see anyone but me. I asked them tostay with me for a bit and they did.
It turned out that they were here on vacation from Munich, Germany and that they wantedto see the westcoast. Well, they sure got a dose of winter waves! The guy told me he hadcaptured the one and only wave that I caught on this funky digital video camera. It lookedlike one of those old-school polaroid cameras 'cept it was digital. Anyways, they offeredme some cool pastries and I accepted of course! The guy gave me a disk with my wave andsome coastal footage which I thought was pretty cool considering I didn't even know theguy.
I changed into some warm clothes n' hopped in my Jeep and headed for home. I drovealong the highway very cautiously 'cause I was still racked up from the near-drowningexperience. I didn't even stop at McD's !!!
I went directly home and took a loooong shower. I ran to school thinking that I'm goingto missout on my geology test. It turns out that the test was rescheduled for next week!whooohoo! So I had some time to kill and I went to the computer lab to relax.
I sit here writing this story now..
When I was struggling underwater, a whole bunch of things went through my head. Amongthem, was the obvious: I didn't want to die. It's a pretty normal reaction to somethingthat close. I know it may sound a little stupid, but I really meant it. That saying'spretty true - 'You don't realize what you have until you lose it.' That goes with yourlife as well. What I mean is this :
Most people don't want to die...but out of those, who wants to live?
I learned two very valuable lessons today:
Always take care of yourself and your loved ones.
Live life to the fullest everyday, because it is your life.