Feeling stupid in a reverse current
Over the past month, the ocean waters have become seasonally warm and unusually large waves have hit almost after daylight. When they do, our beaches are pretty dangerous. Two Sundays ago I watched the lifeguard at Diver’s Cove save 25 tourists in three hours – I know because I counted.
My favorite beach / cove – not Diver’s – is small, has a rocky bottom and spikes on both sides. One point is the pure and large bedrock; the other is low with rocks sharp as razors. About 75 meters offshore is a small reef on which the waves break and is great for surfing.
When the waves are large, the millions of tons of water pushed towards the shore will quickly return to the ocean in the form of strong tides. They are so powerful that even very strong swimmers cannot fight them.
When the waves are big in my cove, they break over the reef and the resulting foam rushes towards the point at the south end. Once they reach that point, they bounce in a straight side tear and run parallel to the beach towards the Razor Rocks point at the north end. If you happen to get caught in that side tear, you’re either going to hit those razor-sharp rocks or be swept out to sea by another tear that heads straight ahead. Once you’re on the outside, there’s yet another side tear in the opposite direction that brings you straight back into the surf line.
It’s a big circle of waves and tears – a giant washing machine – and it’s very dangerous.
I know all of the above. I have been a waterman for years, surfing, body boarding, scuba diving, snorkeling, even sailing. I know the ocean, and I sure know that if you forget how dangerously temperamental she is, she can — Ney, probably — kill you.
Nonetheless, and this shows you how stupid I can be, a week ago a stupid friend at the beach named Steve convinced me and another stupid guy, Paul, to swim to the reef even though the waves were running. We all dived, swam a few fathoms, then glanced towards the shore and noticed that the tear had already taken us 30 meters. I thought, “F… that’s stupid” and yelled at the other guys to swim straight, which we all did. However, my personal positioning was in the side tear and it took me straight to the razor-sharp rocks of the northern tip. I thought, “F …” again and fought the side tear as hard as I could. It lasted about 10 minutes and quickly drained my energy, but I finally made it to shore and was so tired I could barely stand up.
So, okay, I was stupid. But what happened two days later was even more stupid. The ocean looked calm – hardly any big sets – and I swam again.
And again, I was wrong. Three sets in a row, some 10 waves, roared through, and I got caught in the side tear, but far enough that I could fight it if I swam with all my might. I did, but when I finally reached shore I crawled.
There it is. I was careless and it was stupid, stupid, stupid.
If you think you might be safe in the water during big surf, you are wrong. Do not do that. It is treacherous. In a minute of panic, you will be exhausted, and in the absence of a lifeguard, you will drown.
So be careful. Do not do that.
Michael is a co-founder of the Orange County School of the Arts and the Discovery Cube.