Soon after my experience with SNUBA and confronting my phobia of the unknown depths beneath the surface of the sea, I was given another opportunity to test my ability to transcend my fear. My experience with diving had helped me to let go of the long-standing fear of being in water over my head. I was feeling more confident with being out in deeper water with a surfboard, despite the ever-present danger of being in waves that were beyond my skill, which for me, was every other wave that rolled in.
I was at the second sandbar at Kalihiwai beach, getting slightly battered, enjoying the small rolls that would form when the swell hit the bar. The water is about chest deep at that point, so there is comfort in knowing that you can drop off the board and duck under the wave and pop back up on your own two feet. There is a sharp drop off past this, and a strong rip. A rip is a current flowing out from the beach that carries the water from the bay back out to the ocean. Some rips can be very powerful and very dangerous, but being on a surfboard offers some protection, as you can skim the current and paddle perpendicular to it to get out, or at least float until the Coast Guard finds you.
A fellow swimmer had gone out a little way past me, and was enjoying the rise and fall of the swell before the break. I paid her little attention, as she was in no danger from me clobbering her with my board, and my own self-preservation instinct was guiding me to pay attention to the ocean when out in the waves.
“A little help?” I heard her say over the roar of the waves. I obviously looked like a beginner, and being self-taught, am always looking for tips on surfing, but it seemed like an odd place to offer advice. “Pardon me?” I replied, just to make sure I had heard correctly. She was about 20 feet out from me, and it dawned on me that she was the one needing help as she pleaded “A little help, please?”
Perfect. There I was, a complete novice to the ocean, suddenly finding myself on a rescue mission. I later learned that if someone is caught in a rip and asks for help, you are supposed to leave them alone, and seek proper help, ie, a life guard, or at least someone who has a clue what they are doing out in the waves, lest you become a victim with them. Kalihiwai is an unpatrolled beach, so there is no help other than what you bring with you. I had a rather large flotation device, aka a surf board, so barring any improbable shark encounters, I reasoned that we would be fine.
I swam out to her while holding the board, and got her to grab hold. She didn’t show any signs of panic, so I felt relatively safe. I tried to touch the bottom (the ocean’s, not hers) but there was little below me but more water. I felt the edge of panic creeping in I realized that I was in over my head, in more ways than one. I looked back at the shore to see if Theresa was watching and could tell what was going on, and it was then that I realized that we had already drifted much further out. Ok. Large flotation device. No sharks. Just another day in paradise. Breathe. Just breathe. Focus on the present. Nothing to do but swim back in.
As I was saying about rips, they can be very powerful. Another fact I learned later was that if you are caught in a rip, you should never, ever try to fight it. Either try to swim sideways from it (parallel to the beach) or let it carry you out to its end and then swim back in beside it. Ignorance is bliss, they say. “OK, let’s swim,” I said. I could tell the woman was already somewhat tired, as her attempt at swimming was somewhat feeble. I started to swim with all my strength, and after a couple of minutes, I looked up. Theresa was just as far away as she had been before, and was now watching with what I hoped was some concerned interest.
A brief moment of panic came over me as I wondered if it was even possible to swim back in. But as they say, if you don’t know that a thing is impossible, there is nothing stopping you from doing it. I decided we just needed to try harder. I rolled over to face her, swimming on my back. “OK, let’s swim hard! Just keep going. C’mon. C’mon!” I was encouraging myself as much as her, but the next time I turned to look at the shore, our efforts seemed to be paying off. We were, quite by happenstance, moving ourselves out of the rip, which made the swimming much easier.
Soon we are at the sandbar, and the breaks were starting to propel us in. By the time we could easily walk, the lady was thanking me profusely. At that point, I was exhausted and could only mutter “No problem, don’t worry about it. Glad I could help.” I carried the board up onto the beach and plopped it down beside Theresa and swilled some water between gasps for breath.
“That looked intense, are you Okay?” Theresa asked. The thought crossed my mind that I may just have saved someone’s life, and endangered my own, but I was too tired to care. My legs were shaking somewhat as I briefly described what had happened, and I sat down to catch my breath.
“You know, I think I’ll stick to watching the surf for a while. It’s much safer.”