Monkey See, monkey do
by Dusty Middleton
Feb 13 2012
There’s a good chance they’re still out there… a mile off-shore, exhausted, maybe in worse shape than that… not quite strong enough to get back to the beach…
It’s not that I feel guilty, but I definitely could have offered to stay close to them and really hold their hands to the beach. But perhaps I’d be lost at sea now. Perhaps I would have given them my board… and I’d be the one out there tonight, eaten by sharks.
There’s something to be said about survival. And I trust my gut instinct always. The way it played out this evening is regrettable, but I think my actions were acceptable, and my advice (though unheeded) was proper.
I’ve been surfing this wave for almost a decade.
I understand the punishment involved and the very serious nature of the currents.
I’ve watched the lifeguards come and help countless people overwhelmed by the rip. And I’ve helped a handful of people deal with the same situation that happened tonight.
The two tourists saw Saville and I jog across Kamehameha Hwy. with boards, and they parked their rental car next to ours and followed us out.
It was a bad decision on their part. It was a life and death decision.
They were on small chippy boards, equipment designed for riding shoulder-high beach break, not maxing, deep-water North Shore reef breaks.
I guess, in retrospect, it’s unfair to joke about tourists like these guys… But we see it all the time, and after a while we get desensitized to them paddling out into heavy surf and getting in way over their heads. It’s a story that’s as old as surfing. Usually it doesn’t end in tears. Usually they just get humbled, climb up the rocks with their tail between their legs, and take up less dangerous pass-times.
Saville and I were having a great surf. The non-stop action, plenty of current, full conveyer-belt, high speed, no-nonsense powerful waves that we love.
I was surprised when I saw two more people paddle out in the fading afternoon light, saw right away that they didn’t understand what was going on out there, and that they weren’t gonna be riding waves as much as just paddling for safety, paddling against the current and wearing themselves out.
To give them credit, they did know how to surf, and they paddled strong for half an hour, but they didn’t have an exit strategy and when they finally came close enough to ask for advice, they didn’t listen, got sucked into the impact zone and, so it seems, panicked…
I noticed, about ten minutes before the set smashed them, that one was kicking as he paddled. I kind of chuckled and pointed it out to Saville. That symbolic change in technique, from a calm, strong paddle against the current, to an ineffective, stressed, energy-wasting flurry… the on-set of panic seems, in retrospect to have been the end of them.
One of them was more aware of what was going on, maybe an older brother, and he wanted to find a strategy to get in safely… the other one seemed, in my brief observations of them, to be closer to terror and not as rational in thought.
That was the one who lost his board and started swimming out to sea.
It was heavy surf that they paddled out into. I imagine it might well have been two times more powerful than anything they had ever dealt with. Perhaps more. And they did a good job of avoiding the waves as best they could, staying wide and outside of the proper surf spot.
But that’s where the current pulls out to sea the strongest, and I think in that exciting half an hour of being out in a powerful ocean, they spent the majority of their energy.
Finally, it was getting dark and the direction they had been paddling with all their heart hadn’t moved them an inch closer to shore.
They let the current pull them to where we were surfing, and I asked them if they wanted to get in.
I pointed at the rocks and told them to paddle straight in.
Neither one liked that idea.
Paddling straight in puts one into the center of the violence. Paddling straight in means taking board-breaking punishment, giant waves crushing you, serious beatings and scary breath holds while you’re dragged and smashed and pulled deeper into the dark.
Time was moving fast at that point, and they were sliding into the impact zone, and we were duck-diving. The older one, closer to me looked a bit pale, and I told him again the best option was to paddle straight in towards the rocks. I told him if he lost his board to simply continue swimming in to the rocks, that he’d be fine.
He chewed on my advice. He looked at his buddy and shook his head.
The current was dragging both of them deeper and, as always, a clean-up set came in, and sure enough, Saville, the furthest inside got clobbered. I duck dived em and made it through ok, the guy next to me ditched his board but made it through ok, and the younger one broke leash and started swimming out to sea.
I yelled at him right away and pointed sternly to shore. Told him with all my volume to ‘swim in!’
His friend or brother or whatever, who was closer to me, started making excuses, that they’d just paddle out and around. I shook my head and pointed to shore again and yelled at both of them. They made a bad decision…
That was at 6:40 pm. I’m writing this at 10:25 and Saville’s still at the beach, helping the girl who they left sitting on the sand. He helped her call the Fire Department and contact their family (renting a house down the way) and I guess the Helicopters just found two people a mile off-shore there… almost four hours later… hopefully they’re ok. Two kids holding onto one tiny surfboard. They’re lucky they never got attacked by sharks.
Hopefully the experience makes them stronger… hopefully smarter.
Good waves out there today. Pumping winter surf. No one out but us and a couple kids that didn’t know what they were doing. Good swell.