There’s a story behind this photo… Emily and I were out this afternoon working the last of the sets rolling in from that big storm that sent giant waves pounding the So. Cal. coast all weekend. For the most part the big waves have passed, and Emily and I were practicing diving under manageable, mid-size waves with occasional large set-waves arriving at rough, ten minute intervals.
I’d just finished teaching Emily how to handle the situation surfers call “spin-cycle” which describes being caught within the foaming, churning madness of a full-on breaker. Not five minutes after our lesson on the topic there suddenly emerged an enormous series of waves rising like mini mountains preparing to close-out the entire length of Shaw’s Cove. Emily and I successfully swam over the first two waves, only to be met with the third and biggest, which I knew we could never out-swim. I yelled to my daughter to wait until the big wave was upon us before diving to the bottom to seek refuge from the slam. The timing was all wrong, and I could see that she was in precisely the wrong place and was going to be hit direct by the full force of the wave. We both dove and with my eyes open I literally watched underwater as Emily became enveloped by a wedge of water weighing tens of tons and delivered with the force of a 20 mph school bus. She was gone… Lost in a madness of white.
When I came to the surface Emily was nowhere in sight. Just a bubbling, boiling churn of foam in every direction (the camera was running and caught this image of me as I first emerged). When Emily failed to come to the surface, I began swimming towards where I’d last seen her. Within moments my right leg kicked something solid…Emily. I reached down but she was gone. Just as I began to worry she suddenly popped to the surface with a huge smile on her face. The wave had torn the scrunchy from her hair which was hanging wild and free. She was clearly alright, and when I asked her what happened, and why she was down so long, she explained that the wave had given her quite a ride and toss under the sea, but that she remembered what to do; to not panic, to not resist, and to simply let the wave’s energy dissipate and fade, rolling with the flow, and only when she was fully free of the “spin-cycle” to begin her climbing swim back to the surface.
Emily did great, exercising a trained instinct which is second-nature to every body, boogie or board surfer the world over. An understanding of the power of the sea which requires an honest respect and willingness to not panic, and instead yield to a power far greater than ourselves, preserving strength and breath until the sea sets us free, and only then beginning the effort of fighting back to the surface, breath and life.
Good job, Emily. You’ve passed a critical stage in learning to enjoy and survive the sea.