Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Taken by the Waves

During my college years in Florida I was an addicted body surfer.

One summer day at New Smyrna Beach, we arrived from Orlando to find the biggest conditons I'd seen yet. The tide was fairly high and the white-crested surf piled up on itself as the waves rumbled ashore. It wasn't storm surf by any means, but it looked more powerful than the usual sea-breeze break of two- or three-footers we usually played out there on the bar.

Once we parked I hopped out, tossed down my towel, stripped to my shorts and sprinted down the sand.

Even the shore break felt powerful, but the good stuff was further out, where the bar break was building. Those waves always gave long, smooth rides and dumped into deeper water, so the landings were soft.

This day, I felt different forces in the water. It seemed darker and bluer, with whiter foam and stronger winds. The breakers curled up quickly, rearing over me. The tide was higher than it had looked. The bigger waves started to break in deeper water. I was neck deep in the troughs and the current sucked me along.

That's when I noticed the tiny, dancing figure of the life guard. I'd never really noticed the lifeguards on this beach before. I didn't bother them. They didn't bother me. But now I heard a thin little whistle fighting through the rumble of waves and the beating of the wind gusts over the breaking crests. The tiny figure on the tall chair waved urgently, imperatively, gathering me shoreward with his arm. Snap! Snap! It looked like the opposite of throwing a ball.

The current had me. I was on my way to Daytona. Worse than that, I was pissing off the lifeguard. Not good.

Not even a strong swimmer fights a current like that. You need endurance and patience, not explosive power. I lay over in a leisurely side-stroke and angled gently toward shore. The current would let me sidle out if I just took my time.

Once out of the main flow I caught a shore-bound breaker and rode in to a belly-landing on the beach. I walked about a quarter-mile back to the car.

It seemed like a good day to stay dry and work on the old tan. But I was glad I'd at least given the waves a try. It was a good little trip.

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