Surfing in Sleet

image_027.jpgWe finally got away from training for 3 whole days…and I went surfing! That’s the good news. The bad news is that at times I was surfing in windblown sleet, rain and even snow. Pacific Northwest surfing is not for the faint-of-heart…or the gloveless! (Pic to the right is of the road there..imagine changing into a wetsuit in that weather).

I went out with a friend, who had not booties or gloves, so I lent the gloves to him. As expected, his feet and my hands were freezing. It is not an exaggeration to say that my hands were totally numb within 4 minutes of contact with that frothing, nearly-black ocean. And, in truth, I was quite happy when the numbness took over because feeling that water temp is more than painful. The closest I can come to describing what it feels like to put your hands into water that cold – and try to use them – is to jam a dull knife through them, and then try to flex your fingers. Once they numb up and get stiff (hopefully in the shape you can use to paddle), things are much better. Some people say hell is full of flames and unbearable heat. But I’ve also heard it described as a stinging cold. I can see how either one would do the job admirably.

image_033.jpgI was out for nearly an hour. Pic to left is of longsuffering eldest daughter out to watch dad – wearing my sweatshirt over her fur-lined parka. This is an interesting experience, considering that without all the neoprene encasing me, I’d have been dead within about 20 minutes. There is some sort of deep “cheating death” ethos that goes on when you surf in water like that, but I’ll leave the psychoanalysis to people who care about stuff like that. For my part, I just had to make sure I didn’t keep my face under for more than about 10 seconds, or I’d get an almost-unbearable ice cream headache. Occasionally, as I paddled around trying to position myself for better waves, I’d hear a scratching sound on both sides of my hood. Initially I figured the wind was just blowing harder than the usual 20 MPH. Then I realized that the sound was caused by little balls of snow/rain/ice that fell from the slate-gray clouds all around me. They came in almost horizontally because the wind was so strong. Additionally, I had a few moments of panic when I realized that the breaking waves were behind me and closer to shore.  When I tried to paddle in toward them (and land) I made very little headway after 10 minutes of solid stroking…usually more than enough time to get back inside. The inertia suggested I was caught in a rip tide moving out to sea. The idea of being swept out on my little surfboard in that dark water terrified me. Given that there is no more futile an action that to fight the ocean head-on, I managed to stay calm, keep my head and paddle steadily toward shore, but an an angle so that I would move out of the channel. The trick worked (coercion and trickery are the only ways to survive the ocean, I believe) and here I am typing about the experience in the warm confines of my bedroom/office once again.

As mentioned, I felt some slight connection with immortality as I floated in that steel-frozen watery world. I managed to survive a choppy, frothy angry black sea while sleet and wind swirled around me…and I had fun doing it. As a bonus, I stayed some version of warm. True…it was a squishy, wet, soggy warmth that occasionally had me wondering if I’d jammed dull knives through my hands.  But how can I complain?  Few will ever find themselves having fun in a world like that.

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