Okay - a lull.
The pounding sets seem to have stopped coming. Paddling time. Trying hard not to use every ounce of strength left in my arms, it's head down, and left, right, left. I can see a couple of guys sitting up on their boards on the horizon. I paddle straight at them. All of a sudden, they vanish, disappearing behind another giant blue wall that rises up in front of me to become my immediate problem. I can see the crest about to topple and crush me - do I paddle straight at this thing? Surely that would be madness. Or do I dive? I panic a little, and take far too long to decide. In the end, the wave makes the decision for me. My pathetic attempt at a dive consists of staying pretty still and sticking my bum up in the air in an attempt to get the nose of my board under the water. ..
Miraculously, it seems to be enough, my stomach lurching as I travel up through the face of the wave to emerge in the air on the other side. A fine spray travels slowly down with me as I re-connect with the ocean, tail first, landing awkwardly on the trailing back of the wave. Crap. These waves are far too big for an amateur like me. I re-adjust my board under me and keep paddling.
The next couple of waves are a bit smaller - I can paddle over them before they break. Still, there's enough time for me to get a good three paddles on they way up, and three on the way down. I finally make it out to the locals out on the horizon.
"Hey," A bearded guy with a hat, and a young grommet, about 17 greet me.
"It's nice to see some swell!", The kid jokes.
"Yeah," says me, breathless. Pause.
"I've never been out in waves this big"
The kid looks at me with an expression of serious concern. "No shit?"
I shake my head, and smile with what I hope is a tough, devil-may-care grimace.
The kid's serious expression remains.
"Well, make sure you wait and pick the right wave. If you catch a close-out, you're going to get snapped real bad."
With that reassuring comment, The next wave arrives. The bearded guy and the doomsaying kid both disappear, one going left, and one going right. I can hear howls from the beach as their drunken mates watch them flying along. I can see the spray from their turns fly up over the back, as the sound of the wave breaking cracks along the beach like thunder.
Still panting, I survive the rest of the set. A few times I paddle out further as a big blue wall threatens to crush me. Another lull. I start to think about maybe trying to catch one of these monsters. Just thinking. I sit back down, swing to face the shore, and gingerly paddle at the first wave of the next set. I peer down at the drop down the face...
I pull out.
When you're lying on your board, you're about 14 inches tall. That wave would be the equivalent of jumping off a five story building. All of a sudden, It becomes patently obvious to me that I'm a land-dwelling animal. I remember back to a session a few years ago, with Alex. The image of him taking off on (what I thought was) a big wave, and yelling:
"Well, This is what we came here for!..."
The next wave looms. Okay. Inspired, I paddle at this one like a crazy man. I must actually be a crazy man. I shape up to go left.
Suddenly, time slows down. I feel like a spectator as I get to my feet. There is a crushing roar behind me, as the slick green wave curls out in front, arching up over my head. My legs stretch out as I accelerate down the wave. I've never traveled this fast in my life. The surfer guy in charge of my brain makes the bottom turn, and pulls back up the face of the wave. Again, acceleration like you can't believe, like riding your BMX down death hill, when you realise you're going way too fast.
Another turn. I'm losing a little speed. Up ahead, I can see the wave closing out into a big, sucky barrel. Crouching, I plunge headlong into it. For an instant, I can see this cavern of cascading water, frozen in time , with me in the center - before the lip hits me in the head, and knocks me into white. Around, and around, and around. Which way is up? It doesn't matter. More ragdoll tossing, over, and over. My board hits me in the side. I become vaguely aware that my leash is wrapped around my right leg. I would really like to breathe, anytime soon would be fine. Then suddenly, gasping, blue sky.
I climb back onto my board, and am considering paddling back out to catch another one, but the next wave breaks directly on me, and forces me back down. More tossing, and a whole lot more wanting to breathe. Elated, exhausted, and bereft of oxygen, I prone out and catch the next foamy white wave into shore.
Delight all your senses at once.