Recently, I had lessons with Amanda from Berkeley, who told me her death-defying experience with the ocean, which I think is important to relay here, as an example of why we must always remember that the ocean is not a playground.
Amanda had her first experience surfing 7 years ago. A new friend she made on the 1st day of class in college in Santa Barbara coaxed Amanda into surfing with her that same day. Despite it being one of the biggest wave days where the girls saw other surfers leaving the water and being warned by a person on the beach to stay out, they ignored all the warning signs and got in the treacherous conditions with their rental boards. At the time, Amanda, a strong swimmer in the pool, thought she could handle herself just the same in the ocean. How quickly proven wrong she was…
The girls were immediately out of their element, being hammered and tossed around by the breaking waves and seeking any kind of shelter from the strong waves, they thought they should swim for the pier. In their panic, they had just turned their already serious situation into one of grave peril — now both girls were being hurled like rag dolls against the obstacle course of the pier pilings. They were getting bruised, cut up and bleeding from being repeatedly thrown against the pilings when the first responding lifeguard tried to reach them on his personal watercraft.
The waves were so fierce and treacherous, the watercraft was flipped up in the air and landed on top of the lifeguard, breaking his back. Ultimately, firefighters had to rescue the girls by lowering ropes from the top of the pier. It would take 2 years for the lifeguard to regain his ability to walk again and 4 years before a very traumatized Amanda would try to venture back to the ocean to try surfing again. Amanda feels bad to this day that by endangering herself, she also endangered the life of the lifeguard who risked his life and well-being to rescue them.
Today, Amanda is preparing to go surf with friends in Costa Rica and needed to get a firm grounding in safe, responsible surfing and a confidence boost but also honest evaluation of her surfing abilities. Despite her traumatic experience and also losing half her Achilles tendon after a horrible snowboarding accident, Amanda was a trooper, surfing with me over several days of her quick weekend work trip to Southern California.
On one of the days, Amanda recognized she was much too fatigued from lack of sleep and we ended the lesson early. I told her it was a smart move and one of the most important things to remember as a surfer — we must always be aware of and respect our limits. There’s always another day of surfing waiting. It’s when you ignore the warning signs around you and within you, that can quickly lead to trouble. We must always be honest about our capabilities and those around us. I told her she made a mistake by following a complete stranger into the ocean, not knowing that person’s skill level or history of surfing — it turned out the girl could hardly surf either. I reminded her to be just as vigilant when surfing with her friends on the trip — they are more experienced surfers and she should not be following them into conditions not suited for beginners.
On the last day, it was a crowded lineup which was a good learning experience for her to navigate the lineup and learn the etiquette as well as awareness and collision avoidance. I really got along great with Amanda because we’re both world travelers and not afraid to go outside our comfort zones in all that we do — that can be both a good and a bad thing. Good because we’re not afraid to try new experiences and grow as people; Bad because we may take on more than we can handle and end up in very unexpected, dangerous situations if we’re not careful. I hope what Amanda took away from our time in the water together, is that surfing is a fun sport we can enjoy for a lifetime, as long as we remember we are doing it in a very dynamic environment that can quickly change and turn on us and to always have a healthy respect for the power of the ocean. Be aware of yourself, others around you, and the conditions — When in doubt – Stay out.