Humble Pie served up Cold

 Up north of Point Conception, past where So  -Cal ends and Central California begins, surfing is a different world. Chillier, more rugged and challenging, it toughens you up and teaches you lessons you will never learn at Malibu, Huntington or La Jolla Shores. I spent six years living in Central Cali and surfed from Jalama to Santa Cruz. One particular day at a demanding spot I thought I knew well, taught me a heavy lesson about respect, humility and not surfing solo along this mostly rural coastline.
  The scent of sage brush was strong as I made my way along the dusty trail, carefully avoiding the encroaching poison oak and keeping an eye out for coiled baby rattlesnakes along the switchback edge. This was one of those days when I could hear the surf, but I could not see it. A blanket of thick, coastal fog made viewing impossible until I arrived. That’s how it is sometimes along this raw stretch of coast. You go on your gut and a hunch. Even with the advent of modern surf forecasters and detailed swell reports, with all the variables, you can never really be sure what you will get north of Point Conception unless you check it for yourself.
  When I arrived by myself (bad idea), the lineup was empty, lonely and big, real big. In fact, the swell was almost too large for this spot, and after the fog lifted, the sets were breaking out further than I had ever seen it break there. Hell, this was a quandary. Do I paddle out alone or hope somebody else shows up? Seeing another 10ten-foot set folding over unridden was just too tempting to resist. I wanted out there.
 Negotiating the shore break was a dicey situation. The high tide combination of six-to-eight foot, top-to-bottom shore pound on loose, granite boulders that were washing in and out with the surge, made timing the go-out absolutely crucial. I also avoided thinking about the shark attack on a fellow surfer just up the coast two weeks previously. The water was a ruddy, murky color from a large red tide in bloom. The surrounding mood felt serious. Mother Nature wasn’t screwing around on this day. The ocean seemed to be giving me a “You want a piece of me? Bring it on!” - kind of feeling. I accepted the challenge and after a rare lull, scratched out past the challenging shore break.
  The sizable sets were looming up and pitching out in a kind of slow motion I had never seen at this spot before. An offshore submarine canyon channels swells into this break and sitting in the kelp beds, I was in awe of the heaving power source on display.  Another thing about this location, the water feels damned cold here, serious ice cream headache-cold, maybe from the submarine canyon upwelling. It’s colder than other spots even to the north, which makes it a nasty place to be held under. I knew I was in for it if I wiped out at all.
  After sizing up the lineup, I picked up a few towering peaks with a wicked, hooking inside bowl. Things were going surprisingly well and I was feeling pretty good about myself until I had to straighten off on a solid eight-foot set that closed out in front of me. Mother Ocean slapped me down with indignity and thrashed me with a vicious pummeling that didn’t let me surface until I was swept well inside. Gasping for breath with a pounding skull, my pain was only just beginning.
   My leash had snapped like a weak string in the violent wipeout and my board was quickly swept away to be obliterated on the boulder beach. So now I was trying to swim in to shore, except I couldn’t. A strong current was pulling me north and with a dropping tide, the shore pound had gotten downright scary, with overhead waves exploding directly on craggy rocks that offered scant options for attempting to break the current and body surf in. After about 20 minutes of trying to figure out what the hell I was going to do, I realized I was in big shit trouble. I was being dragged up the coast unable to swim against the current and worse, I was heading for a stretch of coast with no beach at all, just vertical cliffs with the waves smashing directly against them. I knew if I didn’t get in somehow quickly, I was looking at a possibly deadly situation. There was nobody on shore and help was no where close. I was on my own, live or die.
  I stopped trying to swim against the current and saved my energy for one big effort. Right before it became sheer cliffs, there was one patch of actual sandy beach between some rocks, if only I could somehow launch into a wave and get shoved through. This was my best option and I frantically swam into a big wave that gave me my only shot at rescuing myself. As if the ocean was saying, “Okay, I’ve had enough fun with you,” I got sucked into the exploding white water and swept in past the rocks where I could actually touch bottom. From there I clawed my way up to shore like some drowning rat. I was totally whipped, thoroughly humbled and thankful to have survived.
 I swear, I surfed this spot many times and never experienced the raw power and helplessness I felt this onethat day. Even now, years later, when I gaze out at this central coast location and view how far I got dragged away, it amazes me. Some lessons in life are a cold slap in the face, believe me, I know.
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