The Coast News Group
A surfer in Puerto Escondido, Mexico. Stock image

Beach break season

I grew up surfing beach breaks. Sand-bottomed, hard-pounding, heart-throbbing, sand-spitting beach breaks. They could hit hard, pin you to the bottom and make you feel like they would never let go. 

I nearly drowned once while surfing a beach break, specifically, the Newport River mouth. A big north swell was running, and the waves held twice their normal weight because the saltwater had been mixed with mud after a prolonged and hard rain. There was nobody around.

The surf, as I recall, was about double overhead and glassy. After launching myself into a rip, I was in the lineup in seconds. As a wave stood up on the outside sandbar, I spun around and stroked in. As the wave jacked hard, I airdropped and fell 10 feet or so into the trough.

The ensuing impact was so violent that I felt my arms would be yanked out of their sockets.  Just as I felt the wave was about to release me, I was again thrown down to the bottom. I now believe this was a dreaded two-wave hold down. 

Beneath the surface the water was a bubbly dark brown. I was down for what seemed minutes but remained in the jaws of the wave. I struggled for the top but was unable to make it. I felt as if I would pass out and surfaced to find myself caught in a violent riptide.

I swam parallel to the beach but was unable to break the power of the rip. Without warning, my young life flashed before me. I raged against the dying of the light before enjoying a sense of peaceful resignation, and the hope my parents would not be overly concerned about my drowning. Drowning was not so bad. 

I really didn’t care if I made it to shore or not, but when a set wave popped up, I put my remaining energy into catching it. I bodysurfed into the shallows until I could stand and walk to shore where I retrieved my board and sprawled out on the beach, glad to be alive.

Since then, I have been cautious about beach breaks, never once tempted to fly with friends to Puerto Escondido and attempt the Mexican Pipeline. 

The surf was decent-sized last week, and with the reef breaks being filled to capacity, I decided to try a local beach break. The surf was terrible and empty of surfers. It was late afternoon, low tide and blown out when I paddled out and basically replayed my experience from years earlier.

My vanity must have gotten the best of me because I chose to surf without a leash. And, you guessed it, I caught a wave, it jacked, and my board and I parted company. This was nothing like the aforementioned pounding, but I did get caught in the rinse cycle and got tumbled a few times before making the surface. 

That wave was not nearly so powerful as the one I faced over half a century ago. Then again, neither was I. My life did not flash before my eyes (that would have taken a lot longer than it did back when I was in my teens) and I was in no danger of drowning.

Still, that wave, that little wave reminded me that the ocean can be a wild place and, at times, no country for old men.

Leave a Comment