Would you/Could you launch here?
This was the decision that I had to make. We had just finished 3 days of coaching and instructing at the Lumpy Waters Symposium and today was coaches' play day. We critically looked at this surf zone. As we scouted from the parking lot, a lull hit. We deemed it doable. 20-30 minutes later we were dressed and on the beach and this is what it looked like.
(I'm not sure if this photo does it justice. Many armchair QB's will say that this was nothing.)
There were some rips and areas with lots of whitewater and poorly formed waves, but it was the large dumping closeout waves on the outside that were intimidating. It was interesting to hear each paddler's read on the water and the best line and strategy for getting out.
About 100 yards out there was a dumping monster wave that intimidated me. I felt confident that I could work my way through the frothing whitewater of the broken waves just to the north but was not certain that I could time it correctly to avoid being there when the monster reared. Much of this intrepidation came from an incident 3 days prior in which I was sucked out of my boat and had a long swim in to shore (more about this later). My heart said go for it but my gut said that I might be a liability to the group. I went with my gut and decided not to launch.
The first wave of paddlers hovered for a while just in front of the dumpers waiting for a lull and then tried to punch through. They ended up coming back in to regroup. It was validating to see Sean find the seam in the foam piles that I had selected as my line. I was supposed to launch in the 3rd group with Jeff and Bryant. They took Sean's route and just made it over the top of the outside dumper as the monster reared up and crashed. I knew that I didn't have their speed and power and very likely would have been caught in the monster's big teeth.
As the guys disappeared from sight, I knew that I made the right decision but was pissed that I wasn't out there. I contemplated taking a nap in the sun or going for a walk on the beach, but decided that this could be a learning experience so I sat and studied the surf zone and honed my water reading skills. I practiced picking routes and timing sets. Could I have made it out if I had sat and watched it longer? After having watched it for an hour, I had a sense of the lines and timing and was confident that I could launch but had made my decision to stay on the beach.
Some of my decision came from an experience that I had on Friday . . .
On Friday, we went out for a morning surf session in short boats. Prior to getting our boats, we walked along the beach and saw others launching from the north end. It was a relatively straight forward surf zone. We opted though not to drive up there but launch from the beach right in front of the house where we were staying. There was a significant rip there and a mid surf zone dumping closeout wave, but some nice peaks and shoulders on the outside that were quite alluring.
I looked at it for a moment and looked at Jeff and off we went. I found a rip that created a seam through the inside and was on my way out to those peaking waves on the outside. I saw the mid zone dumpers and felt certain that my line and speed would carry me between them. Just then one reared up in front of me. I guess I drifted slightly to the south and right into the impact zone. Rather than take the impact on my head and risk imploding my spraydeck, I attempted to duck dive under it by capsizing my boat. The plan was to sneak under it and roll up on the other side. My timing was a little late and I went cartwheeling over the falls upside down and backwards. I rolled up only to face the next thumper about to crash on my head. I purposely capsized again and expected the same maytagging but instead felt suspended in the wave and then sucked out of my boat. I was dismayed and grabbed for the cockpit combing to hold myself in but the wave had other plans and ripped me out.
Jeff was just 10 yards to the north of me and avoided this whole experience. Another paddling buddy was 10 yards to the north of him ended up out of his boat too. Due to the rip currents and trying to swim out of a rip with a boat full of water, it was a long swim in to shore. When I made it to shore, I was glad to be out of the grips of the sucking currents but felt invigorated. It has been awhile since I had a good swim in the ocean. There's nothing like a little cold water immersion to make one feel alive.
Chalk these 2 up to experience. Paddling is about skill but it is also about experience - applying ones paddling skills in situations/conditions and applying the knowledge gained through experiences to good decision making. I hated the decision that I made not to launch but I still think that it was the right one. Of course those that know me, know where much of my time and efforts will be spend this fall/winter training season.
PS Fall/winter training has already begun.