La Marea Esta’ Subiendo [The Tide is Rising]
Her assumption must have been that an incoming tide brings things in, in toward shore. That’s when she would show up at Windansea, looking over at or walking the high tide line; scraps of driftwood and plastic and seaweed. I can’t be sure if she showed up for the middle of the night tidal pushes. I certainly didn’t. I was really only there when I thought there might be overhead waves.
But, I did see her there; I knew why she was there. One of the La Jolla locals who also surfed Crystal Pier was kind enough to explain, on a flat day, up in the parking area, careful not to have any other locals see him talking to someone who lived outside, even if just outside, the acceptable local zone. My not-really-a-friend even translated the phrases she kept repeating.
After my first attempt at surfing Windansea, I always checked it out when it was too big for any break in Pacific Beach. I’d given up on big days at Sunset Cliffs, my original choice, after a bad experience at Luscombs.
To this day it was the tube of my life. Everything being ‘locked in’ was supposed to be: Time slowing down, a thousand mirrors bouncing off the wall of the wave, a crystal chandelier exploding, the only sound wet rumbling-thunder; but, no, it was not at all peaceful. After the initial drop there was no choice but the tube; but I had to, had to make it. All I saw, peripherally, in an infinite moment, was the cliff, to my left, through the curtain.
Oh, yeah; the curtain; thrown over me…one…two…three… tighter… then pulled back. Open face. Breathe. Yeah; all the cliche’s, except, except…
… except I was the only one out; tubed but scared shitless; no less so after I made it to the shoulder, well within the shadow of the cliffs, standing, stretching, just cruising over the last of the dark, fat wave, even unable to celebrate my survival, my victory. The sun reflected in a variety of stripes and lines and sparkle on three more waves in the set. Paddle!
I caught more waves, dropping in on the shoulder, driving down the line. It took three waves before the memory of the first ride came clear. What was; what could have been. Even if I hadn’t made it, I told myself, I would have been all right. Still, my breathing quickened. Wave of my life. It was, I (again) told myself, enough for this day. I wasn’t scared; but I was, I guess, reluctant.
Sorry; too much explanation. This wasn’t my plan for this story.
Quicker: I tried to time my exit. Retreat. I could see the set hitting a reef farther out, an indicator. Three waves. I paddled out, over the first three, turned, held my position; caught the third. No tube; but a long wall. When it went fat, I straightened-out. There was backwash hitting the bluff, energy from the first two waves reflected from the point. My thought was I’d climb up the cliff (it’d worked before, but there were people there to grab my board as I scrambled up). The time I spent trying to find a place to land allowed the next wave to break hard, clean. I got worked, pounded, feet in river-type rocks, board bouncing against sandstone. And another, and another.
I had no choice but to leap onto my board, back into the next wave. I decided to paddle toward the cove. I paddled to my right, then toward shore. Almost there, a wave (six feet, at least) crashed down, right on my feet. In the cove!
I just hung on. There’s catching the soup; part of any surfer’s learning curve; and there’s this: I was engulfed. It’s like the wave smothers you, rolls over you; a heavy piece of driftwood; but then you’re pulled, or sucked, back over the energy and blasted in front of it. I’ve made it through this so many times. Not that one. Somewhere, probably when I was separated from my board, hands still clutching the rails, then violently thrown against it, I let go. Sorry. When I thought I was at the surface, I inhaled, still six inches left of a foot of churning foam. I coughed, inhaled again, coughed, got enough air for another wet cough.
I was gasping, confused, in another shadow, suddenly aware I was cold, cold and caught in the turbulence of too much energy from too many directions. Still, I wasn’t scared. I knew I could make it to shore, some shore; even if the rip took me north, toward that pinnacle rock; even if… I told myself I would not drown. Never.
And I did make it to the non-beach; still coughing; breathing in, coughing out, leaned over, hands on my thighs.
Two surfers were half-sliding down a steep trail in the corner of the cove. One of them yelled out, “Man; your board hit sooo hard!” And I saw a board; half a board, on the rocks to the north. “That’s it; broken,” I thought. Then; “Wait, my board’s red.” My board was, had to be… I jumped back in the water. I found my red board at the top corner of a cave under the sandstone. I had to swim in; the tide still rising, the waves still coming.
It’s a little bay, really; Big Rock on the south end, Windansea in the middle. As I said, I knew (four waves in an hour on a six foot day for a twenty year old wave hog) only to surf it when it was big enough that the pack at the peak (there has always been a pack at the peak) couldn’t maintain tight control. I’ve never surfed the breaks outside or north of the main break, only surfed the main break; never went left. Steep drop, then fat shoulder; juke around, try to have some speed for the inside section. The day after the tube of my life, while successfully negotiating quite a few waves, I lost my board three times at Windansea. Not on the drop; but, once trying to backdoor the peak, twice not having enough speed on the inside section.
Someone, probably a tourist, on the second wipeout, was kind enough to place my board up on the high rocks; protected from the waves and the rising tide. When I came in, retrieved my board, felt the new ding on the rail, looked at how much more crowded it was than when I’d gone out, thought about where I was supposed to be, I had to pass by the woman. She looked up; first at my board (no, my board was red), then at me. I smiled. No, I was just someone who wasn’t the man she was still looking for. She really didn’t see me. Not me. She looked past me and kept talking:
“No he visto el cuerpo,” I have not seen the body.
“Nunca se ahogaria.” He would never drown.
“E’l debe ser tan frio.” He must be so cold. “Tan Frio.” So cold.
There was a sudden crowd at the palapa, more at the railing; some were pointing. I looked around, scanning the lineup. A board hit one of the big rocks to my left. A hollow, solid thud. On the next wave it drifted back out, moving in the rip toward Big Rock. I just watched it. In moments, it seemed, two lifeguards passed me, passed the woman, both leaping into the shorebreak. As everyone watched the rescue, I looked at the woman.
The guy was all right. Kook; never should have been out there.
The woman looked at her watch, crossed herself; the last move, smoothly executed, seemed to be part of her own ritual, her fingers pointing out to sea, then to her lips. Her hand opened, fingers fanned. She reached into a pocket on her coat, pulled out car keys. She did notice me. probably staring, as she opened the door to her (I was surprised by this) fairly new, fairly expensive car. When I didn’t look away, she gave me- not a smile- maybe a bit of a nod.
The tide was going out. “La marea esta’ bajando.”