Another Outtake from “Swamis” With Surfing

Swear to God I’m getting close to finishing the manuscript, keep saying, as I tighten up the writing on chapters, putting in little details I just can’t help adding (mostly things I think are sarcastically amusing), with the word count back up over 122,000, with over 65,000 words worth already moved to another spot (“Sideslipping”) that I will soon find large chunks I can eliminate.

Not happening. SO, here’s a chapter that doesn’t actually occur within the boundaries of the story. Yes, I set those edges. Anyway, here it is, pretty much a true story; that is, for me. No, Jody is not a fictional version of me; I just let him have some of my, um, experiences. Like this one:


I had planned on ending “Swamis” on December first, 1969.  That was the day of the first lottery draft, critical to the rest of my life, and the first day of the still famous swell that hit Hawaii and the west coast; waves big enough that almost everywhere was closed out. 


In the San Diego County area, Cardiff Reef, Windansea, and Sunset Cliffs were, maybe, possible; with Boomer and The Cove at La Jolla turning from the usually washy nothing to a giant left-hand point break; the legendary Ricky Grigg among the few takers.  Lots of watchers. 

To make it all more spectacular, a Santana was blowing, straight offshore in the early morning, and hard enough that the waves were holding up several seconds longer.  The typically more-straight-than-hollow walls were legitimate barrels, spitting from within, spraying back high into the air. 

It is deceptively easy to get out at Swamis.  Surfers who shouldn’t be out are out.  There’s challenging oneself and there’s just being stupid.  There’s the crowd to deal with, but the waves make the final judgement; and the ocean is always ready to humble… humble anyone.

I was out there, trying, along with too many others, to catch one from the shoulder; paddling into the sting of the spray, not catching the wave.  Or, almost ready to drop in, at that moment of commitment, looking down at height of the wave, at the hollowness between me and the trough, looking back into the pit; some crazy surfer on it from fifty yards back, crazy speed, screaming past me as I backed-off.

“Cheer Critchlow,” someone in the pack yelled.  “He’s been to Hawaii.” 

The bluff was lined, shoulder to shoulder, with onlookers, two deep at the optimum spot.  I caught five waves.  On the second, a smaller one (for the day) that I caught by paddling for it, frantically, toward the point, while the rest of the pack was paddling desperately toward the channel or for the horizon as another set approached.  It was catch the wave or take the pounding. 

The wave was probably eight feet (California scale), and I made the drop, pulled an extended bottom turn and sped, full speed through the first section.  I shifted my balance, mid face, moved  higher on the wall.  So high.  Where there’d normally be a slow spot, there was another section, the wave heaving yards ahead of me, dropping out below me.   Only my forward speed allowed me to almost control the board, sideslipping into full trim.  I was, no doubt, screaming.  I was locked in, tubed, crouched as tight as I could be.  There was nowhere else to be.  Maximum speed.  “Fuuuuu-uuuck!”

Fuck.  Almost to daylight, the foam shot me even faster.  The lip hit me.  I went sideways, flipping, hitting the flat.  Rolled with the power; body surfing move.  Not hurt.  Done.  

“That’s it,” I told myself.  “Done.”

It wasn’t over.  I sucked in foam when I hit what I thought was the surface.  Foam is not air.  I was coughing, trying to stay calm, trying to get enough air in before dropping under the next wave. 

I was all right.  I could swim in, get my board, hang on the beach long enough to settle down, then join all the others, watching.  No shame.  I had gone for it.   I swam toward the point, away from the riptide; a succession of waves pushing me closer.

No board.  I looked around before I looked up; sun behind the row of gawkers.  I still claim I could hear a chorus of “It’s in the rip!”  I definitely saw the hands, shadows, up in the glare, pointing out.  In the rip.

“Fuck.” My board was in the channel, in the rip, halfway out to the lineup.  No.  To leave the board would be shameful.  It wasn’t just that.  I wanted another wave.  One more; and this time I’d make that section.  I rock-danced over toward the rip, swam out.  

I skipped most of school and work for most of the week, managing to surf every day as the swell dropped to normal.  Normal.  Jumper and Ginny missed the first morning.  Only.

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