Lessons from the Surf

A number of years ago I was in South Africa and decided that given the wonderfully sunny weather a dip in the sea would be splendid. My wife and I decided to go body boarding in the Indian Ocean. I’ve since learned that the sea I’d grown up with is quite different to an Ocean. I’d never been into an Ocean. I’d been in the North Sea, I’d been in the Irish Sea but I’d never been in an Ocean. Oceans are bigger, the currents are stronger the waves are more powerful. Until you’ve experienced it, you don’t appreciate it. So here I was on the beach, ready to go body boarding with my wife. We strolled confidently to the edge of the Abyss. In the first instance I couldn’t even get into the ocean. I couldn’t get beyond the first break – it kept spitting me back out on the beach. That should have served as a warning that really I wasn’t up to this. Jo on the other hand was happily paddling around in the water catching waves and having a great time. Driven on by pride eventually I got beyond the first wave. At some point prior to this I really should have considered that as well as having never swum in an Ocean, I’d never been body boarding either. So having struggled to get in to the water I then proceeded to try and get back out of the water; to catch a wave. Anyone ever tried that? It’s not impossible to do as other people have proved. But given my inexperience with a)Oceans b) body boards and c) swimming of any nature, I couldn’t do it. I was stuck. I was wondering how on earthI was going to get myself out of this embarrassing predicament. I started swimming harder. As mentioned, I’m not the world’s best swimmer and I quickly became really quite tired. My efforts weren’t really moving me any further to my goal. After a minute or so, my shoulders cried ‘enough’ and any hopes of forward propulsion were dashed. It was at this wonderful point that waves began to break on my head. Unbeknown and unseen to me I had drifted rather perilously to a lovely rocky outcrop and the waves were pounding them quite strongly. Spurred into action I started paddling once more, but with the waves now relentlessly ducking me under, fatigue and panic setting in I was in a no hope situation. Me and the rocks were soon to be united. I started taking in water and coughing and spluttering with the salt as it burned my throat and eyes. I was gasping for breath and in a lot of trouble.
Two lifeguards were in the water already and one came paddling over. Are you OK? He asked. Do you know what I said as I could barely keep my head above the water, hanging on for dear life to my body board? Do you know what I said? I said, ‘Yeah, I’m alright’. I wasn’t. But even when I was struggling here, possibly not an awful lot of time left before I got totally swamped and drowned, my pride would not allow me to admit my predicament. To say, ‘No, actually, I’m drowning. Could you possibly see your way clear to helping me get back to the beach?’ would have been the sensible option. But pride can do that to us – although the real peril of a situation is apparent, to admit it would be to admit fallibility. Thankfully he was persistent and along with his lifeguard buddy eventually pulled me to safety and the crushing realisation that I am not as self sufficient as I supposed before my foray into the briny froth.
Even in this perilous situation, part of me thought I could get out of it myself. Looking back it wasn’t going to happen – there was nothing in and of myself that could have saved me. There’s a lesson in there somewhere.