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Monday, August 09, 2010

The Pacific, "dangerous beauty"

After church Sunday (where we were welcomed to show our 7-minute video, and thank the congregation that funded a project at the hospital a few years ago, and meet for the first time one of our faithful prayer and orphan student supporters) . . we headed to the beach. Half Moon Bay is a coastal town, and the beach has been preserved for public access throughout. So north and south off route 1 there are literally hundreds of beaches, each blending into the next, some with high cliffs or boulder-strewn strands, others with homes and yards descending into sand, others with jetties projecting out. Each small section has a name and a character. Saturday's kite-flying beach was one for winds, running, fishing, even spotted a seal . . but not for swimming because of the dangerous tides and sharp drop-off. So Sunday's outing was to a beach where the waves were good for bogey-boarding, surfing, and swimming. The water temperature and air temperature are both between 55 and 60. This is not the kind of beach where people sunbathe. You wear whole-body wet suits for the water, and sweatshirts and jeans for the shore. Thankfully Ruth collects second-hand wet suits and 5 of 6 of us were well outfitted (no one was quite prepared for a 6 foot 2 inch family member, so Luke had to resort to a bathing suit only. He's tough).
As soon as we unloaded the gear the kids were running out into the surf, like little (or big) seals themselves, jumping in the crashing foam, catching waves and body surfing into shore. These are powerful waves, and frigid water, and loud spray, churning, wild. I was the last in, and the very first wave knocked me right under, disoriented and startled. A good warning. This is not the Atlantic. We had some surf like this in the Indian ocean when we got out past the reef, but most of my ocean experience has been more tame. To avoid being pummeled I swam out through the breaking waves and bobbed in the swell, before they crested. I was with Julia and Caleb, then they rode some waves in, and I drifted a little further out and down. Then I wanted to swim in. But I couldn't. I kept paddling, and getting no where. My feet could not find the bottom anymore, so I was surging up and down with the incoming breakers, but never being carried any closer to shore. The wet suit felt constricting, heavy, awkward for swimming. I was afraid, but telling myself not to panic, I could see everyone on shore, setting up the volleyball net, playing in the surf. I called to Julia to ask Caleb to help me . . but she never heard me. I just kept treading water to keep my head up, but making no progress towards shore. The ocean's power made my efforts irrelevant.
Then I saw Scott coming out with one of the "boogie boards", which he had somehow managed to get a turn on from the kids. As he paddled out to catch a wave I called him, and he finally saw me, and realized I was too far out. He came on his board, and I was so relieved when I could hold onto the board and to him. Now we're fine, I thought, I could catch my breath, and wouldn't have to face being smashed in the waves alone. But the two of us kicked on that board for a minute, for five minutes, and again were unable to get closer to shore. We were in a rip tide, one of the powerful currents, undersea rivers that flow parallel to shore or out to sea. Scott is strong, and he was working full-steam, with me adding all I could. When we saw we weren't moving, we changed out angle, going up-shore a bit to see if we could get a different approach that would put us in the right currents. It took a long time. Later Sonja told us that they had noticed on shore how long we were out there and how little we were moving and Kevin had just been preparing to come out on the larger surf board to rescue us when we finally broke out of our stalemate and started to inch towards the breaking waves. Even when we could finally touch bottom, the current was so strong I would not have been able to stand without holding onto Scott. At last we were pushed into the cauldron of shore-smashing waves and came out.
We were both very tired, and very thankful. Sonja's friends showed up about then and told her this was NOT a safe beach, that the tides here were unpredictable and dangerous, that it was better to swim a little further north. I had thought I was just weak, or scared, or unused to the wet suit . . but in reality it was a dangerous situation. If Scott had not been coming out to surf with the board I don't know how long it would have been before I was able to attract attention for help. Everyone was a bit sobered. We decided to stick with beach volleyball the rest of the afternoon. Which was a lot of fun.
All Myhre vacations have to have that little edge of potential death to make them full. It's not usually me who strays out too close to the edge, though. I'm thankful for my rescue by my husband, and thankful it was not one of the kids who discovered the rip tide. Nature, like God, beautiful but not "safe".

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