“C’mon, it’ll be fun!” we said. “It builds character and a strong soul,” we continued. Finally, Lexy agreed to follow us into the open ocean.
Why do I say, “Because Katie was busy?” Is it because if Katie wasn’t busy editing her pot book would we have tried to kill her instead of Lexy? Maybe. That has also happened before. However, I really mention it because we have noticed a correlation in recreational paddles where Katie’s presence and choice of route somehow bring about near death experiences. In Katie’s absence, Sharna and I filled in and convinced Lexy to paddle with us in the open ocean with overhead swells and sustained winds of 20mph gusting to 30mph.
Saturday afternoon, Sharna texted me, “Lexy and I are going to do a downwinder tomorrow if you’d like to join.” I said, “Sure!” They are training up for the Chattajack, and needed to get in a 3 hour paddle, but due to the winds, decided to make it a unidirectional session. Sunday morning came, and I checked the forecast while texting Sharna, “Winds are out of the NE, 20mph in the ocean! Only 10 in the ICW :-(” She said, “Lexy may take some convincing…” Eerily enough, Lexy did not take that much convincing. We rallied at Lexy’s house and loaded the boards up. Maybe it was peer pressure, maybe it was 2 against 1, maybe it was emotional exhaustion from life events, whatever the reason Lexy, agreed and followed us to the north end of Wrightsville Beach to begin our EPIC DOWNWIND SESSION!
As we unloaded the boards, I could see the swell from the parking lot. That’s not normal, we usually don’t have swell that big. I was getting excited. Lexy was starting to question our sanity. “We’re here now! Might as well do it!” We waited on the shore for a few seconds for one of the larger sets to pass through before charging out through the chest high surf zone. I almost made it out when a pretty sizeable wave picked up right in front of me and took me out. It didn’t take long for me to hop back up and get the rest of the way. I immediately turned around and looked for Sharna and Lexy. Sharna was almost past the last set of breakers, and then she made it out. Lexy was still a little further inside, but a bigger set was making its way toward shore. I was yelling at her to paddle to the right to find the rip and avoid breaking waves, but my voice was lost in the crashing surf. She got taken back in, she hopped up and tried again, she didn’t give up and made it out after losing her sunglasses and hat. By the time she got out to us she was a little grumpy. By a little, I mean A LOT. She screamed at us, “There’s no way I’m standing up out here, I’m just going to sit and paddle!!” I said, “That’s great!” I think she then mumbled something about going back to shore, but I hollered something like “We’re here now! Might as well do it!” (you may start to see a pattern developing).
Sharna and I started paddling off shore to allow ample space to start catching the wind swell and then the ocean swell. Although they weren’t perfectly lined up, it was about as good as it gets for us here! We started catching some of the wind swell and picking up speed. Sometimes, if you were lucky, you’d get up enough speed on the smaller runners to ride one of the huge head high faces that would roll through. I felt like I was somewhere in Hawaii! I was FLYING!! I would catch a wave and scream, “WHHHEEEEEEE!!!” Then I would see Sharna go, “WHEEEEEE!!! AAHHHHHH!!” We were riding, falling, laughing. Then I felt a burning feeling in the side of my head. It was Lexy’s evil glare! I paddled back and tried to share some downwind pointers I had gotten from Jeremy Riggs on the Maliko run. “You can still catch runners sitting, see!! It’s FUUUNN!!” As I float away on a small wind wave. I realized that she thought I was as crazy as I thought Riggs was when he kept saying, “You’re on a bump. Paddle. Go left. Here comes another one!” Learning to downwind with someone who has figured out downwinding is a bit like hanging out with the kid from the 6th Sense, he sees things that you don’t. And, no matter how hard he tries to explain it to you, you just don’t quite get it, which is frustrating. I left Lexy alone. Sharna and I kept riding bumps and circling back around to stay with Lexy. When we were a little over half way, I went back and found Lexy very upset.
Sometimes getting out in the ocean gives you the chance to get away from distractions in life, which often leaves you facing emotions that you’ve been trying to avoid. Stress, loss, you name it – the ocean will get it out of you. Of course, I just thought she was upset with us, and rightfully so. I sat on my board. “I’m sorry we drug you out here, but you made it and you’re safe with us.”
“I don’t FEEL SAFE!”
“Well, you are. We wouldn’t let anything happen to you out here. We can see the shore and can go in any time if there’s an emergency. I’m sorry we suck, you have sucky friends. We drag you out to scary situations and make you push yourself way too far. You can kill us later once we get to shore. For now, there’s nothing you can do about it, we’re out here! So you might as well catch some bumps and ride ’em on your butt and scream WHEEEE and have the best time you can because it’ll be a while before we get to the end of the island and you can strangle us.”
At that point, I was feeling terrible, but Lexy was starting to laugh and smile. We continued to make our way to the south end of Wrightsville Beach. Around this time we decided not to go in through the inlet and continue down the waterway, but to hit the beach and call it a day. We all wanted a drink. Aimed for one of the lifeguard towers, we started to paddle in knowing that we would overshoot it a little and hit the beach near a public access.
This is where the proverbial $#it hit the fan. I started in first and things were going alright when I caught a wave and started surfing. Another smaller wave came bouncing off the Jetty and knocked me in. No big deal, just climb back on the board and get to shore…. except when I popped out of the water, I realized that my board was gone. There was nothing tugging on my leg because the LeashLok strap that held my leash to my board had shredded (I’ve heard from numerous people that theirs have shredded too). There was an insanely strong current pulling towards the jetty. With my PFD, hydration pack, and paddle it was VERY HARD to swim to shore. I ended up shoving my paddle into the sand over and over to use it for traction. That was not fun and a little scary. Some kind beachgoers had scooped my board up and put it on the beach, where it started to lift up and fly away. After making it to the beach and securing my board and discarding my gear, I turned around to see Sharna catch a massive wave on the outside. She sat back, and then had to lie back to keep the board from diving. She was the only one to successfully catch a monster wave and get to shore with her board. Looking out further, I saw Lexy’s board, but I didn’t see Lexy. I was sure she was going to be really pissed at us now, because this part was not going according to plan. It turns out that entire day the lifeguards were pulling people out of that same current as they got trapped against the jetty. Then I spotted her. She was doing fine swimming toward shore. Her leash had broken too, and the board had already made it to shore. I walked out a little ways anyway and grabbed her paddle to help pull her up to her feet. I got some more evil glares. Although slightly stupid looking, we made it and ended up laughing hysterically before walking our boards to the street. The ending was actually the worst part, and the least safe with all of our gear malfunctions. Thankfully, we all made it into shore without any bumps, bruises, or water-filled lungs.
Once at the street, Sharna got a text from the lifeguard, whom she happened to know, “WHAT THE HELL, SHARNA!!” She went beach side for a bit to explain our fumbling beach blunder. With weekend traffic it took Byon over 45 minutes to reach us, at which point we realized there wasn’t enough room on the car for a third board. Since I had already parked my car on the ICW at the desired end point, I opted to hop back into the water and make my way downwind to my car. The open ocean, although big, was a lot more fun and easier to manage than the boat infested waterway. There was rarely a moment where boat traffic would spread out enough to allow me to catch runners from the wind. Sharna and Lexy came by my car to grab some gear, and we had a good laugh retelling the already epic tale to Byon and Corey.
Sometimes we push our friends a little too far, but like I said before we went out there: it makes for a strong soul. Lexy has one of the strongest souls I know, especially after all of her escapades with Katie and the rest of us. I wouldn’t have suggested it if I didn’t think she could do it, and although sometimes we do scary things we always make it out alright. Sometimes we need our friends to push our limits for us so we can see what we are truly capable of. We are our own worst nightmares, enemies, and critics. We need friends to help us dream, be our ally, and be cheerleaders. When Lexy was done strangling us, she laughed but never admitted that it was fun. She still claims to this day that it was not fun, not at all. Even then, somewhere deep in my heart, I know we will do this again…