NOTE: This is a response to April’s piece here. 

Let me preface this with a few important points:

~ I love my friends (even when they’re crazy-pants)

~ I love paddling and paddle surfing!

Devastating Loss: Setting the Scene

Raise your hand if you’ve ever lost a four-legged furry child. Yep, so you know the heartbreak and how doubly devastating it is when it’s unexpected. I’ve lost a few cats through the years but Ming was, as anyone who has met him will tell you, an exceptional little guy. So, when he suddenly and without warning got sick and I had to euthanize him, I was wrecked. Heart shattered. I’m STILL crying at random moments, weeks later.

That happened on a Thursday. Friday, Sharna met me for a 90 min paddle in the ocean, which was beautiful, clear and glassy. We paddled, I cried. Sharna did exactly what I needed her to do, which was to keep me company while giving space. The ocean can be profoundly healing and helped soothe me for the time being.

Training, training, and more training…

Car loaded for downwinderApril mentioned that Sharna and I are training for Chattajack, which is a 32 mile race down the Tennessee River. At my current rate of speed I estimate that it will take me approximately 8 hours. I’m more than a little freaked out, because I’ve never done an endurance event before and I’m slow. Really slow. I’m pretty sure I’ll make the 10mile/2.5 hour cutoff, but what about the rest?? Dear God, what have I signed myself up for?! So we’re following the Riding Bumps training plan and I’m pretty religious about it.   Sunday called for a 3 hour paddle but the winds were blowing 20+mph, with gusts up to 30mph. We decided to do a downwind paddle from the Figure 8 bridge to Trails End. If we started early the boat traffic wouldn’t be too bad.

Change in Plans…

We haven’t gotten to paddle with April for a while, so Sharna let her know our plans the day before and asked if she’d like to join.

{ Sidenote: April and Sharna are badass paddlers and definitely a few/several notches above my skill and fitness level. I’m surrounded by rockstars, but I’m just not there yet. Maybe I’ll never be, and that’s fine. But I sometimes have to politely decline a particular adventure because I know it’s beyond my ability. }

April, with her trademark enthusiasm, managed to convince Sharna that a downwinder in the ocean would be way more fun. Sharna is usually our Voice Of Reason, with a healthy respect for the elements that mirrors my own cautious mentality. In the face of an excitable Unicorn however, the Voice Of Reason didn’t stand a chance. “Come on you guys, it’ll be FUUUUNNNNN!!!!”

{insert clip of Charlie being led by the other unicorns}

Clip:

 

Sharna arrived at my house with a slightly guilty expression and warned me that plans might be changing. My response: “Ocean? Oh, HELL no! That $%^@ is gnarly today. Nope. No, thank you.”

Then the unicorn arrived. She’s charismatic, enthusiastic, and verrrryy convincing. Her argument included words like FUN, GOOD TRAINING, FUN, BALANCE, FUN!! AND EVERYTHING WAS IN CAPS LOCK WITH EXCLAMATION POINTS!

My already weak backbone (emotional trauma, remember?) started to waiver in the face of all that sparkly, shiny excitement. And off we went. More doubt and some fear reared up when we actually saw the ocean, but I was kind of numb by that point, and hoped that my friends wouldn’t lead me too far astray.

*Sigh* Hindsight is 20/20.

Unicorns can fly of course, so April made it through the breakers quickly and waited while Sharna joined her. I couldn’t seem to find an opening, and got tossed around a few times. I was pretty sure April was telling me to find the rip, but how the bleep do you do that when everything is a churning mess? Also, I couldn’t really hear above the roar of crashing water. Frustration and fear mounted, but determination pushed me to find a f#$%ing way through. So I did. April seemed surprised to find me sobbing and tried to rally me with encouragement. Something about strengthening the soul, I think.

When we go out surfing, getting out through the breakers is usually the hardest part. If the ocean itself is huge and full of 5ft swells with cross-chop, WE DON’T USUALLY GO OUT IN IT. I’ve never been to Hawaii for downwind lessons with Jeremy Riggs, nor do I surf when we get the rare overhead waves. That’s above my skill level. So when I managed to get through the crashing waves only to find enormous (to me) 5ft ocean swells with a nasty disorganized cross-chop, I got really scared. I could barely stay on my board in a kneeling position, so standing was out of the question. A butt-paddle it would be.

After only a few minutes of this, I could see that April and Sharna were moving way faster than I was. I didn’t want to slow them down and was, frankly, terrified. I mentioned that I should just go in and they could continue, but April said “No! We’re here now, just go with it!” She then tried to give me downwinder tips and other encouragement. I’ve learned a lot from April and always appreciate her tips, but the conditions were so rough I could barely stay on my board, much less integrate what she was trying to teach me.

We kept paddling.

They were having a great time, riding waves and squealing, falling off and getting back on. How, I have no idea. Like I said, April is a unicorn and Sharna is probably a stealthy superhero of some sort. I squashed familiar feelings of inadequacy and paddled.

Then I got angry.

I was SUPPOSED to be training cardio, endurance and technique. In those conditions, I wasn’t training anything but terror. My terror is very strong now.

A little over halfway I started crying again. Fear, anger, heartbreak, frustration. All these emotions roiling around in my head, mirroring the rough, churning waves. Poor April tried to cheer me up with more encouragement.

{excerpt from April’s account, all true} “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.”

Then she also told me how safe I was because she knew how to make emergency flotation devices with her pants.

“YOU’RE NOT WEARING ANY PANTS!”

“True.”

The Life-Threatening Part

The original plan was to continue through the jetty to the ICW and finish at Trails End. However, with such extreme winds blowing mostly from the North, trying to go sideways to the wind through the jetty would be incredibly stupid and dangerous. I had no doubt I would get dashed against the south wall of the jetty and end up as chum. So we amended the plan to cut in after Crystal Pier and land on the beach. It was going to be rough but we had no choice so I mentally hunkered down. I saw April start to surf in, so far so good. To my left I saw Sharna, now a confirmed superhero, flattened against her board and steering down the face of a HUGE overhead wave. Only the back 3-4 feet of her board were touching water and she was FLYING! She screamed something about dying, and I whooped in excitement for her amazing ride.

Then I saw my leash streaming out behind me. OH S#$%!! I hadn’t fallen (that’s why I was sitting on my butt, after all), but at some point the plastic piece connecting my ankle strap to the leash had snapped. I yelled to Sharna to warn her that my board would shortly be flying around the break zone, and to watch out, and then I prayed that no one got hurt.

The surf was really rough. I struggled to keep my head above water and managed to side stroke my way in. The rip was stronger than I’ve ever experienced, pulling me sideways FAST towards the rock jetty. But my feet were sort of touching and I knew I could get in eventually. April helped, and Sharna met us on the beach as we chased April’s flying board down.

I apologized profusely to the nice people holding my board, checked that no one got hurt, and then scurried in embarrassment for the street.

Where I promptly strangled April.

lexy malone and april zilg

We had no business in that surf. The lifeguards were saving people all over the place, and getting themselves hurt in the process.

I really had no business in the ocean that day. The conditions were too rough and I was emotionally and mentally depleted. Fuel and electrolytes will only get you so far. If your spirit is crushed and there are only black holes where your heart and brain normally reside, you really should be in bed. Or go for a nice walk on the beach.

Moral of the story: Don’t do challenging and potentially dangerous paddles when you are emotionally and/or mentally exhausted. If your friend is in that state, choose another time to push their limits…

I’ve reassured April that I really do still love her and appreciate all of her wonderfulness, despite the batshit-crazy part. I look forward to many more paddles and learning from her, but LET’S NOT DO THAT EVER AGAIN. Mmkay? Muah!

2 COMMENTS

  1. that was hilarious and scary all at once. it made me think of doing a downwind with Joe, Morgan and Jack in Santa Cruz. It was the biggest ocean I had ever been in and while everyone was hooting and hollaring, I was petrified – convinced I would wipe out and loose my board to the howling wind, get attacked by a great white shark, be kidnapped by aliens – you get the drift..something was bound to happen. Way to tough it out, survive and you know, afterwards, I bet you said “that was kind of fun”..