Always between swims: Why we train and a word of thanks to my coaches

One of my favorite places for surf play is in the mouth of the Salmon River, just under Cascade Head. It does not have the cleanest easiest to surf waves, however what it does have is a large variety of conditions and most importantly: due to the paddle in it takes to get there, a lack of surfers!

I have nothing against surfers. The issue is simply that when I to bail out of my boat for some reason or the other I prefer it not to get launched –all 16 foot filled with 300lbs of water– into an unsuspecting surfer.

But I divert..

After yesterday evenings session of making my friends swim their boats in and out of the impact zone, today I got a good reminder of why I did that, and why my coaches made me swim my boat in the impact zone.

As we paddled in to the bay from the river, there was an uncharacteristic large swell in the mouth of the river. I looked over at the surf zone, it looked somehow different. The breakers weren’t large, but things just looked chaotic, a bit hard to read.

We turned left into the soup-zone and landed on the beach.

When there is just the two of us, we usually take turns playing while the other spots from the beach. Meadow went out for the first run. She followed the rip out. Then turned into and pierced some nice sized breakers. Having arrived outside, she turned around and came back in. Nice clean run!

Now it was my turn, I was going to try a different approach. I crossed the rip and headed almost straight out, or so I thought. Coming out of the rip, I found myself with some fair sized breakers in front of me blocking my view and a secondary swell stacking up on my left.

Not being able to see over the breakers, and to busy with the swell from the left to look over my shoulder, I was unaware of my misjudgment of my ferry angle across the rip and found myself right on top of the sand bank. Here the left swell started breaking too – I was upside down in seconds.

In my confusion in turbulent waters, I wet-exited. I found myself swimming in the breakers on the wrong side of a rip-tide.

At this point, I had 2 choices: head further out past the surf zone and do a self rescue or swim back in across the rip. I opted for the latter option figuring that if it didn’t work out the rip would cary me out and set me up for an outside self rescue anyway.

As I swam across the rip, I kept track of my progress using ranges on shore. I considered trying a self rescue in the rip but decided my progress was such that it was not worth risking alternative strategies.

A few minutes after I came back to shore, a coast guard helicopter flew over and hovered over the bay a bit. I don’t know if they were called or were on a regular patrol. I gave them the “I’m OK” signal and they flew off.

One of the amazing things about this place is that after a hard surf session you get to paddle back in the serenity of the river. Among seals, river otters, and bald eagles. life doesn’t get better then that.

Lessons learned:

  • Always know where you are. Position is part of your situational awareness and will keep you out of trouble.
  • Don’t be in a hurry to get out of your boat. If I had counted to 10, I would probably have been in calmer water and regained my wits enough to roll up.
  • If your coach says swim, swim! you really only have two rescue options in the surf: roll or swim. Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket.