[ Cali Paddler is grateful to share this story written by the talented Melissa Ulrich of Monterey. If you like what you read, or have ideas for her, please share them in the comments below. Enjoy! ]
Well, I'm not going to make it.
I didn't time it right. I should have waited. I should have paddled harder. The wall of water charging towards me keeps getting higher and higher. I am not going to make it over; there is nothing I can do but try. When you get to this point, you can't turn back.
The bow slices through the top of the wave, but the ama bounces up and arcs gracefully over my head. No brace can save this.
In November Monterey weather, the water feels sooo warm. NOT. I am up to my armpits in cold, cold fury. My once curly hair is now coiffed around my face like alien tentacles. Another wall of water is coming. No time to go back, no time to go forward. There is nothing to do but plant my feet, point the nose towards that wall, and be.
The wall hits me, lifting me off my feet, but I hold the bow forward, hands clutched on the hull. I protect you, canoe. When the water recedes I realize I can just barely touch bottom. I feel 50 pounds heavier. Has this cold water filled my bones and made them soggy? Another wave is coming. No time. I channel my inner sea lion as I scramble onto the canoe and start paddling like crazy. The wall is getting higher and higher. Oh no you don't. I grit my teeth and stare that wave down like an angry bull. I barely make it over and land on the other side. Adrenaline surges through me like fire. Plant, pull back, recover - up and over the next set of swells to reach my group.
"You ok?" My friend asks. I can hear the boom of the wave crashing behind me.
"Yeah, just wet," I say as water trickles down my neck, down my spine. Water oozes out the bottom of my paddling pants and defies gravity with each stroke, slurping up over the top of my waistband into my belly button. It doesn’t feel cold yet.
We all head out towards the jetty. Something looks funny about the world. I close one eye and then the other. With one eye, I can see all the messy water beyond the jetty. With the other eye, the world is a smudge of gnarly. Thank you, -7.25 near-sightedness. During my huli, my left contact had somehow slithered into an unchartered corner of my eye. With each blink, I can feel it taunting me with potential perfect 20/20 vision. I paddle forward stupidly for another 10 minutes. With a clumsy knuckle and exuberant blinking, I finally coax my contact back to its rightful spot. Suddenly, I feel the knot of cold spreading from my tummy to my head, which is bad. We decide to go back. Another friend hands me a dry jacket and a hat. Merciful angel. The water is just too messy and the wind is picking up ahead of schedule.
I still have to paddle the last half mile back and land this baby. Landing canoes in big shore break is so much fun! I ask Santa for it every Christmas: "Oh please let me have big shore break to land in, especially when I am as rabid with cold as Medusa!" You know I am totally kidding. I pray for this canoe harder than I pray for myself.
Other friends make it back to shore before me. Some make it in upright. Some get wet. They put their canoes on the sand and turn and walk back into the water. They beckon me.
"Come on, paddle now!" They are there. For me.
I look behind. I look ahead. I look behind. I look ahead. Waves rolls under me, grow, and collapse into the sand. I paddle in. Stay calm. I feel strong, supported, confident, loved.
They meet me in the water. They catch me. Welcome home.
We carry canoes up and scatter to change into warm clothes. We talk about conditions, what to do, not to do, what we learned. A lovely soul gives me some hot chocolate which I accept with both hands. I don’t realize I am still shivering until I try accepting the hot chocolate with one hand.
So, what I learned from this day: if you don't feel it in your guts, don't go out. Your intuition is a gift. If you get soaked and it's cold out, don't be a stupid head like me. Go back sooner. You have nothing to prove. Also, challenge is good. There's always going to be big days that push you. You'll fall. You'll get up. Learn. Get better, stronger, wiser.
The day after this, I went out again on OC1 through big surf. This time I waited. I watched. I paddled out harder and leaned on the ama through the big wall and punched through the other side without a huli.
The ocean is powerful. Unforgiving. Magical. The best teacher you'll ever have.
I have found who I am meant to be while in the midst of that big, beautiful blue. On and in and through those waves, I’ve conquered fears, faced new ones, and discovered strength, fierceness, and serenity.
I've also made the best friends of my life because of the ocean.
Catch you on the flip side...by flip I don’t mean huli. ;-)
(Photo Credit and gratitude to Keanu)
Team Writer Melissa Ulrich - This Midwestern farm girl first heard the call of the ocean when she moved to Monterey three years ago. It has been her refuge since, via paddleboard, boogie board, or outrigger canoe.