Life giving rays of hot solar energy beat down from a blue, almost cloudless sky. Ever changing tiny puffs of white cotton flitted lazily across the heavens. And so it was on that fateful day we trudged through the soft powdery sand of North Narrabeen beach.
When a guy goes to the beach he takes a towel and maybe a couple of cans of beer, but that day we had our wives with us, and there we were with towels, eskie’s, sun screen, sun shades, and windbreaker. Four of us, two couples trudging along the beach looking for a place to settle. ‘Between the flags,’ asked my wife wisely. ‘Na lets go further along, find a nice quiet spot.’ And so onward we ventured.
Finally settled, we cracked a couple stubbies and looked out over the rollers, crashing in a display of white foam all along the sandy expanse of beach. ‘Quite a swell,’ exclaimed Warwick. ‘Yea,’ I said taking another swig of cold nectar. ‘Should be able to ride a few rollers today. I had recently perfected my body surfing technique and was eager to ride the swell. Warwick and I finished our beers and leaving the girls clucking on the beach, headed off for the pounding surf.
God it is cold I thought as I threw myself over that first breaker, and plunged eagerly beneath the white foam. Almost immediately I felt that all was not well. I could feel myself being pulled under and farther away from the shore. Even before my head cleared the surface I knew that I was caught in a rip tide, and being pulled into deeper water. I looked over at Warwick and he too was fighting the pull of water. ‘I’m going back,’ he yelled and struck out for the shore. I tried to follow, but quickly realized I was getting nowhere. Still not fully appreciative of the danger I was in, I remembered previous advice on rip tides. ‘Relax, float, and let the rip take you, and then swim along the beach and then swim in through calmer water.’
I spread my arms and legs and with head back I floated helplessly at the mercy of the ocean. As I looked up I could see Warwick still struggling against the waters pull, and I was getting farther away from shore. I looked along towards the flags, but no one had noticed my predicament. Now fear and a touch of panic began to dawn on me. Deeper water meant sharks. Again I struck out for the shore, but a pack and a half a day of Marlboro ensured that I quickly tired.
Warwick almost on shore, seeing my predicament turned back to assist me. With the rip in his favor he was quickly along side, and tried to pull me in.
‘Its no good,’ I said, ‘I can’t make it!’ I could see he was tiring.
‘Go!’ I said, ‘save yourself.’ Warwick had no choice and turned back for the beach, and as I watched him swim away I knew I was in serious trouble.
Again I tried to swim against the power of the ocean, but it was no use, I had no strength left. I began to sink, and I could feel my feet on the rippled sandy bottom, but as I tried to stand it was sucked away from me. I had the crazy notion that I could take a few steps along the ocean floor, bob up for air, and then a few more, but the pull of the tide was relentless. Again I bobbed up for air; I could see the wives sitting, prattling on the beach and waved my arms erratically for help. They waved back. Now convinced that I was dieing, the last vision I would have of my dear wife was sitting on a beach waving back at her drowning husband. I wanted to scream, no I was screaming at her, but as usual she was paying scant attention.
I tried again to float, but it was too choppy and my body sank beneath the all-encompassing waves. I remember looking up from the depth at a blue watery sky and wondering why my life was not flashing before me, for I was truly drowning. Air bubbles escaped my mouth and I sank deeper. How long I wondered before oblivion, but felt strangely calm, accepting my life was over. My lungs began to burn and as I looked up for the last time a distorted hand reached towards me. I reached up grasping for life; I found it and I was being pulled from the watery jaws of death.
Only then and to my eternal shame did I truly panic. Life was being given back to me, and I wasn’t about to let it slip away again. The piercing blue eyes and long scraggy sun bleached hair of a surfer were pulling me from my watery grave. I grabbed for life, I grabbed at his surfboard, and I grabbed at him. He either fell into the water, or I pushed him. I know not, but I was on his board and I was alive.
‘Its ok mate,’ he said, ‘just hang on,’ and with that he launched his board with me cling to it for dear life onto a cresting wave.
The surfboard rode the wave clear onto the beach and I rolled of completely exhausted, but aware of my despicable behavior. I looked back to find my savior had paired up with his mate and was paddling towards me. Our two wives came running over to see what all the fuss was about, but I was more concerned with my lifesaver. With apologies profuse I tried to mitigate my behavior. He reached for his board, ‘No probs mate,’ he said, ‘she’ll be rite,’ and wandered off along the beach. I never even found out his name?