How Does Sunset Beach Work? - Page 16

Anecdotes and Personal Experiences - 9

Swing Late And Go

Pretty fair-sized day. Another one of those high gray overcast days with fairly respectable size.

Wind was pretty much straight offshore, and maybe ten knots or so, giving things a very glassy, velvety look, but with the thick high overcast, the mood and the look of the water was dark, and although it was even peakier on the outside than usual, it wasn't a mixed swell and it wasn't any kind of thin or attenuated, and it was just bombing.

Just really wedging up in a hurry and coming over all at once, and coming over quite thick and heavy with a good solid lip that was throwing out fully, and with the somewhat more compressed aspect to the peaks, it was also detonating a bit more solidly than usual.

So ok, so it was a real day, ok?

Moderate crowd, not too bad in that regards, but they were there.

And here it comes, and goddamnit, it's looking like it's gonna get me.


Paddling like hell at an angle, simultaneously trying to gain some ground both outside and across, and it rears up all dark and gloomy, but perfectly smooth and very cupped, very compressed, and there's nobody else near me, and as I approach the lower apron (of which there was not much this day, it being so compressed and all), I can see that I'm going to be able to squeak over the right shoulder.


And as I'm paddling uphill, midface, I also see that there's a whisker of a chance that I might actually be able to catch the damn thing.

And just as soon as that thought finished forming itself in my mind, I instantly decided "Fuckit, let's go," stopped paddling midstroke, pivoted the board around as fast as I possibly could, and somewhere around two-thirds to three-quarters to the top of the wave I was able to give it a couple of really deep hard strokes, and I was in.

Steep drop.

Like with the rail of the board up on an edge, kind of sideways, working to avoid becoming disconnected from the water altogether, steep.

Legs fully extended, on tippy-toe, just barely maintaining contact with the board, steep.

And pulled it off!

BaZOOOOM down to the bottom, and right as I got down there, the fucking lip detonated what I can only imagine as being inches behind me, and which still kind of surprises me to this day, 'cause I was half expecting to see the damn curtain fall in front of me, or, god forbid, take the goddamned thing squarely across the head, neck, and shoulder blades, but regardless, it blew up like a fucking car bomb, right behind me.

And a tremendous backblast of whitewater promptly enveloped me, hitting me from behind, and, now that I think about it (and, amazingly, this question has been nagging at me for over forty years now and I am astounded that the simple act of writing these words has allowed my brain to finally get a proper handle on it and at long last get to the bottom of things), since the initial backblast on a thick one starts out by going back up into the air, it probably lifted me up a little as it did so.

And I find myself legs fully extended once again, on tippy-toe once again, barely in contact with the damn surfboard once again.

You're not gonna get away with two of these on the same wave, MacLaren.

And somewhere in the middle of all that, I just sort of floated away from any contact with the board at all, and as the backblast came back down, I found myself failing to reconnect with the board, and that was that.

At which point the wave delivered me one of the most terrific beatings I've ever endured, anywhere.

It just beat the holy living hell out of me, and it drove me promptly all the way to the bottom as it was doing so.

One of those few times I successfully managed to hit the fucking bottom, all the way outside, on a fair-sized day.

And when I hit the bottom, it took a really good slice out of the bottom of my big toe, which may not sound like much, but maybe go into the kitchen right now and get a knife, and then carve out a slice along the length of the bottom of the end of your big toe, from tip to first joint, maybe a centimeter wide and half a centimeter deep, and then come back here and then you and I can talk about how that kind of stuff feels together, ok?

Followed of course, by that dreadful feeling of being much too deep, and the goddamned water's gone black and I can't see, and please quit beating me, and godDAMNit but there better not be another one breaking on me before I get to the surface, and..... well..... it's was a pretty damn good wipeout, ok?

Which ended well enough without a second wave finding me any too soon, and I took my swim to the beach and that was that.

And there, sitting on the sand just up under the dune, was Bradshaw, and he looks at my bedraggled and bleeding ass, and says, "I thought you were going to make that one."


I thought I was gonna make it, too.

But I didn't.

Another Swing Late And Go

This story has been mentioned elsewhere, but since this is becoming my main repository for Sunset Beach stories, I'm going to include it again, and retell it again, right here.

One of those el-perfecto afternoon days with size, but not completely out of the question, peakiness, but not too much peakiness, sunshine, light crowd, the whole works.

And a bit inconsistent, too, maybe.

And here we go, it's goddamned-cleanup-set-at-Sunset-Beach-time, once again.

Scratch like mad, and barely squeak over the top of the first substantial one.

Well....that's one of the damn things behind me, anyway.

Continue scratching like mad, and barely squeak over the top of the second one, and as I lurch over the top of it, I get a real good look at the rest of what's coming.

Two down, one to go.

And behind that third wave, there's nothing at all. Just a nice normal three-wave set without any additional horrors lurking farther outside toward the horizon.

And number three is now bearing down on me, and the fucker's feathering malevolently, and it's tall enough and steep enough that there's now sunlight shining through the top part of the wave, and I'm paddling like crazy, and boy, I don't know.

Racing up the face, angling toward the right shoulder, and my brain hands me two things, neither of which I consciously remember having asked for.

Thing number one: There's nothing behind this wave, it's flat out there. You've got nothing to lose.

Thing number two: GO!

And so I went.

It was stupid, and I knew it was stupid, but I did it anyway. Carpe diem. Or is that "carpe wavem?" Whatever.

A midface swing and stroke doesn't really even describe the stupid lateness of what I did. It was beyond late. And it was beyond retarded, too.

The wave cooperated as best as it could, oddly enough, and it allowed me to somehow maintain contact with the surface of the water for as far as I managed to travel in a downward direction.

But it was a substantial breaking wave at Sunset Beach, and it did have a lip that threw out, and there's not a whole lot that anybody can do about any of that part of things, right?

I'm guessing I was about two-thirds of the way down toward the bottom of the wave, still dropping, when, from nice close range so I could get a really good look at it, I saw the lip come karate-chopping down from above and out of my field of vision, directly between me and the shoreline, and I just more or less surfed right into the damn thing.


Which might seem "normal" enough in and of itself, for certain crazed definitions of "normal," but it's what happened immediately afterwards that's just fucking weird.

That set had completely blown the entire crowd out of the water with the exception of myself and one other guy.

I have no recollection of his presence anywhere until I surfaced after the beating that I took.

And there he was, right there, not more than twenty or thirty feet away from me.

And, impossibly, both of our surfboards were also there, not more than twenty or thirty feet away from us (No cords, remember?), floating on the water, decks up.

And his board has a fucking FIN deeply impaled directly into the center of his deck, sitting upright just as pretty as you please, like something that maybe one of Charley Manson's people left behind while making a hasty exit from the crime scene.

It was really scary looking. Fucking murder weapon, and I for one was both happy and rattled at the same time.

Happy because that goddamned fin wasn't sticking out of me.

Rattled because the thought of what could have happened, had that fin found my ribcage or neck instead of the deck of that guy's surfboard, sent a chill that ran down my spine all the way to the tips of my toes.

But the set was over, the ocean was calm, and what the hell am I supposed to be doing about any of this, anyway?

The guy looked more than just a little distressed with the shape his surfboard was in, but again, what am I supposed to be doing about any of this, anyway?

So I stroke over to my board, hop up on top of it, and uh oh.

The board skittered sideways and I flipped it over, and sure enough, no fin.

GodDAMN, but that was my fin sticking out of that guy's board!


So I paddled over to his board (which he had yet to get to, I guess because he was still boggling at the implications of what had just happened), and yanked my fin out of it, and kind of stuck it into the waistband of my baggies.

At which point the guy gave me an even worse look, but once again, what am I supposed to be doing about any of this, anyway?

And without further ado, nor waves to ride, I started paddling for the distant shoreline.

I presume the guy stayed outside by himself, but I do not know. We parted company without really even speaking to each other. That's all I can say about it.

And I made it a truly surprising distance toward the beach paddling, before another wave ever showed, and since I was so far in there, the wave that came was a little one, and I caught it, and skittered down the face prone, and continued to skitter on in riding the soup, all frontways, and slideways, and everywhichaways, all the way to the beach.

And I did not lose the fin.

I glassed it back on to the board later, and there's another story about that, but we're not gonna get into it right now, right here, ok?

And every once in a while, the vision of that fin, deeply impaled into the deck of that surfboard, will come into my mind unbidden, and that shiver will come back briefly, too.