I went “surfing” for the first time today. We went to Pohoiki, a rocky beach, as all beaches in the Puna area are. Turns out there's quite a bit of reef too. We arrived and Matty just jumped in on his boogie board, leaving Alex and I to figure out things for ourselves.
After chilling for 20 minutes, because the 8 banana smoothie Alex and I split was giving him a killer stomach ache, we jumped into the water and paddled out. Initially, I was surprised by how low my board sat in the water and how difficult it was to stay on while paddling. Soon enough though, we were passing the surf break and paddling out was going quite smoothly. We found ourselves floating over rolling swells and soon a ways out, next to some local teenage kids. They must have sensed we didn't belong there. When I said what's up, they responded with a hostile shortness, “We're on reef, you know that right?”
I replied, “Nah, is that bad? To be honest, this is my first time on a surfboard.”
A look of shock broke across their faces and they replied with a “Dude. You need to get the hell out of here!”
Still, I was only mildly concerned, the waves hadn't been bad or even broke this far out since we'd been in the water. Alex and I began paddling back towards what they said was the beginner section.
Then, a set of waves came: three big ones.
I realized the seriousness of the situation as the first wave towered over me. I paddled directly at it and managed to shove the nose of the board down enough to duck dive under the first wave just before it crashed down on me. Luckily, I had some experience on a boogie boarding and knew how to dive under waves.
Gravely concerned but focused on the action, I managed to paddle at the second one, duck diving the wave once again, but as I popped back up and opened my eyes, the third big wave was right on me. It was too late. I pulled a short half breath and shoved the nose of the board down, but this time the wave crash right on me. I managed to keep the nose down through most of the wild explosion of water, but the end of it's powerful torrent managed to lift it back up and rip me back twenty feet. The wave passed without skinning me across the sharp reef.
I slid back on my board and attempted to continue paddling back up the coast towards the entrance/exit at the boat ramp, but my shoulders were exhausted. Paddling on a surfboard was a motion I'd never done before and my shoulder muscles were becoming useless. I was working my way back when two teenage surfers came over to rescue me... Wait. I needed rescuing? I survived the big set of waves, what was everyone so concerned about?
The board slipped out from under me as I my shoulder muscles screamed, continuing to attempt to paddle. Shocked, I stood up on the reef in water no higher than my thigh! One of those big waves could have absolutely annihilated me right here.
One of the teen rescuers proclaimed himself a Junior Lifeguard, which made me feel a bit safer I guess. He yelled, "paddle fast!" But my shoulders were on fire and basically useless at this point, so I held the board along the surface of the water with locked elbows for support while I scurried across the reef for ten feet into a nice dive out onto my board to move along.
Every kid in the beginner section stared as the clueless Haole somehow made it out of the reef slam-section without being victimized. I thank my lucky stars, because without a break between big wave sets for a two minutes, I would have been lifted and slammed with incredible force into sharp reef and rock.
Paddling back in seemed to take forever. Afterwords, I learned that's because there's a strong rip current that pulls you towards the reef and out to sea. Why was I learning to surf here?
Also, it turned out my surf board was Matty's from when he was ten years old. Which explained why it was sinking in the water and paddling anywhere was so difficult, but is also probably the reason I was able go duck dive the waves.
I'm glad to be alive.