Monday, May 10, 2010

Rainy season: The fear factor

The rainy season is coming. This means big storms and big waves. Really big. As tall as your ceiling big. Sometimes bigger. Good thing I know how to duck dive.

Duck diving is the reason I shortboard. It's the reason I can surf double-overhead waves without actually catching them, riding up and over the swell before it breaks like a child on a slow-moving roller coaster. I learned how to duck dive on my first trip to Liberia, planned at the usually-perfect end of rainy season. I kind of had no choice.

That first rainy season, Nate and I don't talk about much. Whenever I refer to it, I qualify with something like, "After that, it's actually amazing we moved here." Imagine: camping in unceasing, two-week rain, sometimes a drizzle, sometimes loud enough to knock the tent down. It did knock the tent down, on a pre-dawn morning Nate and I now smile about. We had to take refuge at Nana's, slouching in plastic chairs and leaning our heads on their wooden tables three hours before breakfast started, defeated as tired students. That particular occasion, because the tent had not only collapsed but also flooded, we hung our clothes out to dry--in the rain (see actual photo of our clothes "drying" in the rain, September 2008).

So, add to unceasing rain a double-overhead swells that nothing but occasional onshores kept the surfers off of--at least the better ones. Nate was joined by his good friend Sean--who I went to school with in Cairo--and both of them can surf. Then, there were the brothers--two northern English boys with their dutiful wives. And by dutiful, imagine following your partner into the rain with a video camera, parking yourself (sometimes with a shade tent or rain shelter) as close to the break as you can, and then recording every minute of every wave they catch, every single two-week session. It made me feel like a bad girlfriend.

The waves were quadruple anything I'd ever gotten near, at least it felt that way. It was also my first time near a point break, and point break wave energy is way different than beach breaks. I was intimidated. Not intimidated enough not to paddle out--if I sat next to the wives, I looked almost evil by comparison--I would launch sometimes 400 m away from the peak and paddle against the current to the line-up. This meant I avoided any whitewater, except when I drifted inside and a set showed up.

When a set showed up, I would do what I do when I get really scared--scream for Nate. I scream "Nate!!!" so loud, with so much terror, that you could be forgiven for thinking he sent the waves to land on my head, or that he had supernatural powers to rescue me. Which would be nice, but instead, he taught me how to duck-dive. By the end of the trip, I could push my board under the set waves and pop right out the back, just like a pro. That little escape trick makes all the difference, trust me.

At the moment, my wave preference is shoulder to head-high, up from chest high last rainy season. Chest high waves are hard to find in rainy season, to be honest. To catch them, you have to wait for a set to pass, sneak to the inside, catch your wave and paddle back out to where the set waves are breaking before another set comes. Your timing on the sets has to be impeccable to avoid getting smashed by a ceiling-high wall of whitewater. You also have to be lucky.

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