Wednesday, February 18, 2009


Come Hell or High Water, Part 2

When preparing to jump off a 30 foot cliff into the ocean, it is best to not question yourself. If there's no immediate danger, hesitation is pointless. Even if you're scared witless, at least you'll look like a badass.

Saturday morning you wake up and attempt to stuff yourself into a wet suit, which is much like squeezing into an ultra-tight girdle, and not all that flattering. You don't mind though, because when you're standing in a shed in your skivvies in the middle of February, all you want is to be warm again. After you've thoroughly suited up, you hop into the bus and make your way to the coast of Wales.

When you first hit the water, you forget how to breathe. Oh god it's cold, and the ocean is filled with bubbles, and you just float for a moment and then push back to the surface and toss your head back and gasp. Your limbs are loose but your chest is tight, so you just bob with the tide for a little while trying to reclaim your lungs. One by one your friends follow suit, the ocean continuously broken by sputtering, cursing youths. Helmeted heads dot the water, and on the guide's signal you break into long strokes towards a crevice in the rocks nicknamed "the toilet" because of the way the waves raise you up and then flush you back down. The surrounding rocks are covered in barnacles and they scrape the tips of your fingers that poke through your gloves as you reach for a purchase. You finally steady yourself during a low spell, just seconds before the water suddenly raises again, throws you off and swallows you up.

Once you've escaped the toilet and hoisted yourself up the shut-ins type rocks, the cold hits you with a whole new vengeance. Your fingertips are thrumming, and your forehead aches. Your lips are turning blue, and the salty wind whips across your face, a siren song luring you back to the sea. Luckily you don't stand still for long, and soon you're scrambling across the rocks and jumping cannon ball style back into the Atlantic.

After lunch you're back at the ocean, wedging your surfboard into the sand and laying on your stomach, pushing your hair out of your eyes and watching Bramble demonstrate proper surfing technique. The board is heavy and catches the wind, constantly blowing you off your feet. The cold water is a familiar shock as you wade into the waves with your board floating at your side. The leg rope tangles around your feet, and the foamy water fizzes around your waist as you wait for a substantial swell.

You wait too long for the first wave, and it flips the board you're only half on; you swallow a mouthful of sea water as you tumble under the surface. Catching the leg rope, you haul your board back to you and try it again. This time as you seen the wave gaining, you turn your board towards the coast, get fully centered, and start swimming frantically, rushing towards the beach with triumphant speed. The next step is to push yourself up into a cobra pose, and as you arch your back you think you've just about got it. Half an hour later, Bramble teaches you how to spring into a standing position, but the water and wind have sucked all the strength out of your upper body. Back in the waves, you tumble off the board repeatedly as you try in vain to get your feet flat on the plastic.

The sun sets as you strip off your wet suit in the parking lot, shame long since discarded in the morning shed. The promise of hot chocolate warms you long enough to pull on your soft, dry sweatshirt, but the bone cold of the day will remain in your fingers and back for hours to come. The muscles in your legs and arms ache, and your salty hair is a tangled pile on your head, but you're happy. If anything, you're happy.

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