How Does Sunset Beach Work? - Page 10

Anecdotes and Personal Experiences - 3

Billy almost died, and it wasn't even a very big day.

Medium size. Nothing to get excited over.

Of course, what follows, as with all that has preceded, happened in the days before cords, and the motivation to hang on to your surfboard to keep from taking that goddamned quarter-mile rough-water swim was strong.

As were all the protagonists in these tales. We were all surfing motherfucking Sunset Beach on a regular basis, because we liked it, and you simply do not do that sort of thing if you are not strong.

And it's pretty surprising just how much you can be put through while maintaining a death grip on your surfboard without losing it.

So anyway, somehow or other, Billy is underwater, in the vicinity of the inside section, getting the living hell thrashed out of him, but he's still got the damned board and he's not letting go of it.

Which, you might think would be a good thing, but in this case, it was not.

Billy related it to me by telling me that the thrashing finally died down, and he's prone, still on the deck of the board, way the hell underwater, and he's going to use the board like a cork to come popping up to the surface as fast as possible.

At which point Sunset Beach decided to alter the terms of the deal.

And Billy found himself in the grip of something that would not let him right the board, nose-up, to come whooshing up to the surface.

Instead, what happened was the the board took a path toward the surface in the same manner that a leaf will fall through calm air.

First one way, then rock the other, then repeat, back and forth, and back and forth, taking the longest possible path, for the longest possible time.

We've all seen leaves fall like that, and apparently, a surfboard can occasionally surface like that too. Kind of in reverse, but the same motion, the same longest path, the same longest time.

Billy hung on to the board the entire time, never letting go, no doubt expecting things to come around to where they needed to be as he vainly attempted to physically manhandle the board into a proper orientation.

Never happened.

So a lot of time, energy, and oxygen has been expended by the time Billy finally surfaces.

At the exact moment that the next wave was breaking where Billy was gasping for a snatch of air, mixed with foam.


Board's gone.

Tumble, bang, choke, gurgle.

Finally resurfaced.

Only to re-endure the exact same punishment again.

I'm sure you can imagine the state he was in, and I'm finding myself holding my breath, just relating this story.

Bad enough, right?


Billy wound up doing this for six waves in succession. SIX!

It didn't quite kill him, but it came very very close indeed.

Very close indeed.

Nobody around, nobody saw it, no lifeguards, no rescue, no nothing.

Just one strong guy in the wrong place on the wrong day.

But since it didn't kill him, when it was over, he half swam, half floated, to the beach, retrieved his board, and went home.

Kind of funny how the most extraordinarily intense experiences can occur without leaving a single trace of their occurrence.

Happens all the time at Sunset Beach.


Some days it just peels across from outside, hollow, the whole way. And not small, either.

These are the days we all live for.

Instead of a distinct peak, dead spot, and inside section, it all connects together in one big hollow run.

Those days are pretty fun when they happen, but they don't happen all that often, so when they do, you can generally count on a lot of people to show up.

And as I'm screaming along down the wall somewhere in the middle of things where it usually flattens out some, the guy who had dropped in on me redirected his line a little bit more toward the beach, and it was looking like I was going to have to redirect my own line, but if I had done that, I would have gotten pole-axed by the lip, so unfortunately that was not an option.

Tucked into the lowest crouch possible, lip was right there, and in slow motion I'm watching the left rail and front third of this guy's board (I literally have no image of anything rearward of that, including the guy himself, oddly enough), creeping closer and closer to the right rail and front third of my own board.

His board was a clear, no-color triple-stringer gun. Can see it plain as day right now, in my mind's eye. A slight tinge of yellowishness. Not brand-new, but not in bad shape, either.

And as the rails were inches apart, still closing, the goddamned lip started doing what I call "fingertips" across my back.

Like somebody was using their fingertips to lightly, ever so lightly, thrum a little flyweight tattoo across your back, right between your shoulder blades and down along the curve of your spine.

You're not quite taking the meat of the lip, and it's not a quick dousing from a chandelier either, but instead, when the shape of the wave is more or less perfect, the lip, no matter how big, can just get right up to you, but not quite touch you with its actual body, and instead it just kind of "fingertips" you as you race along a gnat's whisker away from disaster.

And as I'm getting "fingertipped" the rails met. And when they did, the nose of my board may have been possibly as much as four inches ahead of the other guy's board. Just a teency little bit ahead. And my rail was just a hair deeper into the water than his rail was, and so, when the rails met, so slowly as to not produce the least sensation of an impact or even the lightest "bump," his was somewhat tilted upwards in relation to mine. At which point I, with absolutely nothing in the world to lose, just sort of pushed my weight a little farther down onto the board, did the same with my feet into the wax, and held my line, straight and true.

Still getting fingertipped, the whole time.

Things continued in slow motion as I watched my board cause his board to straighten out parallel with my own, and in so doing, disrupt his trim in a way that, still ever so slowly, caused him to wind up too parallel with the line of the wave, lose a trifle of speed, slowly separate from contact with my board, and then get slowly drawn up the face of the wave behind me and the falling lip, and disappear. Lotta slow in there, eh? Even as we were flying like bullets across a substantial wall at Sunset Beach.

The fingertips went on.

And then finally, they stopped and I could stand back up, consider the looming inside section without further distraction, and finish the ride in a more normal fashion, which I did.

Never saw the guy again. Don't know who he was. Have no idea what happened to him. He just disappeared, and I finished my ride alone.

But it was a close thing there, for a little while.

Pretty close thing, all the way around.

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