The buzz around the traps was that the first of the winter storm surf was coming through. It was helluva big, and the lines were totally awesome. Kyle said that if the lines were clean, it'd be OK for me to surf, but if it was a storm chop, then I'd be relegated to the beach. "Trust me, Wingnut, when it's like that, you can't make out where the waves are gonna peak and chances are, if you're not quick enough, it's gonna break on your head! Besides, your mom would kill me if I let you get hurt."
Well, even with the storm, the local beach still wasn't working, so Steve, Kyle and I hitched a ride to Long Beach one afternoon after school. I couldn't believe the size of the waves when we arrived. They were fucking huge! There were quite a few guys out already 'cause it was a clean break with a left and right, and a channel through the center [a rip] which the guys used to paddle out. One of the first things I noticed was how many of the grommets were sitting on the beach, just watching the bigger guys, and oohing and aahing.
"Hey, Wingnut," Kyle said as the three of us stood on the sand sussing out the conditions, "you sure you wanna come out with us?"
"Not really." Hell, I was scared shitless, but I didn't wanna make it obvious.
"You don't need to if you don't wanna."
"If I don't come out with you guys now, I might never do it."
"I don't think it's such a good idea," Steve warned, "you've never surfed in anything this big before."
"Always a first time. Anyway, I've come all this way to Long Beach. Can't turn back now."
As we paddled out, I stuck to the guys like shit to a blanket. There was no fucking way in the wide world that I would've been out there on my own. It was totally scary. At one stage, on the way out, we had to paddle for all we were worth to get over a huge swell before it broke -- otherwise, we would've been flung around like socks in a washing machine.
After we'd reached the backline, we sat on our boards and watched a few of the other guys take off. Whoa! I'd never seen anything like it before, except on videos. Then Steve spotted a peak and paddled for it with about four other dudes, but he put himself at the breakpoint. I was fucking petrified that Kyle would've gone for the ride as well, but he didn't. He stayed with me. He didn't say anything, but I figured he was worried about leaving me alone out there.
Once Steve had rejoined us, Kyle paddled for the next wave. I watched him stand, then push down on his board. For a tense moment, it looked as though he was gonna bury the nose of his stick and get trashed big time, but he managed to get up and soar across the face. Whoa! It was a fucking fast ride! The peak was racing over his head, but it seemed that he couldn't position himself for the tube -- the green room. Anyway, the wave was so fucking big, I guessed that Kyle was happy just to be on the damn thing without doing anything too fancy.
Well, I thought to myself, it's now or never. At least the guys would say nice things about me at my funeral. I didn't wait for Kyle to paddle all the way back to me -- I spotted a wave and decided to go for it. But I wasn't the only one. When I saw a bunch of older guys paddling for the same wave, I thought I'd better leave it to them. But it was too late. I'd already commited myself to the line, so I had two choices: ride it or get the fuck outa there. I turned my board and tried to paddle over the crest but the fucking wave was already breaking over my head. The next thing I knew, my board and I had been separated and I was being flung around like a rag doll in tons of swirling, angry water. It seemed to be happening for a fucking age, and I began to panic. I needed to breathe real bad, but there was no way I could get my head above water. I was so disoriented, didn't even know where the fucking surface was! Then, suddenly, daylight! And air! Jesus, that was good! I scrambled for my board and laid on top of it, exhausted.
"Move your fucking ass outa there!" I recognized Kyle's voice but didn't understand what he'd meant. Outa where? I was on my board above water. That's all that mattered.
I caught sight of Kyle paddling like crazy toward me. He must've seen that I was crying, but I was too fucking distressed to care about pride or being macho. Then I felt the powerful lift. Another huge wall of water picked me up and threw me into the boiling sea. I managed to hang on to the tail of my stick, but I was still thrown ass over tit by the awesome power of the breaking wave.
Kyle eventually reached me, and helped me to clamber back onto my board. Then we caught the whitewater back to the beach where we dumped our sticks and sat on the sand.
"I couldn't breathe. I thought I was gonna drown."
"I know. Been there."
Kyle was silent for a minute or two while I tried to get my act together. I was sniffling like a little kid, and felt totally uncool -- and there was no way that I was gonna go anywhere near the beach showers where all the other dudes were sitting and watching. They would've thought that I was some kinda grommet wuss.
"What made you go for that wave?"
"I just thought that the three of us were taking turns."
"Yeah, well you fucked up. Do you wanna come out again with me? I think you need to come out with me."
"'Cause if you don't, you might never do it again."
I didn't know why I stood, put my stick under my arm and followed Kyle to the surf. Ninety percent of me was telling me to stop, and turn back. But I paddled with him out to the back line where Steve wanted to know what had happened. I could tell by the way he was nodding his head that he sympathized with my experience -- he'd obviously been there, too.
Anyway, I sat there on my board waiting for some kinda signal from Kyle. I didn't wanna make any more decisions -- I was way outa my depth in this situation where a mistake could cost me my life. And if it hadn't been for Kyle, maybe I'd have been a lifeless body washed up on a beach somewhere.
"Here comes one now, Wingnut! Go for it! And remember, once you start paddling, you're committed!"
Well, I kinda went into auto mode -- I dared not to think about what I was doing in case fear overtook me. Pretty soon, though, I was standing on my board, screaming across the face of the curling wave. It was only a straight line, with a kickout at the end, but I made it. Woohoo! Actually, I played it safe by riding well ahead of the break where it was peaking at about six feet. But that was enough. I'd redeemed myself by riding a pretty big wave, and I wasn't prepared to take any more risks, so I headed for the safety of the shore.
I was pretty stoked about that last ride, and I guess I kinda felt better about it as I sat on the sand and watched Kyle and Steve get trashed several times in the huge surf. They proved that it wasn't easy out there, especially for an inexperienced dude like me. Despite that, I was pretty quiet during the ride home. We'd managed to get a lift with a guy driving a pickup and, yeah, we were all in the open back where it was fucking freezing. It didn't seem to bother Steve and Kyle, though. They were raving about the waves and the rides which made me feel as if I'd kinda let them down. I'd so much wanted to be like them, but I guessed that I had a long way to go. Being twelve sucked serious butt, sometimes. And on top of that, Kyle had seen me crying like a baby when I thought I was gonna drown.
It was after dinner when Kyle arrived unexpectedly. He'd never seen my room before, so it was cool to watch him examining all the posters from surfing mags he'd given me, and which were plastered all over my walls. There was a pair of boxers laying on the floor but, hey, this was a guy's room. And guys were naturally untidy. Kyle stopped at a school certificate which was hanging on the wall. He read the inscription: "For Being a Caring Person".
"So what's that for?"
"When I was a little Wingnut, the guy in the seat next to me in class started to feel sick. So I grabbed him and helped him to the bathroom. But before we got outa the classroom, my friend started to puke, so I held my hands under his mouth to catch his puke so it didn't mess up the floor. Then I helped him to the bathroom, and helped him to clean up afterwards."
"That is so damn awesome."
"Not really. Anybody would have helped him."
"Yeah, but you did, and you're not just anybody."
"Well, I wanted to tell you that you were pretty awesome this afternoon. It took a lotta damn guts to go out in that surf again after being trashed like you were."
"Yep, and I just wanted to tell you that. All those other guys sitting on the beach and watching must have thought the sun was shining outa your buns when you went back out -- especially when you caught that wave."
"I wouldn't have done it on my own -- not if you and Steve weren't there. And I don't want my folks to know what happened. OK?"
"Hey, one day you'll tell them all about it, when you decide to. It'll be one of your surf adventures -- like my dad was talking about the other night. Anyway, I've gotta jet. I just wanted to tell you that I think you're pretty damn special."
"Before you go, can I ask you a question?"
"I watched you and Steve out there being brave -- but I was too scared to go out there again. So how come I've got guts?"
Kyle smiled and roughed up my hair. "Hey, buddy, Steve and I were doing what we wanted to do. That's not brave. Being brave is doing what you're afraid to do, and that's what you did."
Well, I felt totally wicked after hearing that, and I just couldn't wipe the smile off my face as I slipped under the covers and laid my head on the pillow. My thoughts wandered back to when I was being tossed around by the violence of the surf, and being unable to breathe -- suspended in an agitated mass of water where there was no up or down, and where life could be extinguished as easily as a match. But, now, I was here in my bed, safe and sound. I'd survived. Then I thought about riding that big wave. OK, so I wasn't styling -- I was just riding a straight line. But it was wicked, and it was probably the biggest wave I'd ever ridden. The most important thing of all, though, was that I hadn't lost the respect of my buds -- they still thought I was cool. Yeah, it was a helluva day, and one I'd never forget.
Just before I went to sleep, I saw Kyle's face in my mind. His expression was grim -- grimmer than I'd ever seen -- as he paddled frantically toward me after I'd surfaced coughing and spluttering the first time. He must've known that I was gonna be trashed again by the next wave -- that was obviously what he'd tried to warn me about but, at the time, I didn't understand. I saw his face for just a few seconds during those frightening moments, but the look on his face would be etched into my brain forever. There was only one thing on his mind -- me. I reached for the bedlamp switch, then paused for a second to look at my "Caring Person" award. Maybe I could make one for Kyle.
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