After dreaming and planning and obsessing for two months, the day finally came...a gloomy Labor Day. The clouds may have been dark, but i could not have been more anxious to get started.
Chad and i met at Shelter Island early, before light, and contemplated aborting mission because of the wind. We had envisioned a sunny day filled with summertime pleasantries and paddling in rough seas was not really on the menu. The cold sea air and dull overcast sky definitely was the major player in our defeatist psyche. We discussed alternative plans, but i rallied, "If we do anything less then i'm going to feel like a pussy. Lets just paddle." Now that i had put our manhood at stake with this last statement, we abruptly decided to stick to the plan no matter how crazy it seemed. Little did i know that this little excursion would push me to the brink of insanity and i would need to push past my threshold wiping away tears of absolute depletion. More on that later...
Getting everything ready was tedious and when it finally came time all i wanted to do was jump in the water so i wheeled to end of the dock and hurled myself into the chilly sea. The water tasted like gasoline.
Our journey began and we made our way through the lines of neatly parked boats out into the bay...the water transitioning from smooth and calm in the marina to slightly rough and choppy in the open. We passed the police station, the Navy submarine base and the Coast Guard. We rounded a small point and there is was: The Tip of Point Loma.
i stopped paddling and let myself drift while the overhanging cliffs stared back at me. i don't know if it was the actual beauty of the place or all the emotion and nostalgia i hold for it...warm memories built up over years and years...but i just could not seem to grasp its magnitude. Too much emotion to wrap my head around. We had over 15 more miles to go so we continued along without stopping for more than a few breaths to take in the view and a few photos to document the occasion.
Rounding the point meant paddling over a few waves and i did not have my sea legs yet. It had been a while since i had been on my board and the first wave that hit me toppled me over. Whoops! The new experimental chest strap i had fashioned to improve stroke efficiency was not easily releasable and i was stuck upside-down underwater. This was a minor detail i had managed to overlook and now was threatening my life. Naturally, i started to freak out stressing every muscle to pull my body through the tightened straps, but quickly calmed myself down when i realized that i had to loosen the straps underwater or die. i took a deep mental breath, ran my hands along the strap till i found the D-ring, and fed the nylon through it until my captor was loose enough so that i could pull myself out.
After flipping my board back over, pulling myself on and getting situated i decided to leave the chest strap undone for the remainder of our journey. i know chad would have saved me, but being stuck underwater is understandably unsettling and the event switched my energy from awe struck to nervous. i was now cold, tired and crestfallen. We had a long ways to go and i didn't want to be freezing the entire way so passed on the opportunity to catch a few waves at the various breaks along the way for fear of ending up in the water again. It had been a long time and i just didn't feel confident in my abilities, especially after such a small wave had almost sent me to my doom.
i gradually warmed up as we paddled north. Chad caught waves here and there along the way. Deciphering which breaks were which proved to be a captivating puzzle of sifting through memories and landmarks and during it all...with the sun breaking slightly through...my morale slowly returned. i caught a wave and another and then we were there.
Our destination: the place where we had met...Chad and i...and i'm just realizing it now as i write. It was a sunny 1994 September afternoon when he paddled out to the very surf spot where we at this moment had just paddled nine miles to get to. Our friend Jeff introduced us there in the water and that was it...the moment that spawned the domino affect bringing us to this day...this moment...this place where we spent countless hours playing with the ocean in our youth.
i caught a couple waves and it was time to finish the sencond half of our journey. This was our destination and only halfway. We still had to paddle the nine miles back and i was already exhausted.
The return trip seemed quick and we were back at the point easily, but it was the last mile rounding the point that proved to be the most trying portion of the day. There, at the point, currents merge, winds shift and the kelp sits thick on the surface during low tide. Well it was low tide and the paddling was arduous to say the least. i was in so much pain and so excruciatingly tired that i cried. My body was literally in shambles, so depleted that it was unable to maintain a balanced emotional state. Equals a moment of insanity. Thats when you know you are passed your threshold. That last mile before rounding the tip back into the bay took an hour and i wanted to quit, but what could i do? We were out in the ocean and had to keep going. i gritted my teeth, literally inching along as my paddle weakly tapped the surface of the water, feeble stroke after feeble stroke with the little strength i could muster.
i could not believe how long it took to paddle that mile, but slowly the bay came into view and the moment finally arrived where i altered my course from south to east into the bay. instantly everything changed. i caught a wave around the point into calmer water out of the entangling kelp. the swell now pushed us along...a helpful nudge from mother nature arriving from tens of thousands of miles away. We passed the Coast Guard, the Navy submarine base and the police station back into the still waters of the marina. i got lost a few times unsure of which pathway to take through the maze of neatly parked boats and finally ended up where it had all began almost seven hours earlier. When i dove into the chilly gasoline tasting water, completely unaware of the pain i was about to put us through. Chad said it was the most difficult thing he had ever done. Now imagine lying in a hospital bed for two months and that being your first activity upon returning to "normal" life. I was spent and did nothing for almost a week after, but i did it. i had a idea in my head and fought it to fruition. The sense of accomplishment earned and just being there...living the adventure...was worth everything.
Thank you, Chad.