The ocean was glassy and inviting as I leapt onto my 14 foot flat water racing SUP with glee.
“To the lighthouse,” they said. “And back.”
“It’s not that far,” I said to the husband, as we peered out across False Bay from Fish Hoek beach. “It’s like to the bridge and back at Kromme.”
Right. Except Kromme is an estuary and not the actual territory of Davy Jones. But never mind. The water was glassy and inviting and I couldn’t think of a better way to spend a Saturday morning. (As it turned out, however, I hadn’t really stretched my imagination.)
Tatum, Lizanie, Missy Photo: Xpression On The Beach
I had a plan to stay with all the other social ladies but by the time the chop had settled, it was me, the husband, and my fit and talented fellow XOTB wahine, Lizanie, in a little pack. We paddled along with gusto. The surface remained glassy but the lighthouse, oddly distant. Soon the professional and more proficient competitors also became distant and it occurred to me that I had underestimated the task. But I put my head down, focused on the RipCurl sticker on the back of Lizanie’s board and carried on, one stroke at a time.
We were barely out of the bay when I heard the husband whistling at a paddler just ahead of us.
Then I saw it. Between us and him. It broke the glassy surface, silver and triangular. And then it went down again.
I may have said something I shouldn’t have.
The fin resurfaced. But it was a little floppy. Logic told me it was a sunfish. But when you are in the middle of False Bay on a precarious vessel, you can never be too careful. Or serene.
“Don’t leave me,” I yelled, throwing all dignity to the elements, as the fin went under again. I paddled like a banshee with a broom to catch up with the husband and Lizanie. The water was eerie and the kelp seemed to be pointing its fingers at me.
“Stick together,” said Lizanie, a veteran of downwind runs. “Stay close.” She doesn’t like being left alone in the open ocean either.
The NSRI (bless them) had a rubber duck and were buzzing between us and the pros. I reckoned if a rubber duck got to Mick Fanning in time, they could surely get to me.
We paddled side by side until we could no longer see the sunfish. The adrenaline rush had carried us a bit closer to the lighthouse, but it still seemed like a pot of gold at the end of Neptune’s rainbow. I was expecting to be passed by some pros on their way back to Fish Hoek, but not even they had reached the holy grail.
It was about then that I noticed the strange dark blue line on the horizon. It stretched right across the glassy grey arena.
What could that be? Not weather surely? Windguru had predicted a little breeze.
“It will help you on the way back,” they had said, “If the wind comes up a bit.”
Well. Let me just warn you that what is not strong on land is a different kettle of sunfish fins in the middle of False Bay.
The blue line advanced on us like an army of unforgiving medieval knights. It was a stiff Southerly breeze that whipped the glass off the surface and replaced it with chop and just enough swell to render my flat water racing board a cumbersome log. I found out the hard way that, while it flies on the vlei, it flounders in ocean chop. No. Not quite. It cut through the waves pretty well into the wind. But if I mistimed it, the board fell into the troughs with a resounding shudder.
Have sups ever broken in half? I wondered how long it would take for the sharks to come while I clung to the wreckage. Eventually, after feeling like a character in Conrad’s Typhoon, I was brought to my knees, partly to stabilize the board and partly to give my shoulder (which felt like it was going to explode) a rest. Lizanie and the husband toiled on, standing up.
“Are you guys going all the way to the lighthouse?” said Lizanie.
I did an executive skills test the other day. While time management, task initiation and organization are (and always have been) my weak points, goal driven persistence is my greatest strength. Like a dawg with a bone.
“I’m not giving up now,” I said before the question mark was even in the air. I was close enough to see details of the metal structures on the lighthouse.
By this time the pro’s and experienced paddlers were around and were taking a wide line back to Fish Hoek. I saw an explosion of whitewater behind the lighthouse. The set waves were breaking on the reef, sending huge sprays of white water heavenward. If it was possible for my mouth to get drier, it did.
“I’m not going behind there,” said Lizanie.
I had to stand up again because my knee ligaments were now on the edge of despair. I thought of Chris Bertish and the Sup Crossing. I would most certainly have died on day one, just off Morocco, not of any actual causes, just of fear, the great blue beyond and general mental implosion.
We asked the support boat if we could turn in front of the lighthouse instead of risking getting caught by breaking waves. By this time the paddlers behind us had been rescued or had turned back because of injury. We were the end of the line.
“It’s big out there,” they said.
“Let’s turn in front now,” said Lizanie. “It’s a safety call, they won’t disqualify us.” And they didn’t.
The husband had gallantly stayed by my side, staving off pseudo-sharks and pulling us in his slip. Alongside him was a tenacious man who was paddling prone, like a surfer. When we turned, however, the husband sniffed a chance to unleash his CrossFitness and his sea-doggedness and churned off behind the lighthouse.
“You’re home free,”he said. “You’ll coast back with the wind.”
If only I knew what I was doing or was on a downwind board.
Fish Hoek beach remained an alarming long way away. And that southerly wind kept sending me to Glencairn so I basically paddled the entire way on one side, to keep from being dashed upon the rocks and to hold the line into the bay at Fish Hoek.
The NSRI boat approached AGAIN as we neared the bay.
“You okay?” they inquired. I don’t think the NSRI has ever, in the history of anything unseaworthy, encountered such a desperate and dodgy paddling spectacle as was before their eyes at that moment. I’m surprised they didn’t just throw a life ring around me like a straight jacket, haul me in and be done with it.
Their radio blasted on the boat, its message carrying loud and clear over the water.
“We are looking for FOUR paddlers still. Four paddlers.”
Errr. That would be us. And the husband. And the prone fellow.
It’s then that I noticed the NSRI wear red wetsuits. Kind of like reverse Superman suits. All they need is a blue speedo over the top and they will look like the superheroes they are.
My executive skill, that insistence on persistence, prevailed. We waved off the rescuers and Lizanie sped over the bumps on her downwind machine, trying to coach me on how to catch the swells, but all I did was bob and stutter on my flat water racer to the tune of my shoulder’s silent screams.
By the time we finally reached the beach two hours and fifteen minutes later, I’d had time to process these salient thoughts:
- The ocean is like wonderland. Nothing is quite as it seems.
- I am a poor judge of distance.
- I could have been better prepared. (board/water/fitness/flare)
- Two’s company but three is certainly not a crowd in sharky waters.
- The NSRI are superheroes.
- The Chris Bertish SUP crossing thing is amazing, if not miraculous.
- And the most surprising thing: I’m stronger than I thought, physically and mentally.
It is however, safe to say that next year I will probably do the short course. #KnowThyLane