Surfing turns out to be one of the safer ways to get thrills

The surf’s been good, but I haven’t been on it. Blame it on a go-kart injury — I was showing off, trying to pass my wife, and hit the wall. Ouch! Water never does that to you, not unless you are over reef, as good surfer and even better painter Wade Koniakowski recently discovered at Terra Mar, of all places. Ugly bruise. TMI.
Surfing is high on the fear factor scale, and fairly low in the injury department.
Where a wipeout on a surfboard usually means nothing more than having to take your place at the end of the line, with the apologetic kooks, an equally hard landing on a skateboard can lay you up for months. Early skateboarding was especially hazardous — rolling down the golf course hill on metal wheels hammered to a two-by-four broke nothing but my watch. Mental replay reveals how blessed I was that the crack was not in my skull.
As those who surf with me realize, I am pretty cautious in the water. Even when not, hitting the usually softly padded North County reefs is a trampoline compared to some other spots. Decades ago I was surfing one of those spots with a reef covered in finger coral, with spikes poking out the water at low tide.
A friend and I were alone in a clear blue, warm water island paradise, trading double overhead waves in the sunset. While there, we managed to tuck into a few hollow sections. It seemed, however, the best part of the wave was breaking about 20 yards outside of us.
Paddling back a few feet at a time, we began to discover that this place had amazing power, throwing top to bottom. We moved back farther into the pit, taking off late and barely squeaking past some hissing sections. Adrenaline was overcoming good sense, when a set wave loomed outside.
I recall that encounter like a pleasant dream — without a care in the world, the wave rising just beyond me. The takeoff was steep and I was in late, down, over the ledge, on tiptoes, falling out of the sky, ready to reconnect with the bottom. Then, looking down, I noticed the bone white fingers of the coral, a few feet beneath me. The bottom fell out of the wave and I too fell, in slow motion, seeing every ripple on that wave’s face, looking for a soft place to land. There was none.
I think I closed my eyes at that moment, and recall hitting the water, not hard and with good penetration. The impact was fierce but brief, and I came up quickly, standing on a coral head, with only minor cuts on my feet and hands. The coral broke beneath me as I jumped from it, into a path of deeper water. Cords were a few years from being invented, so my board and I were far apart. After picking up a few more minor cuts, I found my board, floating quietly in a lagoon that I had been warned to avoid because of the numerous lionfish and other deadly creatures living there. I swam carelessly to my board, then noticed several small puncture wounds from the coral and a few spikes sticking out from the glass. That could have been me, I thought, worry nearly ruining that precious moment before the pretty sirens of perfect surf again tempted me to paddle back out.


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