I saw Gerard Butler on the Daily Show last night. My, my, my he is one fine specimen. He was promoting his surfing movie, “Chasing Mavericks,” and they showed a clip with this giant wave rolled over him – it was thirty feet high and looked like a tsunami. When John Stewart asked him about it he said, “Yeah, it was really scary – I looked up and saw this thing and then it rolled over me, and another one was right behind it. I finally got up to the top for air and here was another one…”
Spoiler alert: He survived but only after someone on a ski doo got to him and hauled him out. The movie’s insurance company said, “You inexplicable idiot. No more. You use a stunt double from here on out!” Butler didn’t say those exact words, but I imagine this is about what the insurance said to him.
The purpose of this blog, however, is to tell about MY experience, which was quite similar to Butler’s except the waves were higher. Or at least they seemed to be. We were in Maui at this “locals only” beach full of surfers and their families, along with the odd pale tourist.
The waves were easily ten feet high, which is no sissy wave, especially when you think of most waves being three or four feet. It’s daunting when one is coming right at you. You see nothing but a wall of water and then, if you don’t have enough sense to dive under it, you get pounded like tough meat in a butcher’s shop.
When you dive under, you feel the wave rolling over the top of you, from your head to your toes, like one of those chairs that massages your back when you get a pedicure. It would be pleasant if it weren’t so utterly frightening.
Once the wave rolls over you, and you come up for air, you open your eyes and see another ten-foot wall of water. It’s right there. If you’re lucky you gulp a breath of air and dive down to the ocean floor and feel the wave rumble over you again. You come back up, thinking that these crazy back-to-back giant waves are just a fluke, and another wall of water is right there, big as life and twice as ugly.
I was hoping to get the hang of it after about twenty of these, but I didn’t. I was worn out and started swimming back toward shore, which was about fifty feet away. When I got out of range of the giant waves crashing on me, I got sucked up by an undertow. It started sweeping me sideways like I was a cork in river rapids. I tried to remember the rules of undertows from my lifeguard days, “Don’t swim against the undertow, swim parallel to shore but consistently try to make your way toward shore in a diagonal fashion.”
As the water continued to drag me sideways and out to sea, I started to panic, which the Lifesaving book said not to do under any circumstances or you’ll drown for sure. There was a lifeguard on the beach looking all official and worthy, and he simply watched me sweep by, apparently thinking I had the situation under control because I didn’t have enough wind to yell for help. Luckily, I turned and saw a head behind me being swept along at my exact rate of speed, and we went racing through the water like this for a good ways, making a parallel and somewhat diagonal course toward shore. Just seeing the other head bobbing along made me feel less anxious, and I was able to relax and really experience how exhausted and close to drowning I was. Then my toe brushed against a rock and I realized I had the possibility of getting dragged over jagged rocks as well.
But (spoiler alert 2) I survived it. It was one of the rare times I’ve been really afraid in the water. I have a whole new respect for waves and the ocean, and for Gerard Butler. I’m going to see the movie just so he and I can commiserate together in my mind.