Respect The Water

The young scanned the pool frantically and couldn’t see her toddler anywhere, until she heard the other adults gasp and point up to the high dive. Her son crawled up the ladder, out on the board, and jumped off. He sank directly to the bottom of the deep end. Using superhuman mom power, she beat the guards to him and pulled him to the surface quickly as he coughed up water.

The wood of the dock was rough under the little boy’s feet as he looked down at his bony legs. He felt like he was going to throw up. Somehow, he was cold and hot at the same time. Loose clothes draped on his scrawny body. Being 9 at summer camp is scary enough without having to swim in a “clothes relay race” and be the smallest kid out there.

It was almost a relief when the larger boy splashed up to tag the dock and he finally got to jump in the cold water and start stroking towards the other dock. He had been on a swim team and was a good swimmer, so the first few strokes felt good. But then the clothing started dragging him down and he panicked. He choked on water and went from powering forward to barely maintaining his head above water. Midway between the docks, with all the big kids watching, he started going under.

Suddenly, the strong arm of a teenage councilor grabbed him across the chest firmly. As she stroked both of them to the safety of the dock, she told him he’d be ok, and it could happen to anyone. The only thing more powerful than the shame he felt crawling up on the dock was the relief and gratitude to be alive. He vowed never to let anything like this happen again, but that’s not the way it worked out.

12 years later, a surfer at Oceanside Beach, California was surfing big, meaty, storm swell. It was around 12 feet and he’d caught a number of amazing rides. Paddling back out after an especially good one, he saw the horizon disappear as a monster set approached. Everyone in the lineup scratched for the outside or powered towards shore. He joined the few headed out. He felt those butterflies from long ago as he realized he wouldn’t make it. He tossed his board and dove deep, grabbing the bottom. He made it through and resurfaced with relief, feeling his lungs would burst. But all he saw was the shadow of the next mountain, which looked even bigger. 6 or 7 waves later he somehow crawled back to the surface a final time. He floated on his back for a long time before being able to swim back and crawl up on the beach, vomiting seawater.

I still remember those events like yesterday. The words of my friend and mentor, Ducky Prendergast shortly before he moved on resound in my head.

“Son, you got to respect the water”.