Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Out of Commission

Well that last surf I posted about a couple of weeks ago is still here beating up on me. I'm visiting the orthopedic surgeon to get my shoulder looked at. Thank you very much Spring swell of 2005 (or was it 04?). Pull up a chair, pour yourself a cup of coffee and read the story of a very less-than-intelligent moment in my life...

I remember what it was like standing on the beach that morning. It was April, and the first BIG South swell of the season was sending 10-14' faces crashing onto the shore all over Southern California. You know it was big, because it was perfect and there was nobody out. Nobody, Newport Beach, big waves, nobody out. That is nobody but me, the extremely stupid 24 year old who was desperate to get in the water after 3 count-em 3 months of 80+ hour weeks at work with just a couple days of snowboarding thrown in the mix. Needless to say I was not in paddling condition for a head-high day, much less 2x overhead.

Another fun part of the story that will undoubtedly make the more experienced surfers reading this write me off as a kook for good; I was riding an old school 7' pin-tail Harbour single fin. Now when I think of that what comes to mind is Gerry Lopez riding Pipe, or Padang leashless and carefree. If that's the image you get, think of said wave-slaying weapon in these terms. How do you paddle out in double-overhead waves when your board has so much volume you can't duckdive, and there's no channel to paddle out it? I know the answer to that... you can't. Well you can, but you're gonna take a beating, a really really bad beating, which is precisely what I did.

After being out of the water for so long I couldn't say no. I was there, the ocean was there, I had to at least paddle out. I waited for a lull in the sets and made a mad dash for the outside. Did I mention I wasn't in paddling shape? When the sets are 10'+ the waves in between sets are still more than enough to make forward progress next to impossible when in my current state of conditioning. Needless to say, I did not make it out before the next set so I went through about 30 minutes of ditch the board, get hammered, come up, get back on the board, paddle, repeat. Over and over I got pummelled all the while slowly churning forward towards the relative safety outside the main breaks.

Finally I made it. I was outside. Gasping for air and slightly disbelieving that I actually made it. The shore was probably 200 yards in, which if you know Newport, it really doesn't break that far out from the beach so that really is telling of how big it was that day.

I look back out the the sea, and I see a set lining up. Still filled with the sense of pride at being able to even get out in these conditions, I slowly start paddling out a bit farther. As the wave gets close, I realize with the fear born of getting the snot beaten out off me for almost an hour and limp noodle arms that just can't go any more... I'm not out, I'm close, but not out. I desperately (and feebly) scratch for the horizon and realize that I am not going to make it. I ditch the board and dive for the bottom. To late. As I'm diving the wave curls and the lip comes down full-force on my right shoulder. The only thing I can hear is a loud POP and then the mumbled rushing sound as I am swirled around like a rag doll underwater. Remember that I was 200 yards out from shore? Not sure how deep it is that far out but I hit bottom like it was 3 feet deep. Pain. Every time the wave churns me in what I'm sure would resemble an epileptic cartwheel I have shooting pain in my shoulder that when the doctors asked me later I put at a 9 on a 1-10 scale. Over and over I'm tossed. Finally I come up through the whitewater and get a breath of air. I can't use my right arm, so I grab my leash with my let and pull the board over so I can get on. I slide on letting my arm hang limp off the side. Luckily the wave has pushed me halfway to shore so the whitewater from the next wave pushes me all the way in. I ride it in like a patient on a stretcher. Relieved that I don't have to paddle, and terrified at whatever horrible damage I've done to my shoulder.

Walking up to my car I throw the board down in the grass (carefully, its actually on semi-permanent loan from a friend since my other 2 boards had been stolen). Its takes me a full half-hour to get out of my wetsuit because of my shoulder.

It takes me a while to get to the doctor, a couple of days (I hate going to the doctor) my shoulder doesn't get any better so I finally gave up and went in though. It turned out to be a severe sprain what really seemed anti-climactic after all I went through. I was out of the water and in physical therapy for 6 months. My shoulder, while temperamental, hasn't given me any real issues until now. My last surf, in some way tweaked my shoulder again. It wasn't big, I didn't have to push my self. I really don't remember anything that would have caused any damage, but I can't pick up Levi with my right arm for the last 3 weeks, so something needs to be fix. I hear shoulder injuries are degenerative in that they really don't get "better" so I'm not taking any chances this time. I only have one right shoulder, and it comes in handy, so hopefully I'll get some good news at my appointment coming up.

At least I got s few things from this whole experience. I learned that I have limits, and it is dangerous to push them if I'm unprepared (ie: not in paddling condition). I learned that in Southern California where the biggest and best swells are packed with people, you don't go out if nobody else goes out because its so big. I also learned to have the right equipment for the conditions. What I'm most glad about this situation though, is I now have a great battle story to share with Levi that could actually impart some solid wisdom.

Now I just hope I can get this shoulder fixed.


Steve Bohrer March 28, 2009 at 5:28 PM  

Quite a story. I hope the shoulder gets better soon. After nursing a broken thumb for 5 months I finally went in and got x-rays and a cast. Sometimes you just have to break down and get professional help. Good luck.

Danny March 31, 2009 at 1:48 PM  

Oh for the good days when I was indestructible! MRI this week, I'm just hoping whatever it is its fixable.