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Surfin’ R.I.P.

Surfin’ R.I.P.

Huntsville, Alabama

When I was in college, I had the opportunity to take a class on the Korean War. Not only did I learn a lot about an interesting part of American and world history, my school also paid for a trip to Korea as well as visits to actual battlefield sites. As a bonus, on our return trip home, we stopped in Hawaii to study the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor. We also took time to visit some of Hawaii’s world-famous beaches. I thought this would be my opportunity to finally surf some big waves.

We started our day by going to a local shop and renting a few surf and boogie boards. We asked the clerk where the best places to surf were and he told us of a beach where we were sure to catch some good waves. I was eager to try riding the boogie board just as I did when I was younger during family vacations to the Gulf of Mexico, so we immediately headed for the beach.

When we arrived, we grabbed our equipment and carefully made our way down a rocky slope to the beach. It was an amazing sight to see the waves crashing 200 meters out in the ocean. I am a strong swimmer, so with all the confidence in the world, I entered the water with my boogie board in tow.

As I swam out on my board, my first impression of the Pacific Ocean was that it was much different than the Gulf of Mexico. I could feel the current tugging at my arms and legs as the waves crashed over me. It took a while, but I finally made it past the breaking waves and out to where a number of boogie boarders were bobbing up and down with the swells. Little did I know that just 10 minutes later I’d be fighting for my life.

I waited for the biggest wave — one that would propel me across the water like a rocket. Unfortunately, I found what I was looking for. As I went over the top of a large wave, I was not able to progress down the face. Instead, I was carried over the top of the wave and driven into the ocean floor.

I remember being dragged across the bottom. For some reason, my fish-like swimming skills weren’t strong enough to get me back to the surface. After what felt like an eternity, I kicked my way to the surface and struggled to shore. My friends were cheering me on, excitedly telling me how I had almost made it. What they didn’t realize, however, was just how close I came to not making it.

Ocean activities can be dangerous. According to Maui County’s ocean safety guide, swimmers, surfers and bodyboarders should:

  • Know your limits. If you get tired while swimming in the ocean, you run the risk of drowning.
  • Ocean conditions can change in an instant. If one is available, consult a lifeguard about ocean conditions.
  • Heed all posted warning signs. They are there for your protection and safety.
  • Wave heights can increase very quickly. If you find yourself faced with a large wave, do a "duck dive" underneath the wave and come up behind it, then swim to shore between wave sets. Make sure to check for rocks before you dive.

I learned a lesson that day about having overconfidence in one’s abilities. Since then, I’ve carried that lesson with me in everything I do. If you find yourself bobbing in the swells this summer, know your limits. No wave is worth your life.



According to the Hawaii Drowning and Aquatic Injury Prevention Advisory Committee, from 2009-2017, there were nearly 700 fatal ocean drownings in the state, with the majority of victims being visitors. In fact, visitors were 10 times more likely to drown than Hawaii residents. The two water activities with the most deaths were snorkeling and swimming. Bodyboarding and surfing were among the water-related activities responsible for the majority of Hawaii’s spinal cord injuries. More than 80 percent of those injuries were to non-Hawaii residents. For more information about water safety in Hawaii, visit https://hioceansafety.com.


  • 16 August 2020
  • Author: USACRC Editor
  • Number of views: 680
  • Comments: 0