Mexican Wave Wipeout by Desiree Bilon

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By the time I arrive at the beach, surfboard under my arm, the morning sun has already broken past the horizon. Above the estuary, pink wisps streak the pale sky. The sky above the ocean is light blue, almost white. Down at the far left end of the beach, black vultures circle overhead.

A small group of fishermen dot the shore, the ends of their fishing poles burrowed into the sand. The men sit on upside – down old, white paint buckets.

I wave. “Buenos dias.”

“Buenos dias,” they echo.

As I near the shore, a small bell starts tinkling. The owner of the rod jumps up and yanks it from the golden sand, and cranks the reel.

Glassy shoulder high waves roll in, with no one on them. I set my board down on the sand. Maybe the regular early morning surfers thought it would be too small today, at least that’s what the forecast had predicted.

When I first started surfing ten years ago, my mom made me promise her I wouldn’t go surfing by myself. I never make promises I can’t keep, so I tweaked my promise in my mind to suit my needs. As long as someone could see me, even if they weren’t in the water with me, I could technically go surfing.

I grab the chunk of wax from the pocket of my board shorts and crouch down to rub some onto my board. The wax smells like bubblegum. I secure the ankle leash, pick up my board, and head to the water’s edge. I follow the decline into the water, wading knee-deep. The warm water tries to pull me out deeper but I resist, and drill my feet into the sand. By the time the set finishes, the water laps mid-thigh.

I fling myself onto my board and after a few paddles, I already in the lineup where the waves break. I can’t believe no one is out. I don’t have to out-paddle anyone for waves or wait my turn. I lick my lips and they taste like salt. I catch wave after wave and as I fly along the faces of the bigger ones, the fisherman hoot to cheer me on.

Another wave comes through and I paddle hard, hoping it won’t wall up. I swing my left arm open, look to the lip of the wave and snap off it.

As I surf closer to the beach, the wave jacks up and threatens to close out in front of me. Don’t be such a scaredy-cat. Try to do a lip-line close. I fight the urge to kick-out the back of the wave and instead bend my knees to bring my board up underneath me, keeping my eyes on the lip. Once at the crest of the wave, I angle my board to the beach where I think the curtain of water will come down.

The next thing I know, my board smashes into the inside of my left arm. Time stops and I am suspended ten feet in mid-air. When time and gravity resume, I free fall plummeting deep underwater.

When I finally surface, I can barely move my arm. A wetsuit top might have offered some protection but the water is still too warm for that. A thin red line slices across the inside my bicep. Heat radiates outwards. No blood. I clasp my leash in my right hand and tow my board over to me. Each tug on the leash brings more dread. The left fin is missing and so is part of the fin box. Shit!

With my right hand, I clamber onto my board without an ounce of grace. I aim the nose at the beach and the next wave blasts me forward. I ride in on my tummy, like I would in a contest. The wave spits me onto the sand, partway up the incline, but I manage to drop my feet and scoop up my board under my right arm.
I sulk up the incline and over to my flip-flops and t-shirt which I pick up with the index and middle finger of my right hand.

I think of a photo that my brother, Brett took of me in 2008, in Baja California during one of the biggest swell in recent years. He snapped the picture as I was exiting the water after nearly drowning, head low, eyes glazed over. He captured defeat.

When I get to the street I let the flip-flops fall to the cement. I can’t get my shirt on with my arm the way it is, so I just carry it home draped over my shoulder. I would never walk through town with just a bikini top, even if it is only three and a half blocks.

I’m getting too old for this—I’m 35—but then I change my mind. This is the best I have surfed in five years, since Baja. I hold my head high as I walk home in the morning sunshine.

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