My tanned feet stood out against the bright red plastic of the channel marker on which I stood. The ocean flooded past like a river. I gripped the bobbing post with one hand while encouraging the Tahitian man who was struggling to paddle the final 20 feet against the current with the other. He was losing ground. I’d barely made it there myself. The sun was setting and I looked back at my dinghy, anchored safely in the channel 300 yards up current. There was no way to get there.
“Tu est pres’que la…” I coaxed him, thinking over the events that had landed me there…
The shaft tube was out, the new one already on the way (thanks to Fin Beven)…so I’d felt I deserved to go wash off a little yard dust. When I’d gotten word from Adrian that an obscure reef was breaking on the other side of the island, I’d packed up the dinghy for the long haul across the lagoon. Despite what seemed to be a lot of windchop, he’d reported overhead, offshore, and only a few guys…
I’d arrived to greet some local French surfers getting out of the water. “Bonjour! How was it?”
“Ahh, the current is too strong and the wind making it hard to get in…” Lillian had said.
I’d waved as they motored away, happily waxing up my board despite their warning. “If those guys can surf it, I’ll be fiiiiiiiiiine.” I’d smiled to myself. “There’s still one local out and Adrian’s probably on his way…”
I’d leapt off the dinghy into the translucent turquoise and paddled for the peak to greet the other surfer. Before I’d arrived a set rose out of the blue. He’d been way too deep, so I paddled hard to make it over to the shoulder. The wind blew hard up the face but as it pitched vertical, I swung around and stroked over the ledge. ‘Overhead’ was an understatement…I kicked out at the bottom of the reef in a surge of adrenaline and headed back out for more.
I’d greeted the older Tahitian surfer before another set arrived, but as I reached him I noticed that the current kicked in strongly where the reef cornered at the top of the pass. We both paddled for the inside as we spoke, but realized that we were fairly quickly being swept up the reef.
Adrian had just made it to the lineup when a set, nearly double the previous, rose up in front of us. I heard the Tahitian man let out a strained yelp as I scraped with all my strength to get under it. All three of us made it through, but the Tahitian man continued to make a guttural fatigued wheezing noise that seriously worried me. “If another wave like that comes…” I’d thought, “He’s in trouble.”
Actually, we were all in trouble. “You stay with him,” Adrian called, “I’ll go for my boat.”
I called to the man to follow me outside the surf line. All I could think was to try to make it to the channel marker in the pass about 100 yards away. It was slightly cross to the current, but worth a try. With my fresh arms, I felt strong and knew I could make it, but I stayed with the Tahitian man, encouraging him as we went. I’d finally made the final 50-foot sprint, but my friend had less strength left in him.
So there I was, standing in the red, the buoy bucking as the current must have been exceeding 3 knots. I could see Adrian still struggling to make it back to his dinghy. Just as the Tahitian man was about to give up, I spotted a fishing boat returning from sea. I waved my brightly painted board frantically in the air in hopes that he’d notice. Just as he’d nearly passed us, his speedy ‘poti marara’ made a jarring turn to port. As he pulled up, I jumped and pointed to my Tahitian friend man who was now 50 yards out to sea…