I turned 41 on June 13th and, as any full grown man who refuses to grow up would do, I insisted that I must go fishing on my birthday—I’m pretty sure I’ve pulled that card every year since I was 7. My wife tolerates this, I’m not sure if I should feel lucky or ashamed. But after an amazing dinner and some killer coconut cream pie, I declared that I would be catching a 10:30 tide that night which raised not a single eyebrow—because I say something like that pretty much five nights a week. Still, I believed it to be special because it was my birthday. (It’s my party and I’ll believe what I want to.)
As the rest of the family slid into bed, I slipped into my wetsuit and hopped in the truck. I chose a rocky point, the conditions were perfect; I had landed a 33-pounder there just a few nights prior, so maybe I could beach a 41 on my 41st birthday? The surf was up but not crazy. I stepped into the water and started fishing my favorite lane on the point. It’s not the most hospitable lane but it’s the one where I’ve done the most damage.
The casting area is back a little from the few ‘stander’ rocks on the point, but it offers the best access to the lip, it’s one of those places where there’s a defined ridge that mirrors the shoreline. And, as past trips dictated, fish were there, but they were small.
As I was standing there getting rocked by the occasional large wave, I started to long for the comfort of a ‘high and dry’ rock. So, I waited for a lull and made my way out to the only flat rock in the area. A few sizeable waves passed while I was on the rock, but I was able to ‘linebacker’ through them. Then I saw a big dark curtain hump up as it crossed the big boulder at the end of my cast. I watched as the darkness deepened and the wave towered. I said out loud, “Oh boy, this one could be trouble.”
I leaned into the wall of water as it hit at about neck-high. The impact was audible, even over the rush of the wave, like a neoprene-wrapped belly flop. It stood me up and I staggered where I had no room to stagger. I felt my weight shift backwards and my free arm began swinging wildly trying to regain my center of gravity.
It’s amazing how you can make adjustments in a blink. I decided in that split second that I didn’t want to fight the momentum and fall, instead I elected to jump. Off I went into the neck-deep water roiled and white. I felt the magnetic currents of the next wave pulling me seaward and then I saw it, another mountain. I jumped with everything I had and rode over the wave, beard still dry, and landed 20 feet from where I started. Then the magnet was back and another mountain loomed, this one punished me. I tried to jump but my foot slipped and it pounded me under. As I rode out the surge, all I could think about was standing up. I scrambled to my feet and turned toward the ocean. The next wave was almost upon me; I jumped and rode this one out perfectly. It set me down softly right against another large boulder—a gentle reminder of how lucky I was that this boulder wasn’t 20 feet further out!
I had been pushed back close to 100 feet! I walked until I hit dry rocks and laughed. There would be no birthday 40-pounder. But I felt more alive than I had in a while. Some would think of this as terrifying, but for me it was exhilarating. The ocean gives me many things—joy, feelings of nostalgia, insane adrenalin rushes, but also gives me humility and shows me, on the regular, that it’s not afraid to kick my butt once in a while, just to keep my head in check.