Updated: Aug 9, 2022
The pic above was not from the day this story took place. I want to start by saying this isn’t exactly a story I am proud of and resulted in some major attitude changes on my part.
When I talk about near death experiences most people assume that it must have to do with sharks and honestly I feel safer in the water with sharks than in many other situations. This story happened because of my overconfidence. Since I grew up as a swimmer I could never really picture myself drowning. I had confidence in my swimming ability but also in my breath hold after all my free dive training. Let me tell you this experience knocked me down about a million pegs.
If you’ve been to the North Shore of Oahu or follow any of the major wave photography accounts on social media you’ve definitely seen images of the famous shore break. It was the first major swell of the winter season, maybe 15ft Hawaiian aka 30ft, and I went with a friend to go check out the shore break. We both have a love for swimming and playing around in the waves so we thought it would be fun to go see what it looked like so big.
When we first arrived no one was in the water. The beach was no longer shore break. The waves had gotten so big that they were now breaking twice, once away from shore and once at the beach. We both joked about hopping in but weren’t comfortable being out there alone. After a while, some boogie boarders headed out to try and catch some of the waves. I watched for a bit and stupidly determined that “if the boogie boarders could handle it, so could I.” If there was a narrator to this story they would be saying something like “or so she thought.”
I stood at the edge of the water and knowing that if I thought about it for too long I would chicken out (sign #1 that I should not of been going out) I rushed in after a set. I swam out as quickly as I could and made it out to the far break just as the first set was about to come through. I floated over the first wave and as I was lifted over the top I realized I needed to keep swimming out to get through the next few waves.
I very quickly realized I was in way over my head.
After having to swim out further I knew it was time to go in. I was already exhausted from the swim out and I knew if I spent any more time treading water out deeper it would be that much harder to get back to shore. I immediately started to race in as fast as I could hoping I would make it back to the beach before the next set came through. I swear it felt like I wasn’t going anywhere.
I’m about half way to shore, I can see concerned faces looking back at me from the beach, when I turn around to see the next set coming in. Of course it was even bigger than the first. At this point I had two choices: 1) swim back out to where I started and try again. 2) stay where I was, right where the waves were crashing, hold my breath, and wait out the set. Knowing that starting over would’ve meant more than double the swimming I decided to stay where I was and get pounded by wave after wave. I would dive down as deep as I could towards the sand in an attempt to make it under the waves but I was still getting tossed around like a rag doll.
There was a moment between waves, where I only had time for about two breaths, that honestly I started to panic.
For the first time in my entire life I really had the realization that I could drown. Honestly one of the things that saved me, other than the fact I was over sand not reef, was just repeating “you’re going to be ok” over and over in my head.
Eventually the set passed and I knew that I needed to get to shore asap! With every ounce of my energy left I swam as hard as I could towards shore. I eventually made it to where I could stand and let me tell you I’ve never been happier to feel the sand under my feet. I ran up the beach and basically collapsed at my friends feet. I definitely felt like I was going to vomit, partly from swallowing water but also from fear, and I was exhausted. After laying down for a while I was ok.
BACK ON SHORE
For a little over a week after all this happened I was honestly a little freaked out to even get back into the ocean. I even found it hard to sleep for a day or two after just because I was so rattled. If I think about it I don’t think it I was any more or less scared of the ocean than I already was prior to all this, I always had a huge respect for the capability of the ocean, but I all the sudden had lost a lot of my confidence in my abilities as a swimmer or just in my judgement. I knew the moment I started swimming out into the waves that I had made a big mistake.
I learned a lot from this experience. 1) Don’t ignore that instinct to pause and let yourself chicken out, it isn’t always a bad thing. 2) Don’t replace your comfortability with something into overconfidence. 3) Panicking helps nothing.
They say the majority of drownings in the ocean happen with overconfident experienced swimmers. I will wholeheartedly say I was that idiot that thought I could handle it when I couldn’t. Please don’t be that idiot. I know I won’t be from now on.