There is no such thing as true reward without risk. Sometimes there is risk and no reward at all instead a trip to the doctor (or worse). I have had countless minor injuries surfing (I have lost count) as has practically every other surfer I know. What I do have is a small collection of close encounters that reshaped the way I approach surfing. There are some givens here, if I feel like crud I probably should avoid surf that is hard for me, that is easy, but there are little gotchas that can crop in any scenario and the stories I am telling here are some of the weirdest ones that have happened to me personally. Amazingly, I have yet to see - and I have no desire to - anything happen bad to anyone else in person while surfing. I suppose I am lucky in that regard. This is part one and covers when I was young (from 18 until about thirtyish). Part two will come up the next time a surf article is in the rotation.
Not a rhetorical question. In the early 1990s I had read an article (or maybe an editorial? Not sure) about a surfer whose sack was cut open by landing sack first on his fin(s). He was unaware of this fact he was only aware that something really hurt. When he peeled down his wetsuit guessed what spilled out. Amazingly this dude scooped everything up, drove to the hospital and was okay. Not two days later I was somewhere around 55th street in Virginia Beach riding really steep waves (I don't think riding is the right term, wiping out with style is probably more accurate) when I tried to go straight down a face, board slipped out and I landed - you guessed it - crotch first on the rear fin of my thruster. The irony of the class name of the board is not lost on me. It hurt, bad, I was freaking out. I couldn't breathe, was in a decent level of pain and knew no matter what I was done for the day. I tumbled onto the shore and quickly peeled down my suit. Everything was intact, not even a mark as far as I knew (not like I had a mirror or anything). That was an awkward night as I was still in the US Navy, I had to ice my balls around all of my shipmates. So... that was just awesome.
I was alone surfing first street Virginia Beach (a rarity) really tiny waves, just little ankle floaters. Which was totally cool. The air was cold, I was just out getting wet really I arguably didn't even care if I caught a wave. Fortune smiled on me and sent a small waist high set. I paddled on quick but it was such a short ride I immediately slammed the nose back into the wave to make some spray when I lost my footing, the board somehow flipped upside down under the water and I sliced the heel of my ankle deep about an inch or so. Oddly, being young, my first thought was let it bleed out and keep it cool to fight swelling now as an expierenced surfer that thought would be get the fuck out of the water now you are a shark magnet. Somehow I half paddled half waddled my way to the beach then very slowly made my way to my piece of crap truck. Once again I had lucked out. No major tendon or muscle damage. That one did send me to the emergency room. I was in a lot of pain and worried I had messed up something important. Apparently all I did was cut into some foot steak.
Not suprisingly at first street in Virginia Beach yet again I got a nice fat lip and not from mouthing off to the locals. High winds. I was riding waist to shoulder high glassy waves and having a good old time when at the end of a wave I tried to do the usual thing of going up over the shoulder but it closed out on me halfway through the turn. It just so happened the wind was clocking pretty good I am guessing around 22mph gusts, not too bad but enough to pick the board up and slam the rail right across my face at a 45 degree angle. It busted my lips wide open, loosened up a bunch of teeth and if it were not for the cool water I probably would have passed out. There was enough blood pumping out that I knew I needed to get out of the water. If sharks were not nearby they would be if I stayed in. Once again, I went back to my command asking for a bag of ice and some tylenol from the medics (who I think were just starting to stockpile for me).
Does it really matter? This particular story sucks because it was not in any way remotely cool. At the end of August and into September (or there abouts) back in the 90s (could be different today) there was always this set of plagues. Big ass jellyfish and moon fish being driven to shore by bluefish who in turn bloodied up the water enough to bring the occasional shark in. This happened in September. I was surfing decent shore break having a good time when something took a nibble at my foot. Not a big deal, fish do it all the time and I more or less forgot about it and went on about my business. Then something big enough to push me bumped into my leg. Now I was mad. So, this is the difference between being twenty something and forty something. The forty something me would have gotten out right then and been disappointed. The twenty something me stayed and was pissed off. I tried paddling over to another break and I could see the water swirling from where I had been and a pattern moving toward me. That is when I felt a definite bite on my leg. It wasn't big, probably the size of my hand, and it didn't go all the way through my suit. Instinctively I punched into the water and kicked. The kick connected with something that felt about as big as a small dog. The fist hit water. Whatever it was it let go but didn't go away as I felt another bump on my leg. Finally I gave up. Obviously, the real locals wanted me out of their turf for whatever reason. Maybe they thought I was getting in the way of their food or maybe they were probing my defenses and lining me up for a hot lunch? Either way the smart move was to get out. I still look back at that and remember even getting out of the water I was super angry. I am guessing (I don't remember) that it must have been awhile since I had surfed and I was ticked off I got chased out. Now I would be happy to have gotten out unscathed.
It just does. For the injuries, perhaps two of them, maybe experience would have compensated? Who can tell. But things happen to all of us that are strange, unexplainable and like the whatever was munching on my neoprene we will not ever know what really happened. If there is anything to walk away from this article with it is this: my youthful stupidity could have caused serious problems. Staying in the water bleeding out is never ever a good idea no matter how awesome the waves are. At least go in and let it seal up. And getting ticked off at mystery fish - that was just plain dumb. Part two will contrast with recent craziness where experience played a sensible role.