It was a less than stellar day on the North Shore of Oahu with a steady cross wind and occasional showers. My buddy and I decided to paddle out at Backyards since nobody else was out. The waves were still chest high and semi clean and since there was no crowd we were happy with our decision.
We’d been in the water for about an hour when a father and son joined us on their tandem board. The Dad looked like he knew how to paddle so I figured he knew what he was doing except for the fact that his lanky 8 year old son was way to far forward on the board.
I remember thinking to myself that if they actually caught a wave there would be no doubt they’d pearl as they tried to make it down the face. They paddled for a couple waves and missed them both which was somewhat of a relief.
Eventually, a bigger set rolled in and I took the first right that came through and rode it down the line. I kicked out and looked back at the main peak just in time to see the dad and son’s board shooting straight up in the air as they pearled on their attempted takeoff. The set was still continuing and I didn’t see either of their heads popping up to the surface.
I decided to catch a wave and just ride it on my belly to get over to where they were to make sure everything was all right. As I am heading toward them, I hear the Dad yell, “Help!”.
He was separated from his son, the board was in passed the inside reef and they were both taking waves on their heads. I could see the boy popping up after the white water would pass and he was dog paddling and thrashing the water in a complete panic. I paddled over to him and in my calmest voice said, “Hey buddy, let me give you a ride into your Dad’s board on the inside.” He gave me the look that most 8 year-old kids would give a complete stranger who has asked them if they want a ride. I could see he wasn’t having any of it so I came up with option number two. I said, “I’ll tell you what, just grab my ankle and I’ll tow you in.” He decided this was OK and he latched on. This worked until the next wave crashed behind us. It covered him and launched me forward which caused him to lose his grip. The wave passed and I spun around to find him finally break the surface. It looked like he was starting to hyperventilate as he was fighting to fill his lungs. The situation was, definitely, getting more critical. This time when I got back to him and said more forcefully that I was going to put him on my board and I’d paddle him to the inside. He didn’t argue with me. I got him on my board and had one arm over his back as I swam with my other arm to move us forward. This way as the next wave hit us he didn’t get knocked off since I’d keep him connected to the board.
The set finally passed and we made progress toward the stranded board in the deep water inside the reef. The board was beautiful with carbon fiber strands laced throughout the glass job. In order to keep the conversation going I said, “Man, your Dad has a beautiful board!” His reply should not have surprised me but it did. He said, “It’s not his board…we just borrowed it.”
I guess my surprise came from the thought that this Dad was so clueless that he risked both their lives. But I have to admit that when I look back on it, I’ve pushed my kids into a few situations that I’m not proud of. My wife will tell you that.
The good news is that this story had a happy ending. The Dad eventually made his way to us and simply said, “Thank You”. I told him, “No problem” and they headed in and I paddled back out.
My buddy asked me if something had happened in there and I told him the whole story. I guess he was focused on the horizon. Either way, I asked him if he had ever read Mitch Albom’s book, “The 5 People You meet in Heaven”. He said he hadn’t and I explained the premise of the book to him and finished by giving him the example that when that kid grows up to be an old man and dies and goes to heaven, I’ll be one of the 5 people he will meet that effected his life in some positive way that helped him make it that far through life.
I look forward to seeing whom I’m going meet!