Ant's Close Call - feeling safe but stupid

Wednesday, 08 October 2008 11:16 | Written by  Anthony Allen
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Having had one or two close scrapes in my time I've had opportunity to reflect on them (with relief) and learn something (like not repeating said stints again), but my most recent (repeat act) has bothered me sufficiently to feel the need to share it with you. Who knows, it might help prevent someone from being as complacent (stupid) as I was recently...

Anthony Allen
Anthony Allen - PFD next time?

Fair sized shore break

Mid morning on Heritage day I opted to pop my surf ski into the water in front of Doodles in Blaauwberg. Having had a good few years of paddling experience behind me I was confident in taking on a fair sized shore break with a bit of an on-shore chop with about 3 to 5 feet of surf rolling in sets - nothing formidable by beach launch standards and certainly well within my capability.

I stood off at the shore timing sets and hit the water during a lull - IN! PADDLE! SCRATCHING WATER!...

Next thing a set wave breaks over the bow and I make it through the lip, but floundering with my balance since the wave robbed me of any inertia I had going - PLOP! Out I fall.

Remount and then...

No worries, right boat, got paddle, remount, wobble, wobble, GET GOING HERE COMES NEXT DAMN SET!!

SMASH!!!! Out again, but holding boat with right hand and paddle with left hand.

Boat turns beam on to surf and wave drags boat with Ant clinging on.

Running out of air (quickly whilst submerged and being pulled to shore by boat) HAVE TO GET AIR, let go of boat (wave will wash it in and I'll swim in).

Boat goes...

Boat goes with wave, I surface in bubbling broken water, just buoyant (no PFD) only with lycra vest and neoprene paddling shorts. SHIT! How can I let this happen to me AGAIN? (last was 6 years ago off Bailey's Cottage in REALLY BIG surf - only just survived that after a LONG swim back).

I take stock, look around and tread water. Boat is 20m away being spat out by surf.

Paddle 10m away (useless but R1500). Opt to swim for boat and maybe be able to hold on and get pulled to shore by ensuing breakers. None come - it's a lull - and all the water that headed in with the set wants out to sea again - 2 knot rip is too much for me after a while and I opt to swim 90 degrees to it.

Getting tired fast, getting nowhere fast

Getting tired fast. Not as fit as I would like to have been given the situation (make mental note not to be so daft as try heavy conditions without being stronger first - if there is a next time!).

Getting nowhere fast! Getting tired and had to make a concerted effort not to panic. Stop, think, plan and execute. OK, this IS a situation now (starting to struggle to keep afloat and tired).

Decide to shoot off flares - now I am feeling endangered and I'm not sure I can complete the swim back.

BANG! One pencil flare off.

BANG! Second one 5 minutes later to CONFIRM to any observers I'm in trouble RESPOND FASTER damnit! Somebody, anybody just HELP!

NSRI at least 20mins away

Beach front now lined with spectators. Somebody picks up my ski on the beach and runs to in front of me with it, but puts it down on the sand.

Another (fit) bloke runs down to the water's edge but just stands there (I'm now about 150m from the beach in breaking surf.

Nobody puts a toe in the water.

NSRI at least 20 mins away IF they have call...

Now I'm desperate!

I dig REALLY deep and find some energy to keep going. As every breaking wave hits me I spread my arms like a crucifix to present optimum drag and get pulled in while I'm submerged in the white water.

Finally I hit a rock

Finally I hit a rock under foot and I get another dose of survive-at-all-costs strength - enough it seems to make it back only to get a strong rip hit me again pulling me cross shore. I decide the best is to swim with it (get it over with quickly, strength sapping again).

Turns out a good call - rip dies metres off the sand.

Toes hit sand.

Stagger exhausted onto beach.

Collect boat, look for paddle (still in same rip as I was). Wait for paddle.

Carry up to roadside parking and sit down.

Cops arrive.

What happened? You OK man?

 I tell them the story...

---

---

Relief floods.

Pulse rate slows again.

Not even cold.

Thoughts:

  • Great to be alive!
  • Really STUPID doing what I did (especially as an experienced paddler and NSRI member)
  • Flares nice to have, but useless as a spontaneous life preservation device.
  • Replace flares anyway but BUY A PFD BEFORE NEXT PADDLING SESSION!!!!
  • Share this so others might learn from it
  • Stress the fact the "incident envelope" has increasingly steeper sides the further you slip into it.
  • Factors that helped: keeping a cool head, fitness, psychological crutch of firing flares, LUCK

[Editor: Thanks to Ant for sharing this story - take note.  Note also that PFDs are compulsory in all races held in South Africa.]

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