I remembered In a Sunburned Country talked about strong currents unique to Australia, about how they shift suddenly leaving unprepared swimmers grappling for their life, of which many die or are reported lost at sea. Now I was in the water experiencing this phenomenon first hand. I laid down on my board keeping close to Jason as we paddled to catch a wave. A promising one swelled behind us and he yelled for me to get it. As it grew in size, I knew it was too big for me to manage, especially given my board position. At the last minute, I pulled back rising with the water as Jason dropped into the crest of the wave riding it safely to shore. Behind me I heard the ocean crash against the jetty and felt an undertow pulling me in that very direction with such strength I felt utterly powerless. Looking over my shoulder I saw the first scattering of rocks merely 25 feet from me. My breath quickened and I started paddling like a madwoman in the opposite direction. Within moments I was out of breath with arms threatening fatigue.
And then a voice rose inside me silencing all of the nervous chatter in my head: Stay calm, move wisely, reserve energy. I stopped paddling to assess the situation and come up with a game plan. I saw Jason, a white dot on the beach, waving his arms and pointing for me to paddle in a certain direction. I could hear only the noise of his shouts but not make out the words. I sat up on my board to gain perspective and rest as I knew the next time I’d be paddling for my life. From this vantage point, I could actually see the current I was caught in about 20 feet wide moving like a conveyor belt leading straight to the jetty. Swim across the current not against it. Go! This very concept was also covered in the book. I made quick circular movements with my feet pointing the board in what I believed to be the right direction and started paddling in long strokes with cupped hands doing lamaze type breathing. I was making some progress but the current was stilling significantly pushing me back. I sat up again to re-position my board in what I believed to be the right trajectory and started paddling again. By this time Jason was in the water with his board trying to get to me. I made better progress putting some much needed distance between me and the rocks but it wasn’t nearly enough. I sat up again gasping for air redirecting my board for the third time and after about ten strokes I knew I was in the right position by how little the water resisted me. It wasn’t working with me but it was no longer working against me.
I paddled and paddled with burning arms until I crossed over the current. Jason, white-faced, grabbed the nose of my board. “You did good, Americhano, you did good.”
The assistant director was on shore waiting with a towel. He wrapped me in it and hugged me with one arm while punching Jason in the arm with the other. “You almost killed my assistant, mate.”
I didn’t have time to process as filming was just about to start. But before returning to set, I looked out over the sea with a new found fear and respect.
Riptides of Yore,
A Warrior Princess