|The Real Book Spy’s first Rogue Recommendation|
Surfing is my pastime and is definitely a rogue activity. Having surfed in North and Central America, Europe, Australia, and Asia, I’ve had my share of crazy experiences. I’ve surfed Oahu’s Sunset beach at double overhead. Definitely a questionable decision, but surfing is one of those things that I’ve pursued as part of my writing process. Sitting on my board in the ocean centers me and helps me focus, think about life, characters, and plots. Deadlines loom less large two hundred yards from the beach. In fact, everything seems smaller and simpler. The singular task is to find the incoming swell, paddle to the apex, stand up, and stay on the blue face of the wave. It’s an all-encompassing activity that clears the mind of debris, except the rare moment when you see a large shadow pass beneath you.
Regardless of moving shadows and what they portend, surfing is a true remove for me. It’s physically demanding, requiring balance, upper body and core strength, timing, and, like everything, luck. But there’s little that can be done when encountering the rare phenomena of a “rogue wave.” That’s what happened to me at Sunset Beach. The waves were in the 5-7’ range, barely manageable for an average practitioner like me. As I stood on the beach studying the flow of water, as I always do before paddling out, a long-haired surfer walked past me, stopped, and said, “If you have to think about it, don’t do it.”
He was probably right, but one can do rogue things and one can also be a rogue, defy convention and take risks others might not. So, I disregarded the unsolicited advice and paddled two hundred yards to the line-up. Less than a minute or two upon my arrival I heard hooting and splashing from my fellow surfers.
A rogue set was approaching from outside of the bay, frothy white tips spraying rabid foam as the swell built to twice the size of the day’s consistent waves and closed out any avenue of escape. There’s exactly one option when a rogue wave comes your way…paddle out. Get beyond the break. Get out of the impact zone. With a rogue set of waves, that was going to be a challenge, but twenty other surfers and I dug for our lives as the freight train approached.
As the first swell arrived, I naively thought, “I’ve got this,” turned, paddled hard, caught the momentum of the barreling mass of water, and stood up. It felt like I was 100’ high when in fact I was probably 12-15’ above the trough. I blissfully sliced down the face of the wave just like you’re supposed to until half way down I found myself flying like superman into the wall of the curling beast. I belly flopped into the wave, which sucked me to the top in its lifting curl as it poised above the reef, deciding what to do with me. Then, ten buildings fell on top of me as the wave crested and slammed into the ocean floor. I fortunately missed the reef and was so deep I didn’t know which way was up. The turbulence was unbelievable. I was a rag doll in a washing machine on spin cycle. Jerked every way possible, it dawned on me after a minute or so that I was no closer to knowing up from down than I was to being able to breathe.
Finally, my surfboard leash looped around my wrist. I tugged on the rubbery rope that was thankfully still connected to my board, realized I was completely inverted and disoriented, and climbed my way, hand over hand, to the ocean’s surface. Piercing the foaming, roiling water, I saw sunlight, palm trees on the distant beach, and…the second massive wave about to slam down on my head as if it was GPS guided. Taking a healthy gulp of oxygen, I repeated the process, tumbling another fifty yards under water and then popped up near the beach.
My first thought when I realized I was out of danger was the same as after every military parachute jump I made: “I survived, now get on with it.” In the frothy water closer to the shore, I managed to sit on my board, give the “shaka” thumb and pinky sign to the many on-lookers on the beach, who, unaware of my underwater tunneling acumen, were probably wondering how I got there. I looked back and saw the waves continuing to steamroll the line-up of surfers and dissipate 30 yards off the beach where I sat, resting and reflecting.
Basically, I had nearly drowned. I was thankful I hadn’t. I used the time on the board to think about my love of the ocean and respect for nature. As I begin each new book, I think back to this day on Oahu’s infamous north shore and lessons learned. Challenge yourself. Improve. Know your limits. Don’t take counsel of your fears. How many of us would have written that first book if we knew what lay beyond us in the ocean of publishing? The hard work. The struggle for survival. The sunlight overshadowed by the next wave. The bliss of doing what you love. Creating, surviving, and finally thriving.
Then I turned around and paddled back toward the reassembling line-up.
Brigadier General Anthony J. Tata (U.S. Army, Retired) is the bestselling author of twelve novels, including Reaper: Threat Zero which releases May 21, 2019, and Reaper: Ghost Target and Double Crossfire.