Forty-seven seconds doesn’t seem like a long time, but it felt like an eternity that day. It was late October and I was in Tofino with friends for our annual autumn surf trip. It was a classic West Coast fall day—cold, wet and windy. Usually, I love these days but today was different. I was frustrated, things were not going my way. I had already endured countless beatings, broken a paddle and nearly swam. Common sense should have told me to give up and go in for a beer. But I was too frustrated to quit, and despite being tired, I stormed back up to our camp, grabbed a new boat, and headed back to the grey and cheerless beach.
It took me five minutes of shifting and squeezing to force myself into the small, plastic surf boat I had hastily selected. I paddled back out through the breakers to try and regain some kind of control over my day. Nothing changed. The first wave ran me over. After a few more beat-downs, I realized that my head just wasn’t in it, I wasn’t focused, and I needed to get off the water. So I headed in.
With fixed fins mounted in the hull of the surf boat, I couldn’t run it up on the beach. I paddled into waist-deep water, popped my skirt off, put my hands on the coaming and pushed…nothing. There was no movement at all. I was stuck. As I pushed again, I felt a wave lifting the stern. I reached down to grab my paddle but it had vanished. It must have slipped off my boat while I was struggling to free myself and now it was gone. The wave picked me up, dumped me on my side and I capsized.
I pushed harder. Still nothing. I pushed again, nothing. I reached down with one arm and pressed off the sand to catch a breath. The boat started to fill with water as I slipped back under. I pushed with everything I had. I could hear my groans vibrating in my head under the water.
I reached for the sand again, pushed and came up for a half-breath. Now I could feel my fingers dragging ineffectively along the bottom, losing traction as I was pulled out to sea. I lost my grip on the sand and slid under a third time.
Now I fully understood the severity of my situation. If I couldn’t get out now, I wouldn’t get another chance. Seawater would flood my lungs and I would drown just a stone’s throw from the beach.
I pushed with every ounce of strength and desperation. My hips slid a bit as my right knee twisted painfully. It hurt, but it was working. Feeling the tissues in my knee starting to tear, I gave a final determined push and popped free.
I took a ragged, grateful breath and looked around. It was still raining, still grey; my friends were still enjoying the surf. I felt strangely calm—neutral, not happy, not sad, just calm. Kim and Whirlson were on the rocks filming. As my eyes caught theirs, my friends yelled out, “What are you doing?”
Couldn’t they see the chaos? Didn’t they know what had happened? What had very nearly happened? I didn’t know how to respond. So I yelled back, “Going in for a beer.”
When I got home I reviewed the footage of the trip and there it was… 47 seconds of me splashing around in waist- deep water. The video didn’t look like much, just the hull of my kayak shifting around in the surf. But I can tell you this: it was a very different experience below the surface.
Forty-seven seconds doesn’t seem like a long time, but it was nearly an eternity that day.
This article first appeared in the Fall 2015 issue of Adventure Kayak magazine as a part of our feature on survivors. For more great content, click here and subscribe to Adventure Kayak’s print and digital editions, or click here to read the current issue.