Friday, July 22, 2011

A Day at the Beach, a DLI Adventure

Fair warning. I'm about to tell you a story but not one of fiction. Instead, I'm going to use this blog to capture some of the more colorful stories of my life.

I posted a new profile pic the other day on Facebook and then made a wall post describing the scene. I referred to it as a time in my life when I had the world by the ass on a downhill slide and didn’t know it. I went on to say that the road to that place had been bumpy, but that it had only gotten better since.

I've been thinking about that for the last few days and it is as true a thing as I can say about my life.

The time was 1991. The place was Monterey California. I was there to attend the Defense Language Institute at the Presidio to learn Russian. I had served a 6 year contract, 4 Active 2 Reserve and got out in April 1990, only to sign an 8 year contract in September 1991 as Desert Shield became Desert Storm. By the time I was in a unit, the war was over. March of 1991, I got orders to Monterey because I needed a new job, as my active duty job didn’t exist in the Reserve.

But all of that is another story. This story is about friends. Next to me in the picture, is my roommate and all around awesome guy, Brian Nelson. I am embarrassed to say I can't remember the other guys name. Brian was known far and wide as "Bridude". He was and I'm sure still is a great person and a true friend.

It had taken a coupe of months to get the cash together to buy a wetsuit and board, but we had them. We had also just watched a special on sharks and learned the area from Monterey to San Francisco was called the "Blood Triangle" because of all the great white shark attacks. But were we nervous? Not that we would admit to each other. Soldiers are a different group. What we find funny does not always translate in the civilian world, and there is little a soldier enjoys more than busting his friend's balls. We did agree that there was nothing funny about a shark attack, and that this one area was off limits.

The day we picked sucked. It got cloudy and colder than normal, but worst of all were the lack of waves. Boogie boards don’t require the same size wave to have a fun ride, but they do require a wave. We were out paddling around at Asilomar beach in water as calm as the lakes I grew up swimming on. I was in my grey and black O'Neal suite and Bridude was in what he thought was a green and back suit of the same manufacture. It turned out that when wet, it was actually yellow. Better yet, we'd learned on the shark special that the color was called "Yum, Yum Yellow".

We refused to leave until we caught at least one wave, so there we floated, our concern replaced with boredom, frustrated and cold. That is until I looked down into the calm crystal clear water and saw a shark of at least eight feet glide beneath me.

I remember trying to speak and failing. I distinctly remember thinking it was bullshit when I saw people on TV or in the movies struck dumb, incapable of speech and how ludicrous it was to happen to me. I kept trying until I managed to squeak out the following:

"It…It's a…It's a fucking shark. IT'S A FUCKING SHARK!!!!" Quickly followed up by, "Don’t splash, it will go for you."

Unfortunately, what Bridude heard was, "He's going for you!"

My eyes we fixed on the thing under the water. It moved so fast, darting back and forth between Bridude and I as if it just couldn’t decide which one of us would be more delicious.

Then I lost it as it darted directly beneath me. For those of you that have never seen one, a boogie board is less than half the length of a surfboard, and yet I managed to get every inch of my body on that board. If all I'd had were a Popsicle stick, my ass would have been high and dry.

I heard a voice, as if from far away. It sounded like Bridude, but that couldn’t be, because he was just a few feet…I looked up and saw him standing on the beach, over a hundred yards away. I had no idea how he's managed it, but I had never wanted to be next to him more in my life.

I searched the water for the shark but couldn’t find it. I tried to banish the image from jaws of it coming directly beneath me and without causing a splash, began to paddle toward shore. When I was about twenty feet out, I caught the smallest wave ever recorded and rolled up onto the beach.

We both agreed that while we could have gone back in, we'd achieved our goal of riding a wave and besides, it was getting late anyway.

In the year we were there, that was the only shark we ever saw. We got pretty good on the boogie boards and before I left, I managed to learn how to ride a surfboard.

We had many interesting adventures in Monterey, but those stories will have to wait for another time.

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