A Mile Offshore

I guess I lack spacial reasoning skills. When I try to visualize the actual distance of a mile, I try to envision a high school track uncurled, and then lined up end to end 4 times. For some reason, that just doesn’t work for me.  It’s hard for me to relate my high school track to actual “real” distance. But, what I do know is how long it will take me to paddle a mile. Call it practice. After all, it’s been 15 years that I’ve had a paddle in my hand. I was never much of a runner, so the track means nothing, but I was good at those word questions in math class about trains moving in different directions. I know that if I am paddling at six miles an hour, it will take me ten minutes to paddle a mile, and 15 minutes if I’m going four miles an hour.  So, if I leave the beach and paddle straight out for ten to fifteen minutes, I’ll paddle a mile offshore.

It’s my favorite place to paddle to, that place a mile offshore.  For me, it’s a place where I’ve found myself, both physically and spiritually. I first started the ritual of offshore paddles when I was a novice paddler. My paddling mentor’s normal workouts were just “paddle straight out for a half hour, then turn around”.  We still call them Gerb workouts, named for our mentor, Andy Gerber. Those workouts took a little getting used to. It would be me and a bunch of guys lining up to practice on those days, and needless to say, being the only female, I was frequently left in the dust. We would practice in the afternoon in the summers, and so the typical afternoon sea breeze was blowing. Normal paddling on those days meant climbing the steep, wind-blown, 1 to 2 foot chop for those thirty minutes, then turning around once I saw the guys turn.  The guys would always be so far in front of me that I couldn’t see them through the summer haze. I would be left alone, feeling my board dive into waves, then slap down onto the next.  Eventually, it would be time to turn around, and so I learned to flow downwind.  The guys would catch me by the time I made it to the swim zone buoys at the beach.

Now that I’m used to getting out that far, I have learned to appreciate the place it takes me to. A mile really isn’t that far offshore.  You can still see land from that far out, the trees just look a little smaller. It definitely gives you a different view of my beach, and how my normal landmarks look from so far away.  When I’m out there though, I rarely look at the beach. If I’m in training mode, I’m watching only the water and the horizon. For some reason, the water feels different out there. It feels more alive. Maybe it’s because it’s deeper, or maybe it’s because I’m out far enough to get away from the hustle of urban life. When I’m a mile out, I don’t hear boats, and definitely not jet skis. Funny, I can look back towards the beach and see those things, but I can’t hear them. A mile out is a quiet place where one can find their soul. On a flat day, the water is glassy, maybe with a little energy pushing some swells up.  I take the time to stop paddling for a few minutes to breathe, and enjoy the peace of the quiet water.  You can hear the water lapping on the board, and feel the breeze gently blowing on your face.  It’s the perfect space to meditate, to think, to ponder, to brainstorm. It’s just you and the deep blue. The Polynesians call that dark blue part of the ocean Moana, and it serves as a spiritual place. It’s perfectly serene. I haven’t found a more perfect spot on this earth.

Moana. Dark blue sea. The thought of that spiritual place brings me back to memories of how the dolphins play with me out there. It seems that those dolphins have no fear, at least of a small wahine on a board. They’ve come up so close at times that I could reach out and touch them. They’ve swam inches just beneath my board, rolling over and showing me their bellies like big puppies.  My best experience with them was during a nasty downwinder. I had to have been at least a mile offshore, and the downwind had turned into big beam wind, with 4-6 foot waves off of my right side. As normal, I was left in the dust, and so out there, with what it felt to be, by myself.  I never fell off, but I was very scared. I remember being near our marker “the stick”, a big channel marker off of Clearwater Pass, when I heard a blow. I looked around, and when I was in the trough between two big waves, I saw an entire dolphin in the wave coming at me. The wave rolled under me, and so swam the dolphin. I could see his whole body in that wave, even the scars and scratches on his skin, and he continued to surf like that a good five or six times, going right under me almost like he was telling me not to me scared, that surfing is fun.  After seeing that, I wasn’t scared any more, and I paddled to my final destination with ease. I have always thought that dolphin knew I was there, that I was alone, and that I was scared. I really don’t think I would have ever seen or experienced that guy closer to shore. I was in his territory, his Moana. I believe that he came to help me.

I’m no dummy, and I realize that the ocean isn’t always fun and games. I have been out in some angry seas a mile offshore before; seas so angry that I lost my craft and had to swim a mile into the beach. We were surprised by a burst of 50 mph wind gusts from what seemed to be out of nowhere. There was no choice but for us to submit to the sea, and let it do what it was going to do to us. Luckily, we were, by that time, very experienced as paddlers, and our instincts are what helped us survive. Those seas nearly took my life from me that day, and I will carry the lesson I learned that far out with me forever.

I’ve been a mile offshore in the Kaiwi Channel and off of Kailua Beach.  I’ve been that far out off of Bimini, off of Ft. Lauderdale.  It’s taken me into the Gulf Stream and into some beautiful swells. Regardless, that place, a mile offshore, is always the same. It always holds the same peacefulness, the same repose, no matter where you are in the world. You should try it some time.