Too Much Kelp + Big Wind = Lifeguard Rescue

We hadn’t been to Santa Cruz in a long while. Too long. And Truls hasn’t been windsurfing in a couple of years. Such is the life of a busy executive and pappa. So last Saturday, Truls was hot to get out in the wind and on the waves at Natural Bridges for a bit of windsurfing. He didn’t intend to windsurf for long since he hadn’t done it lately. In fact, he thought he’d be out there for only about 30 minutes. Yea rrrrrrrrrrrright.

As Truls rigged up his sail, a few windsurfers returned from the beach.  A relatively small woman said the wind was a bit up and down and wished she’d had a bigger sail than her 3.5. A few minutes later, another guy commented that he was overpowered on a 4.5 sail, hoping to give Truls an idea of how big the wind was at the time. Such is the language of windsurfers, helping each other out so each can gauge how big or small a sail to use. Truls, calculating the guy’s size, continued to rig his 6.2 sail. I saw the guy watch Truls for another few seconds, mentally shaking his head. Generally speaking, Truls is a big guy and usually needs a lot more wind than others to pull him out of the water and get him on a plane. So, he’ll usually err on the side of a bigger sail…knowing he can always come back and rig a smaller one.

While the girls busied themselves with beach toys, water and sand, I headed out closer to the shore to watch Truls take off. There was a large crowd hangin’ out in the wind on the rocks. I could tell they were looking forward to watching the upcoming windsurfing show. In fact, a few of them cheered when he got out past the waves and took off into the distance.

Now, Truls and I have been together for almost 18 years. He has been windsurfing since his teens. I am not a windsurfer. Yes, I’ve taken a few beginner/intermediate lessons but that’s it. And that was many years ago. I’ve heard lots of windsurfing tales, including those that required a bit of help from the city’s emergency crews. And what I’ve learned from these stories is that more often than not, a windsurfer does not want to be rescued. The sound of sirens in the distance usually makes windsurfers cringe and pray those sounds weren’t meant for him/her. This, of course, is assuming that the windsurfer is not hurt or the equipment is not broken. As it was for Truls.

The sets were continuous and the crashing waves were rather big. The wind was not letting up. What I couldn’t see from the shore was that there was a LOT of kelp in the water. Kelp that loves to grab and hang onto windsurfer fins…and make a perfectly planing windsurfer spin out and crash.

Truls seemed to have been hanging out in a particular spot just south of the natural bridge for a long while. He was downwind of the beach and he’d have to do a few broad reaches to get back north of the shore. But he wasn’t going anywhere.

I was getting worried. I didn’t have my big zoom lens with me so I couldn’t tell whether he was hurt or if there was a problem with his equipment. But he seemed to be able to stay in one place for an extended period of time despite the howling wind and crashing waves. I started to think of calling 911 but pushed that thought aside as I remembered the mindset of windsurfers. I thought I’d give him just a little more time and then, he got up for a short bit before crashing again. OK, I figured he was OK.

So I decided to take the girls up to the truck and put away their sand toys. They were getting cold on the windy beach. By the time I get back from the truck, I thought, if he was still in the same spot, I’ll ring 911. And just as I called the girls together and the sand toys were gathered, I heard the sounds of sirens in the distance. I stopped and realized the sounds were getting louder and louder. Yea, I thought, someone beat me to it. Oh well.

I counted a firetruck, an ambulance and  Santa Cruz fire department SUV at the top of the cliff. Minutes later, four SUV’s including a lifeguard truck, rolled onto the beach. A lifeguard jumped out of the truck and into the water. He swam between the cliff and the natural bridge. Just when he got to the other side, Truls took off toward the horizon in seconds. Whew! I stopped feeling guilty that I wasn’t the one to call 911.

But when Truls came back, he was clearly stuck again…near the same spot. I thought he might have been getting tired. After all, it had been a while since he’d windsurfed. I approached one of the emergency vehicles. After a brief conversation on the radio, he only had two questions for me – how long had he been windsurfing and was he comfortable in the water? Those were easy enough to answer with resounding Yes’s. He visibly relaxed. And so did I. I asked him what they would do. He said they would wait to see. There was a jet ski heading out there to make sure he was OK.

The crowd grew as we waited. Finally, I saw Truls riding on the life raft behind the jet ski.

“Just 20 or 30 minutes more,” Truls said. “I know I could have made it in on my own power,” he explained to me and the lifeguards.

He had been waiting for the wind to die down a little, holding onto kelp to keep from drifting further down wind. He had already considered potential places where he might be able to stop and climb onshore – Swift Street and then Its Beach. They were reachable though a long way to drift. As he mulled over his options, he realized there were sirens coming his way. Oh maaaaaan. The wind was big but he could have handled it. But dealing with the kelp as well, was a real pain. Just when he got started, he’d get caught. And that final frustration convinced him that taking the easier way back to shore was prudent.

Don’t get me wrong. He was getting more irritated by the moment when he realized all of the emergency crews were for him.  He didn’t really need to be rescued. But some onlooker thought otherwise. And in the end, I’m glad he was.

An original post to It’s Never Easy But It’s Always Fun blog.

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