From The Publisher

October 29, 2018
BY: CARRIE DUNCAN

This has been a busy time out at our arch, as there was a sandy floor under it, not 20 feet of water like usual. This happens every so often, but it’s exciting and people like to go out there and walk under the rocks. But it’s dangerous, with waves seeming to sneak up and grab people, pulling them into the ocean. Some survived, and two weren’t so lucky. Or strong.

Here, we live in a world of water and if you can’t swim you would be better off staying inside and watching Netflix. That’s what I think of non-swimmers. It’s not safe to think it comes naturally, we are not dogs who can naturally dog paddle to safety. Have you ever heard of people paddle? No. For a reason.

I am an excellent swimmer, I used to be a life guard and I still swim laps every chance I get. As a very cute little girl I took free lessons at the YMCA , bussing to downtown Portland with my big brother. If it weren’t free, I would be one of those non-swimmers, and a wonderful part of my life would have never happened. I have my Red Cross certification and got a paying job saving lives. Except for the lives I didn’t save.

I worked at an old quarry that had filled up with water and I made some credible rescues, and had some horrible failures. Like the time two teenagers tried to sneak in for free. Two kids hid in the trunk of the car, but the young driver was nervous and confused, and hit the gas instead of the brake, sending the car into the lake. Visibility was almost nil, we were just feeling around for the car, and we were late getting there, as first the teens not trapped in the trunk had to pop up and tell us. That was a bad day, made worse by the fact that I was supervisor that day and it was my call to leave two of the four lifeguards on the surface to evacuate the lake and watch that nobody did something stupid. Maybe if I had chosen for all of us to go down, we could have saved those two kids? I will never know.

The next bad save, but at least she lived, I think, was at the Colorado River on the Parker Strip. That’s 22 miles of crazed bars and drunk speed boating. Arizona allowed drinking at 18 then, so of course that brought in the 16 year olds. One day I was standing on the dock in front of a bar, getting ready to cast off my boat, and a woman leaped from the second story of the bar into the river just as a speed boat whooshed close by the dock in a show-off maneuver. The prop cut her arm off. I reflexively leaped into the water and pulled her to the dock where men lifted her out.  What a mess. I reached across her chest and there was nothing there! It was a really awful feeling. I don’t know where the arm went, there was about a seven mile current, so finding that was a lost cause.

But still I swim. Not only that, but I’m one of those swimmers who venture into big waves on the Pacific side. I argue that it’s only dangerous if you’re not a strong swimmer and you don’t know and work with the ocean. The explanation that there are miles of constant rip tide is just not correct. The reason that beach is so deadly is it drops off so quickly. It’s almost like climbing a vertical wall, like climbing out of a swimming pool. And the waves are usually pretty big. As you’re pulling yourself out of the ocean, the wave you are in turns around and goes back out very fast because it’s going down that almost vertical incline, almost like a waterfall, and taking you with it.

All you need to do is work with the waves. Catch an incoming wave, much like a surfer does, let it push you into shore, and then scramble like mad to get as far on land as possible, before that wave sweeps back out. You do have to be nimble, quick and strong to scramble up that incline as your feet get mired in the sand. Best to do this on the first try or you get tired. If you do miss the first couple attempts and you’re tired, float back out to sea and float there and collect your thoughts and strength before rushing the shore again. I have swum the ocean many times in front of Terrasol and had no problem.

Recently I had out of town friends that I packed on to what I think is the best sunset cruise, the Cabo Rey. Then I hurried over to Medano Beach and pushed off into the sea. I treaded water for 45 minutes until the Cabo Rey came by. Then I yelled and waved to my friends. They heard me and were looking everywhere but down, because they couldn’t believe some fool would be out there in the middle of the channel treading water. It was fun. At home they’re still talking about how I swam miles out to sea. It was actually only a couple hundred yards, anyone could do it who can swim and keep their wits about them.

I kayaked out to the arch one time and hovered around for maybe half an hour, timing the waves and getting up my courage to fly through the arch. I chickened. I was worried I didn’t have a helmet and might get thrown up against the rocks and knocked coo coo and drown. Well, I like to tell myself I would have kayaked through the arch if only I had a helmet. The truth is closer to I simply chickened out. Maybe that’s why I’m still alive: I do know my limits. And I respect the fact that we all have different limits. We just have to get acquainted with them.