I’ve been on Kauai just one week and I’ve already had a near-death experience.
That seems be the standard amount of time it takes for me to almost die when I settle into a new place.
About three months ago in Las Vegas, I suffered from some sort of heat exhaustion and nearly passed out during my trip to Cowabunga Bay when I foolishly underestimated the desert sun.
This time it wasn’t the heat that got me.
A reporter friend and I decided we wanted to be like the locals and find the secret beaches of Kauai, so we looked up Tunnels Beach on the North Shore near Hanalei Bay.
Google took us to a spot that was not quite what we had in mind. So, being reporters, we asked around.
We got directions to a part of the beach that was about “an eight minute walk that way,” according to a friendly guy with a thick Hawaiian accent inside a food truck selling hoagies and pulled pork sandwiches.
My friend and I made our way towards that general direction. Eventually, we got exhausted. We were carrying beach gear and snorkeling equipment. We decided to make camp – put our stuff down—and get in the water.
My friend had her own snorkeling equipment, complete with mask and flippers. I was borrowing equipment from a male coworker, so the flippers didn’t fit. I decided I didn’t need them.
We dismissed the “no swimming” signs to our right and jumped in the water.
Of course, both of us had been hearing about the “high surf warnings” all week on the North Shore because of the surrounding hurricanes, but we didn’t think much of it.
We both knew how to swim and we had both been snorkeling in the past. We just wanted to be in the water and the idea of exploring a new beach was exhilarating.
Soon we were messing with our equipment, floating around and swimming looking for fish.
Suddenly, I got extremely uncomfortable. I knew something was wrong. The current was stronger than I had ever experienced.
I could touch the bottom at first, but then I couldn’t.
“I am uncomfortable with this situation,” I said aloud as calmly as I could to my friend.
I looked towards the shore and noticed we were way farther out than we had originally swam. The current was not a joke.
I started to panic, but I didn’t want to freak out.
I tried to remain as calm as possible.
But all I could think about was that I was in the middle of the ocean, with no life vest, no flippers and that the Pacific Ocean was one angry body of water.
The more I swam, the farther away it felt I got from the shore.
I tried to remember all the things everyone tells you to do when you’re in that situation.
“Let the current take you.”
“Swim perpendicular to the current.”
“Swim against the current.”
“Curl up into fetal position because the bear won’t attack you if you do that.”
When I swam, I got tired.
I remembered those four weeks when I was trying to move everything between Las Vegas and Houston and Kauai and how I didn’t go to the gym.
Why hadn’t I gone to the gym? Why wasn’t I in shape? If I had gone to the gym for those four weeks, I could have sped swam all the way back to shore no problem, I bet.
But, somehow I let moving between cities keep me so busy I let it get in the way of working out. The last time I had gone to the gym was sometime before leaving Las Vegas.
Nearly a month ago! What a fatty! That’s probably why the current took me in the first place.
My friend was extremely patient with me. She told me to grab her flipper and she tried to swim us both back to shore. We just went farther out. We didn’t make much progress.
To our left, we saw a guy with snorkeling gear, including flippers, on. I looked at her and said, “We need him.”
She said, “I think we’re alright.”
The guy to our left shouted to us and said, “There’s a huge sea turtle over here.”
She said, “We’re trying to get to shore first, man. Thanks.”
I love her. She’s so cool and calm and collected. She could have easily just said, “Hell, I’m out of here. I’m going to go find me some sea turtles and I’m going to write an award-winning obit. Piece out yo! Deuces.”
But she didn’t. She gave up an award-wining obit to help save my life. That’s a true friend.
Then after a while, I shouted at him a few times, “Hey dude. Dude… Dude…”
Then we kind of made our way towards each other. The guy, Dave, was there with a friend. They were both out of towners and were also looking for the secret Tunnels Beach.
I took Dave’s hand and asked him to take me to shore. Turns out, he used to be a lifeguard.
Dave saved my life that day.
He told me later that night that he had to lie to me a little because he was actually panicking himself because of the strong current and high surf. We weren’t moving for a bit. He couldn’t touch the floor for a while.
But he said he was surprised with how calm I was. He said that’s how people survive in situations like that. Many people tend to panic and start flailing, he said.
Afterwards, we all sat on the beach laughing and had some celebratory passion fruit juice with a little rum.
A rainbow shone over the beach through the rainclouds.
I’ll take that as a sign of welcome.
This is my life now. I live and breathe Kauai.