Surviving the Deadly Rip

I dug up this piece of my life from an old  journal entry written on banana paper.

Sign with illustration of rip current
What to do when you’re caught in a rip.

I was snorkeling Cano Island on the Osa Pennisula of Costa Rica.

While admiring the colorful and bizarre shapes of the tropical fish swishing in the clear warm waters below, I periodically kept an eye on Chrissy, one of the other guests on our voyage because I noticed that she was swimming dangerously close to a powerful rip current.

As soon as I saw her approach it, I told her to come ashore, but when she tried to swim, the rip carried her out.

Luckily, the cove was littered with boulder like rocks that peeped up just above the waters. The current took her out to the last rock. I cautiously swam from rock to rock toward her. It was weird because the current managed to weave around the rocks; so even though the rocks offered respite; they did not adequately block the pull of the rip. It was unpleasant to touch the rocks because they  were bustling with tiny sea creatures and were slathered with an icky smelly slime.

By the time I got close to Chrissy; she was in a full panic. The rip gained power the closer it got to open sea.  It was like swimming through whitewater rapids, except the surface was calm. Never felt a rip with such force.

Chrissy was falling apart; she only had one hand on the rock, her eyes were flitting from rock to sea, and she was crying. As I swam toward her, something in me snapped: I yelled at her “Shut Up! Grab the rock with your other hand.” I don’t know why I felt the need to yell at her–I barely knew her. Just met her that day. Logically, it seemed the WRONG thing to do, but it just burst out. It was a good move because it momentarily snapped her out of her frenzy of fear.

She did as I told her. When I got to her rock, I suddenly understood why she had become so unhinged. The rip was ragingly strong; the island was far away, and when we looked out to sea all we saw was a huge void of unforgiving, deadly ocean waters. The hunger of that ominous expanse frightened both of us.

My presence calmed her down a bit, but I could tell that she was still scared. I was too, but I was also confident that we could get out of the rip as long as we used our heads.

“OK,” I said, “Look, I’m a surfer. This is nothing. We’re gonna be fine.”

I pointed to a rock close to shore and said, “I’m gonna swim to rock, you swim right behind me and ‘draft'”. She nodded ascent.

Before I launched from the rock, I said, “DO NOT TO GRAB ME WHILE I SWIM.” That turned out to be a mistake.

About five or so breast strokes diagonally through the current, what I did feel on my shoulder? Her freaking fingernails tearing into my skin.
I yelled, “God Damn It! Don’t grab me! Just swim!”

This time, the yelling made her sob. When we got to the target rock, I could see that was she was ready to fall into another panic. She said, “I just feel like we’re getting pulled out to sea.”

It pissed me off. First of all we closer to shore; second of all, the woman almost pulled me under when I was struggling just to stay above water.

I apologized for yelling at her. Then, I told her to put on her snorkel and breath through that. I don’t know why I told her that. It just sort of came out of my mouth–the same way the yelling did. I figured that the snorkel would at least keep her quiet. But it turned out to be a genius move because the snorkel, with its tiny air-hole, forced her concentrate on her breathing.  It calmed her down quite a bit. We swam from rock to rock, luckily the rip faded the closer we got to shore.

When we got to shore, she gave me quick hug, which I thought was weird, and then she said, “You’re bleeding. Did you scratch yourself on one of the rocks?”

“Yeah,” I said rubbing my shoulder, “a rock scratched me.” (A rock named Chrissy!)

But that wasn’t the worst part, when we made it to shore, our guide stomped over to us and said, “You guys shouldn’t have been out on those rocks!”

“I know,” I said, “the rip was crazy.”

“The rip?!” our guide said, “That’s the least of your worries. Those rocks a hunting ground for salt water crocks!”

Chrissy and I burst into hysterical laughter. I don’t know why. What our guide said wasn’t funny at all, but it felt great to laugh. Somehow pissing off our guide and realizing that were in so more danger than we could have ever imagined made me feel fantastic and it made Chrissy’s scratch hurt just a little less.

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