At 5:10 AM on a cold winter morning five years ago I stumbled myself out of bed, threw my wetsuit and surfboard into my car, and raced down to the Newport Beach jetties to catch a few waves before the crowds arrived.
When I got out of my car the sharp, cold air hit me with a violent thrust. It was a cloudless morning and the stars were still shining brightly in the black sky. The thermometer on my car’s dash read 41°, but I had difficulty accepting that truth.
The sun was just starting to awaken and pull itself up by its bootstraps above the two-story homes sitting proudly along the sand. I slapped on my wetsuit, rubbed some wax on my board, and sprinted to the water. A little shore breaker was coming in just as I reached the water. I hopped over the baby wave and triumphantly glided out to sea.
My hands and feet instantly felt like they were detaching from my body against their will. I wasn’t wearing gloves or booties, you see. A medium sized wave broke 10 feet in front of me, and I shoved the nose of my board underwater to duck dive beneath it. When I popped through the backside of the breaking wave, my head felt as if it had been squeezed in a vise during a mobster movie torture scene.
There were three or four other surfers in the lineup, each of them sitting on their boards with their arms crossed and their torsos shivering uncontrollably. One of the guys was catching an occasional wave, but for the most part, we all just sat out there on our boards, stunned at what nature was doing to us. After 20 minutes, I headed back to shore. I was done.
I don’t remember exactly how cold the water had been on that day, but there was apparently some sort of swell or current from the North that brought unusually frigid water. While I was standing on the sand, peeling off my wetsuit and wiggling into some dry clothes, I could not stop shivering. An older surfer had gotten out of the water and was walking past me on the sand. He mentioned what a beautiful day it was and shared with me that it was his birthday. He was 64 years old.
I was developing mild hypothermia, and the 64-year-old gentleman was just dandy.
I then accepted that I am not built to handle cold water. I spent the rest of that day taking steaming showers and drinking hot coffee to warm myself up, without success. For about 12 hours, I felt like an Otter Pop.
As a writer, I have also learned that I am not well suited for certain literary endeavors (e.g. writing non-fiction, writing projects which require intense research, lengthy novels, legal thrillers). While it’s important to push one’s boundaries and explore new territories, it’s equally important to acknowledge one’s limits and strengths. There’s an ebb and flow to writing. I have found that almost without exception my stories will lead me wherever they wish, so why fight the current?
Sometimes the best place to be is bundled up on the sand with a crackling fire and a warm cup of coffee!
J.S. Lender’s new short story collection, White Sail, Blue Seas is on sale now! Copyright © J.S. Lender / Reef Point Press 2022