Apr. 9th, 2016

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Denny and I are on holiday in Las Palmas, Gran Canaria - our apartment is a stone's throw from La Playa de las Canteras. The waves were huge today!

It was 23 degrees, glorious sunshine with only the occasional cloud, and the breakers were enormous. The bay is a perfect crescent with a line of rocks making a D out of it, visible at full tide as an unbroken line of white wave crests. At low tide you can see the rocks forming an eerily straight barrier. The big waves usually wear themselves out on it, so the water that arrives at the beach is usually nice and calm. But this afternoon at full tide the waves were so high they rode straight over the barrier, massive breakers twelve feet high - and it felt a lot higher when you were right in front of one.

Denny and I had done some lying and walking on the beach in the morning, but there had been more clouds than sun, so we went to the gym instead and lifted things. We came out again to blazing sunshine, so we dashed back to the apartment and changed into our beach things, bought giant protein shakes and walked along the beach in the shallows swigging them out of the bottle and feeling happy. The waves were making grabs at our shoulder bags, so we put them on the top of one of the sand dunes and splashed back into the surf in our swimwear and sunglasses. The waves were proper playful. One got our bags wet after only a couple of minutes, and we had to rethink how far back they needed to be. I watched a young man near us run gleefully into the ocean and do a dive roll forward somersault into a wave right as it crested. I wanted to play too!

So I left Denny with the bags and went for it. I can't remember the last time I swam in waves that big. It took me a while to get the hang of it. The pull back out to sea in the shallows was so strong it was hard to keep your footing, and then when the foam rushed in it was so powerful it swept me off my feet more than once.

Out a bit deeper and it's vertical walls of dark blue water rushing towards you. If they break before they reach you, you just have to try and stand firm; if they haven't broken yet you can jump up and float over the top. But if they break right on top of you then there's a risk you'll be pushed under and tumbled head to toe along the sea bed, the force of the water pinning you down until the wave passes and you can splutter back up. The first time that happened I lost the green heart shaped sunglasses I bought at Head Space Stores last year. They were sacrificed to the sea god.

After the second time I got pushed under, I remembered how to do it; if the wave is about to break on your head you hold your breath and swim straight through it under the crest. It only takes a second because the wave is moving faster than you are, so you emerge on the other side an instant later in smooth waters. Albeit without your sunglasses. I thought I saw them floating in the distance a couple of times, but I must have been imagining it; the sea never gave them back.

Out past the breakers, treading water, the waves are magnificent. Rolling mountains and valleys moving much faster than you, immensely powerful, so all you can do is bob up and down on them like a ship. I felt like a tiny speck, at the mercy of immense forces. It's a fantastic adrenaline rush to watch a cliff face of water twice your height racing towards you, not knowing if you're going to be able to ride over it or have to dive through it.

Salt in my eyes and my nose and my hair, the sun dazzling, the waves beating down on me faster than my heartbeat, each one treading the heels of the next without giving me time to get my breath back. Fucking incredible.

Once my foot struck rock and I thought maybe I should head back in, I realised it was easier said than done; the undertow was powerful and the breakers hazardous. The ocean pawed at my feet, not wanting to let me go. I managed to escape eventually, and then after breathing hard, laughing my ass off and telling Denny how brilliant it was, I dived right back in for more.

I'm always in awe of the immensity of the ocean, but the experience of it up close, towering over you, about to lift you up or smash you down, is unlike any other. Those moments when it tumbled me down under water were profound. There's nothing you can do except stay calm, hold your breath and wait for it to let you up. It's like being played with by a giant, deadly predator, braving a dash between its paws until it catches you and pins you down, and that's it, you're helpless until it decides to let you get up again. The booming splendour of its growls, the crushing strength of its pounces. I wrestled the waves for a while, surrendered to their power and emerged unscathed, and they wanted to keep playing long after I was exhausted. Walking back up the beach, exhilaration coursing through my body and salt crusting in my hair, I could swear I heard the ocean purring.

April 2016

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