Saved from drowning
At age 13, some 54 years ago, I was caught in extremely heavy surf, that I should have known to not enter. But, the challenge of the big surf lured me into the water, even though it was late in the day, the life guards had already left the beach, and there didn't seem to be anybody else on the beach.
The pattern of wave breaks is usually the same, they came in sets of three, with the third wave being the largest. A jetty, protecting the entrance to the adjacent harbor, protruded out into the ocean about a quarter mile. The first incoming wave of this larger set of waves hitting the end of the jetty alerted me to their arrival. This would give me enough time to run down to the water, dive in, swim out through the breaking white water of the first two waves and be in position to catch the third and largest wave. This was standard practice for body surfing at this beach for experienced swimmers...and I considered myself experienced, having body surfed for at least the past several years. (Ahh, the bravado of youth!) When swimming out through surf, standard practice is to dive beneath the breaking white water rolling in towards the beach. to avoid being battered by the force of the incoming surge. Well, in this case, I immediately realized, as the wall of white water surging towards me from the first wave break of the set, that this was the largest surf I had ever encountered. I dove down as deep as I could trying to get as flat as I could on the sandy seabed, to avoid being thrown down against it by the force of the raging turbulence above me. Still,I was thrown about like a rag doll, smacking my head into the sand. The roiling water went on for much longer than I had ever experienced before. I was getting desperate for air. At last I was able to come to the surface for air. I gasped, but got very little air, instead, I inhaled a mouthful of water from the backwash wave created by the water rushing back off the beach from the wave that had just driven me under previously. This caused me to cough and sputter, thus reducing my ability to get a good breath of air. I was in water about chest high, with an extremely strong rip tide wanting to suck me further out to sea. I looked desperately at the shoreline, not more that 40 yards away, for anybody to help me, but there was no one. But I couldn't look for very long because the second, and larger wave had broken, and its wall of white water, perhaps 6 to 8 feet thick was roaring towards me. I had no choice, short of breath or not, to dive, or I would be terribly battered and broken by the force of the surf. Down I went, the thrashing even worse than with the first wave. I could not get back to the surface, my lung were screaming for air, but I continued to be roiled about unable to do anything but wait for the turbulence to subside. At last, I was able to break the surface and gasp for air, but for the second time I gulped water instead of air, resulting in more choking and gasping. At this moment I think I realized I was about to die. I could see my house up on the bluff less than a half mile away; I was having flashes of my life, which seemed like an instant rerun of my entire life. Suddenly, to my left, there was a man with a flimsy little air mat, like one might use in a swimming pool, saying,"You look like you could use some help, take a hold of this." I did, and the next thing I remember is that I am gliding into the shore, on the leading edge of the white water of the third and largest wave. This memory defies all logic of what should happen in such a situation. Even with an air mat to hold on to, being hit by a wall of white water of that size would still thrash someone about with great ferocity. And yet, it seemed as if I just glided into the shore. Needless to say, I was exhausted by the experience, and needed a few moment to recover my breath. I sat on the waters edge, arms on my knees, panting. Then I thought to thank my rescuer. I looked up, and there was no one visible in either direction along the shoreline, nor was there anyone further back on the beach. There was no air mat. I was alone.
What transpired in this event? Did my angel switch turn on? This "third man" was not vague. I feel I could pick him out of a lineup. He didn't look at all familiar to me. He didn't look like he was an experienced beacher His skin was white from little exposure to the sun. He seemed like a balding middle aged, somewhat paunchy working man, that maybe worked in a warehouse, or welding shop, a place that kept him out of the sun...but not an office worker, for some reason. Never before that event, or after, have I had experience even close to what transpired that day, in terms of how the surf interacts with objects in it. I have no memory of being battered as we rode that little flimsy air mat into the shore, and yet I remember the events leading up to the actual encounter quite clearly. I can generally accept the idea that experiences like this can generate an internal mechanism for survival that manifests as an external being. But how to explain that I got to shore. It is true that my sense of time may have become distorted, and that my rescuer had time to leave the beach before I looked up to give thanks...but not likely, the distances I could see were quite far.
I told several friends about it the next day, and they just laughed at me. So, I didn't bring it up with any body after that for years after...but I NEVER could forget it! It definitely conditioned me to be open minded about the nature of things. My religious upbringing was Protestant, but I looked upon church as something to be endured, NOT something I looked forward to attending. And yet, this experience had all the miraculous qualities of some of the bible stories I had heard in Sunday school. The drowning episode didn't make me any more religious, but certainly left me with a very open mind to the reality that things are not always as rartional as we might like to think they are!