Surfing With Death by Michael Miller, Bay Shore, NYOver the past five years many people, places and things have influenced me. One particular experience gave me a renewed zest for living and a different perspective on life.It was during the summer of 1995. I rose from a long sleep to find the sun gleaming in a brilliant blue sky. My brother, Eric, was awakened by my piercing voice, ringing like church bells in his eardrums. "Get up before I have to use brute force," I bellowed. He rose from his slumber and fixed a bowl of cereal. The only thing on my mind, however, was to hightail it to the beach to ride the hurricane- level surf pounding Fire Island. I stated my plan to Eric, who was a bit reluctant at first. "How in blazes are we gonna get there?" he mumbled, still half asleep. "What is the point anyway? The lifeguards aren't letting anyone past the shore." He changed his tune, however, after I told him how high the mighty Atlantic was swelling.We threw on our suits, ripped our bikes from the shed, tied surfboards to the carts on our handlebars, and made the long trek to Robert Moses Beach. As we rode on the bridge over the inlet, I could feel the soft, salty sea-spray on my face. The roar of the ocean and the sight of the white-capped waves could be noticed all the way from the bridge. What I saw left me breathless. The waves were in perfect contrast to the serene sky. The ocean was angry; it pounded its fists and kicked its feet on the helpless coast and on the daring few that attempted to tame its raging temper. It was spitting venom in the form of 11-foot walls of water. These waves provoked terror in the eyes of the beholder: I knew then that we were in for a day unlike any other.The best surf spot on the island was a mile walk through tick-infested grass and high dunes, but we knew it would be worth it. Democrat Point provided the best break and there were no lifeguards to hassle you - or save your life. We threw down our gear and paddled out. I was immediately hit by a huge shore break, which I felt in the back of my neck for a couple weeks afterward. I could feel the riptides and currents nipping at my feet, sucking me into a underwater vortex and imminent death. We paddled for what seemed like forever until we reached the outer shelf, the banzai pipeline of Fire Island. Instantly, a ripe set came our way. I set my board at the right angle, and took off with the velocity of a rocket ship. I cut down the wave, exploding from a sixties-era, drop-knee turn into a blazing succession of vertical re-entries and G-force tip-smacks, then I settled down in the tube. Water was cascading around me in all directions. It felt as though I was defying gravity, floating effortlessly through time and space. I felt free; free from the trials and tribulations of life. After the wave lost its juice, I went out and did it again, and again, until I looked at my watch and it said 5: 21. We had spent almost six hours in the water, although it seemed like minutes. I yelled to Eric that we had to leave, so we had one more ride. I picked the next wave. I positioned my board, but did not get the proper angle. The wave flung me like a toothpick. I tried to get my feet planted squarely on the board, but I could not. I dove off the board and the wave hit me like a 40-megaton bomb, thrusting me deep into the murky waters of the Atlantic. As I tried to gather myself, my surfboard tumbled onto my head; I was fading fast. I was disoriented, my directional sense was non-existent, and the thought of drowning crept into my head. Suddenly, a figure in the darkness pulled me toward the surface. Eric tugged me in to the shore, using every ounce of his strength to save my life. He placed me on the wet sand and tried to revive me. Not being a medical professional, Eric's life-saving skills were limited to him slapping me in the face and him repeatedly saying, "Dammit, Mike, speak to me." I opened my eyes to see the bright-blue sky and large waves pouncing on the sand. I had a new zest for life. After I puked up a gallon of salt water and about a pint of blood, we made the long journey home.After my altercation with the wave, I gained much respect for the ocean - something I had lacked. The changes in my life from that point were startling. I approached things differently, saw things I had never seen before. Even though this experience scared me out of the water, I couldn't resist its alluring qualities. After a brief hiatus I was back on the sand, this time knowing my limitations and making a concerted effort not to kill myself. -
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.