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I have always loved surfing. Ever since I can remember, the rocking board on the rolling Pacific Ocean surf has been my second home. As often as I can, even now that I’m 15, I run down to Salmon Beach and catch a wave; even if it means I have to cut out of school a bit early. My friend Isaac and I have begun to do this on a regular basis.
The principal’s office is chilly. Isaac and I sit in the tattered rose-colored chairs as we await the arrival of the principal. Today, a couple of our other friends from out of the school district are jumping school early and meeting us at Salmon Beach. I have a “dentist appointment” to get me out, and Isaac needs to leave because he feels sick. We told the teacher’s our excuses an hour apart so that it wouldn’t be conspicuous. I hate to say this, but we have become pros at this. Finally, the principal arrives in her usual bright red suit. She stands in the doorway, lips pursed, her arms folded like she is ready to whip us - well at least, verbally, and a look in her eye like she totally knows what we’re up to. Isaac coughs, and I pick at my teeth. The principal merely dismisses us with a wave of her hand at us and slams the door, causing dust to poof throughout the room.
Isaac and I genuinely cough.
“Does that mean we can go?” He asks, shaking dust out of his sandy blond hair.
“Helloooo….You in there Raven?”
I am beyond happy - and lucky. I nod. “Let’s go! We can’t wait to find out. The best waves are supposed to be at 2:30 today.”
Isaac and I grab our backpacks and go our separate ways to the bathrooms. We put our
stashed wetsuits on, and then cover them with our school clothes to get off campus. Then we head out of the old crummy school and hop on our bikes to trek down the road to Salmon Beach.
“I bet they’re there already!” I yell back to Isaac through the wind.
He nods his head and pedals faster.
We park our bikes at the top of the cliff. Perfect. The only people I see below are our friends. I race down the cliff pathway, Isaac close at my heels. We make a sharp turn to a secret nook in the side of the cliff where we pull our surfboards out. We race over the sand and greet our friends with a whoop!
“Well if it isn’t Raven Riley! It’s been forever!” Hannah says, dropping her board and hugging me.
“Hey Hannah McHamster! Are you ready for an awesome day? The waves look great!” I reply as I bounce around with excitement about how the afternoon is turning out.
I greet the rest of my friends and prepare to paddle out. I latch the strap around my ankle, connecting me to my surfboard, and slide out into the water. The first few minutes in the icy water always takes my breath away. My skin soon adjusts and I paddle out behind the breaker waves, and wait for the opportune moment. My friends are some distance away, about 20 yards down from me. Isaac waves and makes a funny face, making me laugh. All of a sudden, something brushes my foot. I know there are sharks in these waters, but never had encountered one. I kinda tried to ignore that fact. My heart throbs in my neck, chilling every one of my brain cells. I slowly pull my feet onto my board and lie still. I pray a wave doesn’t come, or I’m doomed to whatever’s below me; and whatever it is, it’s still there.
I gain the courage to look down into the water. Right below me is a fleshy v-shaped hole, bubbling and black. I look closer, and just as I get my face above the hole, it spurts salty water in
my eyes. Oh my gosh - a gray whale! I look down in fascination at the magnificent creature as it moves slowly below me. I reach my toe down and brush it on the barnacles that cover its back. I look up just in time to see a gigantic tale getting ready to splash down upon me. I scream and leap out of the way as the tail comes down and crushes my board in two. I tumble and become disoriented under the water. I shake my head and look down at the endless dark water below me. My eyes stinging in the salt water, I look up and see my board crunched in two. All that’s missing is...the whale. I frantically swim toward the surface to try to swim to shore, only to find that the harder I swim, the more I realize how deep I actually am. My eyes go foggy, and my strength weakens to the point where I don’t think I’ll make it to the top. Just as I am about to lose consciousness, something from below pushes me upward. It pushes me so fast that when I break the water’s surface, I go flying through the air and land flat on my back! This time I don’t panic. I take a deep breath and look back to see my rescuer. There is the whale, gliding gently in a circle a good forty feet from me.
I swim towards it. Something in my heart tells me it’s safe to put trust in this huge animal. I come closer...and closer...and finally I am only a couple of feet away. The whale shifts her large head around, the tip of her huge nose lining up with mine. I reach my shaky hand out and touch her skin. It feels like a peeled hard-boiled egg covered with barnacles. She smells like the ocean, but extra oceany... and I can see long pale baleen in her mouth. The whale is calm and drifts quietly under my hand. She rolls her head so her black baseball-sized eye is staring right at me. After a few moments, the whale begins to swim away.
“Come back!” I think. I swim after the whale, catching hold of her fin. I see her start to dive so I take a big breath of air before going down with the whale. The whale stays fairly close to the surface and glides through the water with little effort. I have never moved through the water like this! My heart begins to return to my chest, and I struggle to climb onto the back of the whale. My
torso comes out of the water, while my legs hold tight and my soul syncs with the whale. I close my eyes and let the whale take me where she wants. My heart feels free and as the whale picks up pace. The water swirls and jets around me, giving me the exhilarating feeling of skimming across the surface of the ocean. Time passes so quickly I hardly realize how far I’ve gone. I look around - the shore is still close, and then recognize the opening of the Russian river: I’m already in Jenner - about 10 miles North of where I started! I need to get off or I’ll be in Alaska before I know it! I look down at the majestic whale below me. I rub her back, my only gesture I can offer as a thank you, and slide off. As I swim to the shore, I turn around one last time to see the whale. Something rolls in the breaker beside her. A baby whale pokes his head out of the water and flaps his fin. I was so caught up in the experience that I didn’t notice him before! I smile and finish my swim back to the shore. What a ride.
I am exhausted when I reach the beach. I know I have to get back to Salmon Beach to let my friends know I’m alright, and realize that they have probably gone home by now. I walk to the town of Jenner and catch a bus back home. I finally get back to my house and am greeted by Isaac and my Mom, pale as ghosts as they rush to hug me. I use a story that I was caught by a rogue wave and pulled out in a riptide. I do end up telling Isaac my real story, but he really doesn’t believe me. That’s OK. We are known for telling a few fibs now and then. This story is different though. I guess this whale of a story will have to be mine alone. I dream again about the day I got to surf with a whale. I just might try again.