A bKiller waves and stolen crabs
      biting off a bit more than we could chew on a big Oregon surf day

Monday night I checked the bouy reports, 6 feet at 11 seconds and falling, a pretty serious swell to be considering a kayak crabbing mission through the open beachbreaks, but with a little drop and a little luck we might be able to finesse it.   At 5:30am on Tuesday morning I loaded the boats and Zach and I drove down to the beach.  With a warm east wind at our backs in the early morning twilight we carried the F1 decked with with folding traps and bouys, and my new Rhino design down to the edge of a booming shorebreak.  First light met us with dissapointment,  it looked much bigger than 6 at 11.  We launched anyways and were promptly schooled by what we would later find out was a bouy report of 8 feet at 12 seconds.   The F1 and the Rhino proved to be a bad idea in this surf, because their exemplary wave penetrating ability allowed us to get out to where the waves really meant business.   Zach valliantly met the first line of hollow shorebreak with a full head of steam and was summarily rebuked as the tube closed over him ejecting him backwards, end for end, that was until I lost sight of him as the the same foam pile punched me like a sopping wet gorrilla landing on my chest, erasing me from the lineup as well.  Back in the soup we rolled up and reassessed.  Lets see, first wave, first try, total carnage.  Being pounded by the first line of shorebreak boded poorly for our ability to even reach the outer breaks, which appeared to be cracking off at about 14 feet on the sets.   "We're done!" I yelled and Zach nodded in agreement.   "lets work our way back toward the truck though, I don't want to carry it"  I suggested, and we headed south.   

To understand what happened next you need to realize that as veteran surf paddlers Zach and I are practically hardwired to follow the slightest possibility of a rip or lull, even the most threadbare suggestion of a channel that might lead the outside waters.  This is why I don't even try to go out on big days, the question becomes not what happens if I don't make it out, but what happens if I do?  It also bears to consider that a two pound dungeness crab retails for about fifteen dollars and we were pulling in thirty of these tasty sea spiders every time we went out.

Working our way south the worst possible thing happened, a hole opened and I turned like an automaton to chase it.   Zach turned with me, but not without dissent, "Brian, what are we doing?!".  I didn't answer.  I didn't quite know. We punched a few heavy lines of reformed waves, and then hit a lull just small enough to knock down the shorebreak to where we could punch that as well.  It wasn't a channel per se, rather a zone of 'less badness'.   With a lot of shove and wide bouyant bows we managed to push through to the freaky green swirling water that marks the transition from shorebreak to real waves.

To get an idea of what we were looking at you need to know that an 8 foot wave at 12 seconds is really a 20 foot storm wave from somewhere in the vicinity of Japan that has traveled across the ocean, trading height for speed.  When these waves collide with our coastline they spring back up to about 13 feet and erupt across the sandbars with vengance.

this photo of me was taken on an almost identical, slightly smaller day four years ago

Zach and I cranked forward, the scale of things making progress feel infintesimal.  We were still in a lull that couldn't last much longer, and still nowhere near where we'd seen the big sets earlier.  I tried to balance breathing with pushing as hard as I could, always in the back of my mind considering that if I got hit I would be underwater for a very long time.  We'd barely made it through the normal break, bows slicing through curling lips at the last possible moment, kayaks breaching like whales out the backside in a cloud of spray and mist.....when an outside set began to dredge across the outer sandbars,  jacking up to fifteen feet or so.  Paddling hard as I could I rehearsed, "take off your PFD, capsize, pull your skirt, swim straight down."   This may sound insane, but I can tell you from experience that you don't want to be anywhere near the surface or your sea kayak when one of these waves fires off.  

Sometimes in bigger surf I hear the Carmina Burana, and as romantic as that is, in waves like this it's the voice of Hunter S. Thompson that narrates:

....madness, the body reacts but the mind recoils in horror,
what diabolical puppeteer was controlling this fleshy marionette? 
Were there strings on my greenland paddle?  I looked up and saw
nothing but the terrible green wall.  I had done this, but why?....

I gave up on my oxygen reserve and sprinted, piercing the crest and catching air out the back, landing with a slap and a splash, knowing each successive wave would be bigger.   Nothing mattered except getting past these waves,  I fired the afterburners and climbed each larger slab, my kayak standing vertically on the face as the hands of god pulled me through.   After five of these, the lips stopped feathering and we were through it.  The waves still steep, but not breaking, the strong east wind blowing us offshore. 

It was a beautiful morning, the sun just breaking the horizon behind us.   I opened my skirt and pulled out a white bouy wrapped with 75 ft of yellow poly rope.
"Dude," Zach asked.  "What are you doing?" 
"Lets set the traps." I replied.  
"I don't want to come back out here!"  he implored. 
"Don't worry"  I reassured him, "It'll be much smaller later in the day."  

We opened the crab pots and dumped a fat salmon carcass into each trap, tying on the rope and sending it over the side and down 50 feet to the realm of the sea insects.   It was rough and we had to open Zachs sprayskirt to get the bait, " I want you to know that sitting here with my skirt up is right at the edge of my comfort level."   he said.

"I'll bet that's what she said last night!"  I quipped.


As gorgeous as it was out here I had promised Ginger to have Zach back in time to pick for the afternoon farmers market and I was sure we were already late.  It was time to hatch a plan to get us back to shore in one piece. 

"Well Zach, I guess I'm just going to go that way,"  I said pointing back at the beach.  "and just sort of deal with whatever happens."

A brilliant plan. 

We resigned ourselves to the bombing we were almost certain to experience and paddled slowly and deliberately toward land.  Every breath I took was a deep yoga inhale,  I wanted lots of air in me if the worst happened.   I followed a few minutes behind Zach in case he got hammered and I had to scoop him up on my way in, and if I got hammered and was getting sucked out, Zach could always call the coast guard.   That was about all the plan our adrenaline addled brains could muster, and in these conditions, any pretense at timing the sets was just as likely to put you in danger as protect you from it.   I was skeptical of Zachs line, but he does have a powerful surf instinct, and I was skeptical of any line at this point, so I followed him in, and true to his talent, he manged to get us all the way to shore without a single serious beating. 

Back at the truck we debriefed.  "I'm not going to pretend that was even remotely a good idea."  I apologized, "but hey, we are going a have a ton of crabs tonight."   Zach agreed and we promised ourselves not to work our angels that hard again this year.  We went back to work, farm labor for Zach and heavy carpentry for me until 4pm.  I lit a roaring fire and suspended a twenty gallon pot of salted water over it and reminded myself to get ketchup, horseradish, butter and lemons.

I brimmed with anticipation while we drove back to the beach.  Crabbing for me is like pulling up free money, so you can understand my eagerness.   But as we turned the corner onto ocean drive it was immediately apparrant that the surf had not gotten any smaller in our absence.  However it had gotten slower, as evidenced by the tall waves breaking in random peaks rather than the 1/4 mile long hollow sections of earlier that morning.   Wave force is calculated by multiplying the period (an indicator of speed) by the height, making this a relatively gentler swell.  It wasn't going to be easy, but we could do it.

Zach and I got another lucky break paddling out.  Hitting the lulls and rips with absolute perfection, not even wetting our hair, while we admired the sets that slipped beneath us with plenty of time to spare.   It looked about like 7ft at 10 seconds which is about as perfect of a surf swell as you can imagine.   12 foot set waves with plenty of juice to deliver a healthy thumping to the unwise surfer, but the drops looked makeable, and unlike this morning not likely to break a boat or it's pilot.   We were on a mission though, a mission that unfortunately didn't involve planing speeds.   Once we could see past the break, I noticed a motor boat lurking in the area of our crab traps, idleing along through the now glassy yellowish afternoon waves.   It seemed odd to see a boat out on a day like this,  and even more odd that he turned tail and headed away as soon as he saw me.   Usually a captain will motor over to find out if I am crazy, or lost, or need some sort of help.

Events became clear when we hauled one completely empty crab trap after another.  "Son of a bitch!"  Zach complained bitterly "we've been robbed!"   I'll spare you my colorful verbiage of the next few minutes.  Suffice to say that the it's better that I didn't seen the name or numbers on that boat.  For a few minutes we floated there dejectedly, we'd taken huge risks only to have the rug pulled out from under us.  Well, I thought, at least I can pick off one of those waves on the way in.  Perhaps that reward would justify our unwise morning escapades.

A few minutes later I dropped in on a nice thick, glassy 10 footer, perfectly positioned on what would surely be an absolutely killer ride.  I was positively drooling with anticipation as the wave started to kick, a deep silvery bulge stacked up beneath me and I cranked over the edge.  Mid-drop the kayak achieved velocity and as I prepared to tuck in deep and run, the metal folding crab traps sticking off either side of the boat behind me caught in the wave and dragged me back up the slope and off of the wave.   I pounded my fists and yelled and splashed in a tantrum,  and did my best to work myself into an indignant state as I paddled back to the beach.  We both knew that I could hardly complain about my misfortune with any real sincerity.    I was alive, and safe, and I had awesome friends, and an organic farm to return to.  A tenuous, paycheck to paycheck exisistence, but a beautiful one, with or without crabs.

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