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25 Years Online
••• The International Writers Magazine -

Why I Stopped Wanting to be the Surfer Slater
• James William Dickie II

2021 was the year I shook hands with Death. I must admit my ignorance is what put me in Death’s reach in the first place.

Ocean City

At the time, I got a brand new surfboard. Even though the board was astonishingly undersized for me, I bought it because I wanted to be the reincarnation of the eleven time World Surf League champion, Kelly Slater. The major problem was that I was an abomination to the surfing community. Once a wave reached over five feet, the drop down was my kryptonite. Nonetheless, I was dedicated to this dream and tried my best to look the part, wearing my Billabong shorts, carting my Chronic which always sported a new wax job. I chose to neglect the fact that a short, skinny surfboard is its own beast. The board shakes, the board twists, the board wants to be anywhere except under your hands. Unfortunately for me, my battle with the board came in the form of Death trying to suffocate me on a cold, January night in Ocean City, Maryland.

Chronic surferboad That night, all I cared about was catching at least one wave with my new board. I did not care that I had never used the surfboard before. I did not care that the board could not support my weight.  I did not care that I lacked the proper body warming equipment. I did not care that this was going to be my first time surfing at night.

I did not understand how cold the water was gonna be. I did not understand that every time my head dipped under the waves I would get an instant brain freeze. I did not understand that all my ignorance and bliss was Death prescribing my doom.

I waited for hours, watching my friends own any wave they wanted, gliding through the white caps, incorporating snaps, cuts, and turns, cruising into shore, celebrating like Rocky on the steps of the Philadelphia Library. Out of frustration, I would chase after a silhouette of any waves but repeatedly fall into the chilling water which felt like crashing through the roof of Snow Misers’s castle. Every newly established frozen hellscape within my brain shot into my lungs, leading to me panting, gasping, praying for air. The constant beat down from failed attempt after failed attempt turned frustration into rage, and I hunted every wave. I was miserable. But I would not back down from my goal. Envy blurred my vision allowing Death to stalk me.

Death noticed me unwinding and attacked. He took the form of a wave which I thought was mine to conquer. I was wrong. Death grabbed the board beneath my feet. I fell. Because it was night, I was not able to see that Death was the first wave within a set of three. As I swam to the surface, the second wave tossed me back under the water, like a bowling ball down an alley with no bumpers. Gulping for air, I began to panic, quickly swimming to the surface again. There, the third and final wave pitched me down. This wave was so powerful that my back hit the sandy bottom, and I let out the remaining air I had stored. With my lungs collapsed, my head beaten down like a snowball, I knew I needed to get out of the water. As I swam to the surface, I saw myself from a distance. I began to die.

My subconscious was pushed out of my body, and I was forced to watch my body die. My situation felt as if my true self was watching my body struggle to remain alive within the four walls in a theater. I starred in this show. The physical parts of my body were relentlessly kicking, squirming, struggling to remain alive; the subconscious was effectively useless, which forced it to watch patiently from the sidelines. My reluctant, helpless, dying soul became the audience of a thrilling drama, featuring the body. The forced observation of my body versus death was terrifying. However, I learned that for those crazy enough to smile back and refuse Death’s warming hand, this battle becomes beautiful, and calming, and humbling.

I looked like Michelangelo’s Adam painted in “The Creation of Adam”, one arm extended to the heavens. Even with no air in my body, I felt at ease. However, I saw my movements get slower, and my body begin to sink. I had a decision to make: succumb to death or grab the divine wrist of life, closing the gap left within the painting. Creation of Adam

I chose the latter. I told myself calmly, “William, get up now.” It was not an option. It was a demand. My body listened. I felt the surface getting closer on my finger tips, and finally I emerged from the icy abyss with force. I scrambled for my board and headed to shore. I never caught a wave, but I did not leave defeated. I had triumphed over Death and left with my life.

As I paddled into shore I humbly told myself, “It's okay to not be the next Kelly Slater.”

© James William Dickie II, a student in Dr. Devet’s Advanced Writing class at the College of Charleston, junior majoring in Creative Writing.

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