I'm sure there are many on here that have had a similar experience to mine on Sunday. Some not as intense, while a few others perhaps more so.
Conditions were 5.2ft @ 11s and fair. I had a buddy with me who is new to the game and this was his second day on the water. He's a very experienced and skilled skater and snowboarder that has logged lots of time in half-pipes. I know very little transfers physically to surfing, but lots of the mentality does and the fact that he's eaten it on asphalt and concrete hundreds of times lends credence to him putting up with a beating on the ocean. Not only that, but he's an experienced endurance athlete who can run a half marathon at a good clip on short notice. So basically, he was appropriate to bring out on a day like that for some education on duck diving, board balance while getting out back, and bodyboarding some waves he could catch to feel the ride and the relationship between the board and wave.
He was my priority from the first minute and I had dialogue with him the whole time we were going through those fundamentals to talk him through it all. He kept up with my paddling out back pretty well. It took us a fair amount of time to get out back since these waves packed power and the sets were long in number. This is a beach that I surf every day and have done so all the way from a few inches to Nemo and the other Nor'Easters this winter.
Once we got out back, we got him a rest for a couple minutes as I talked him through the need to scope out the set coming in and where and when he wanted to paddle into a wave for a catch. I noticed it getting pretty choppy where we were as the wind was changing and it often does so quickly at this spot. So I told him we needed to get away from the rock jetty which was 100 yards away and towards the middle of the beach where the waves were cleaner and our other two buddies were. Within a minute, sideshore kicked in and the shoulders were drifting him steadily more towards the rocks. I told him we really needed to head over to the middle at that point but he saw a big wave coming and decided to go for it. He ended up catching it and bodyboarded through that giant for a long, fast ride that did not have a bad ending.
However, via the sideshore current that was presenting itself, that wave angled him in towards the rocks and he was very close to them at this point. I yelled over repeatedly to him before the next set came in that he needed to get away from the rocks as much as he could and bodyboard the next three or so ways into the shore where I would meet him and we'd walk over to the middle to catch our buddies. Alas, the next wave that came in was a giant (7-8ft easy by now with the jetty and sideshore buildup) and the white broke hard on him and my view from the back was just a liquid avalanche towards the rocks and his board flying in the air, no body to be seen.
Without hesitation, I hopped on the next wave that came quickly with the intent to ride it over to him and provide immediate help for an escape, if not a rescue and first aid as I had no idea what I'd be encountering based on what I'd just seen. At any rate, the bomb that I dropped in on fairly clean was 8+ and I came down the face with speed bee-lining towards him but as I came to the bottom the wave closed out hard on top of me. I was thrown into spin cycle and not just end over end but side to side and in elliptical motions, from what it felt at least. I've been tossed a ton in my time on the water thus far including the big storms but this was unprecedented. I'd tucked and covered my head the whole time then upon getting some clue of which way was to the surface I had to climb my leash to reach the top since the white had caused an opacity to the view towards the surface. The power actually brought me all the way to the rocks 100 yards through that spin cycle. The mass of white was nuts and powerful as heck. I've been in 10-12 second hold overs more than a few times before but that was when being sent over the falls and pushed straight down. This was just as long in duration but being rag dolled to no end, so it was a different feeling though I stayed fully composed.
When I did reach air I located my board and saw my buddy who was luckily conscious and unharmed, but severely struggling up against the rocks. As our luck would have it, his wave and my wave were the first two in what was probably an 8 to 10 wave set. These giants were clobbering us with white repeatedly, several times before we could get back on our boards. In between catching breath I was trying to yell to him what he needed to do for cover. There was barely a lull before another monster set rolled through and thrashed us to no end. We were right up against the rocks and both thought these waves were going to smash us face first into them but the rush of water would flood the height of water to go above the rocks as the white crashed on us so we were actually shielded from any contact with them from what we could see and feel. But any hope of that bringing us on top of the rocks to safety was dashed when the undertoe would immediately pull us back out to square one in front of the rocks with another wave coming hard at us. Every next wave was building in size from the wind change and rock break and they were 8-9ft now and breaking right on us or just before us.
By now, our two friends had seen what was going on and sprinted into shore and then over on top of the rocks that were our opponent and primary hazard. They said we were getting battered for a solid 10 minutes straight with no let up. My buddy somehow got up on the rocks for an escape while was a huge relief to me as he was my first concern. But that left me in the lion's den with the danger only mounting in size and any escape being less possible. There was a pause after that set and I immediately hopped on the board and paddled in an all out sprint 20-30 yards parallel to the shore to get outside of this sideshore rip. From that sprint plus all the non-stop physicality of the several minutes prior, I was nearly out of it before the next set rolled in huge and threw me back to the rocks. So now I am riding on straight adrenaline to keep me with enough gas to more forward.
Somehow I managed to reach a small channel in the rocks that shielded me from the madness and offered me an escape up onto the dry rocks. I was literally staggering at this point getting on to the rocks. Our friends that came over to help said I was in another 3-5 minutes after my buddy got to safety. They said when they were sprinting over to help they were sure they'd be pulling bodies out of the water and when I was fighting for those last few minutes and seemingly having no way out (before I found it) they were about to call emergency and the Coast Guard.
I got to the shore and was spent, but way more mentally than physically although I was exhausted. This whole thing blew my mind and it was crazy coming down from the adrenaline because I started shivering in a hypothermic way even though it was 65 and sunny and I'd just had as balls to the wall of an anaerobic workout as one can have for minutes on end. The mind and body was just on overload.
Bottom line, neither of us were injured in any way. I thought 75% my buddy was not going to make it when we were in the crap, and 50% that I wouldn't. It was that intense, hazardous, persistent, and no way out. Despite all that, I can truly say I remained in full composure without panic and thought strategically the whole time (swimming parallel to shore to escape the sideshore rip) as well as not pushing through it physically until I was to safety.
If not for my daily training on the water I'm not sure if I would've had the gas to make it through that sustained onslaught even with the help of adrenaline. My days are anywhere from 1.5-7 hours of constant paddling, riding, duck diving, and wiping out and I rarely sit in the lineup. I'm physically prepared for these situations. I'm prudent and practical in my choices (i.e. noticing the impending chop and rough stuff over the way of the rocks and telling my bud we needed to vacate the area). Was this just a freak occurrence and "part of the game" or could I have been smarter? My buddy is a highly trained athlete who had the mental composure to be out there with me that day especially when I was keeping him by my side the whole time and giving him non-stop directives and feedback of what we were seeing and what he should be doing. Before all this went down, when we were taking a breather out the back after paddling hard to get there, I told him he was doing great and that his focus of the day was to be on staying on his board, getting paddle conditioning, and selecting which waves to catch and where and when to catch them. No pop-ups, just bodyboarding.
I'm interested to hear your thoughts on this as well as similar experiences you've all had. We step into the liquid at our own risk and I know the hazards will always be there, while it's our job to keep them at bay and avoid them at all costs and work through them if they come out of nowhere like this one did.