I got to thinking about how many people like to hear about my misadventures and how I should write it down before I start forgetting details and unknowingly embellish the tales. Here's one of the more memorable accidents that my family has suffered on vacation.
It was the summer of 2000, I think it was July, and the whole family went to Hawaii for vacation. About the fifth day on the Big Island we go to a beach in Kailua-Kona that is known locally as Magic Sands Beach. The reason for the name is that, as the tide and current changes throughout the day, week, month, the sands on the beach are washed out and later return. Sometimes this has happened twice in a day. To someone that stopped and thought about it for a little while it would mean that the tide/current was pretty strong in the area and should be taken into account while swimming
Well, the rest of the family decided to play in the water close to the shore, but Dad and I wanted to go scuba diving. We unloaded the gear and after checking everything, we walked out into the surf and strapped everything on. The dive started out a little uneventful as we made our way out through the waves and out into deeper/clearer waters. We enjoyed ourselves and chased many different fish and turtles and even managed to collect some admirable shells and other trinkets from the bottom.
After what must have been about 45 minutes we decided to head back in as the tanks were running low on air. We broke the surface to see that we were about 100 to 150 yards from the beach, so we made for shore. We were aiming for the same portion of beach that we had come in on. As we kept swimming, it soon became apparent that we were being pushed further down the shoreline by a steady current. So we angled our approach a little more, still attempting to make shore at our entry point. We had to have swam a good 15 to 20 minutes without making too much head way toward our destination, when we realized how tired we were from fighting the current and that no matter how hard we tried we weren't going to make the beach we wanted.
Normally this wouldn't be a problem as we would just angle a little further down the beach and walk back. But the cove that made up the beach was kind of narrow, divided in half by sharp lava rock and surrounded by a lot more lava rock. Once we knew we wouldn't make the sandy part of the beach that we wanted, we tried for the other half that was rocky but still safer than the lava rock.
We must have been about 30 yards from the lava rock, which stretched for about 50 yards in the center of the beach, when the waves suddenly grew from the two to three-foot swells we had been riding to five to six feet. The first wave caught us and we were thrown forward about 20 yards before it subsided and pulled us back out. As I turned to look at Dad I saw the next wave that looked to be about seven feet. I tried to yell a warning through my snorkel. He turned to see what had caused my eyes to bulge just in time to take the wave full on his side.
I lost track of him as I was again driven forward--this time right into the lava rocks we had been trying to avoid. I sustained a few scrapes and tried to grab hold of anything within reach, but was drawn back away from the rocks again. I turned back with the flow of sea water to see Dad being pulled away from a pinnacle of rock that I hadn't seen before (because it's usually underwater). I was able to yell to him as I had lost my snorkel on the rocks, but he didn't seem to hear me. As I watched with horror I saw him plucked up by the next wave and slammed directly onto the pinnacle before the wave swallowed him up and I was treated to another roll on the lava rocks. This time as I was sucked back out, I started yelling for help. I didn't know if I would survive another round with these waves. I tried to look for Dad, but the next wave had already passed where he should be and I had about two seconds to turn back towards shore and be ready to get launched back at the shelf of lava rock. This time I swam with all my might to stay with the wave. Both arms were aching and I only had one fin still on.
I lucked out as I shot right through a clear channel like a torpedo. Just as the wave started to slow down, I was able to grab hold of the rocks while the water sucked the mask off of my face as well as my dive bag and dive knife. I was barely able to hang on as the water receded. When it had slowed down, I started scrambling up the rocks to get away from the deadly waves. I reached an area that was above the water mark and looked further up the beach for the life guard, yelling for help as I saw my Dad being tossed back onto the pinnacle again. After a few seconds it dawned on me that no one could hear me shouting and the life guard was too busy scoping out bikinis to care about the other end of the beach.
I then stripped off my remaining scuba gear, the air tank, BC, and weight belt, and made my way back through the channel to swim back out to my father. By now the waves had calmed back down to the normal two to three foot range. I pushed away from the rocks and yelled for Dad to hang on as I desperately swam out to him. Dad just kept floating up and down on the waves with his BC fully inflated. As I was nearing him I saw the life guard finally taking to the water with his surf board as someone must have noticed what was going on.
I reached Dad a full two minutes before the life guard and found Dad weak and dazed. I feared for the worst as I grabbed hold of him and began towing him to shore. The life guard arrived on the scene and pulled Dad onto the surf board. I gratefully hung onto the side as I was exhausted. When we were shallow enough to touch bottom, a few people that had gathered to see what was going on came out and helped pull Dad back onto the beach. As I staggered out of the water I saw my step-mom running up and asking what had happened. After a very brief explanation (gasping the whole time) they had us sit down and wait for the ambulance to check us out. It had arrived not a minute after we were pulled from the water. I was shaking with a combination of adrenaline and shock, but kept telling the paramedic that was talking to me to take care of my father as he was still not fully aware of his surroundings. Once oxygen had been administered to Dad and my step-mom had talked with the paramedics, it was decided that they would go ahead and transport Dad to the hospital to check for head trauma as he was still a little out of it. By this time, the rest of the family had shown up and they were told to go get everything so we could go to the hospital.
We were at the hospital for about an hour and a half before we were taken to see Dad. They said he may have a concussion, but the only things they found were a few small cuts and bruises. My step-mom had the rest of the family head home with her mother that had driven up to meet us at the hospital and I stayed with her to wait on Dad. One Dad was checked out, we went out to the beer store and got a case of beer. We took it to the fire department the Paramedics were stationed out of and gave it to them as well as our thanks for their help. We took the next day to recoup and I found that I was actually more hurt than my father--I had scraped my back, arm, legs and left foot and had coral starting to grow in the wounds. I picked it out for a few months as well as some spines from a spiny urchin that I had rolled over.
The things I learned from this experience are to always find out as much about the currents in an area you plan to dive and make sure someone else knows where you'll be if the worst happens. Also don't try to swim against the current as you're not likely to win. If we had stopped and just gone with the current we could have tried for another beach further down and not risked injury.
73 and dive safe
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