In 2004 I visited Seaton in Devon. My friend and I were very excited to try our new body boards but having suited up and eyed what I now know are ‘dump waves’ pounding into shore, I decided to not enter the water. It was too violent for my comfort zone, though my friend, ever the thrill-seeker, went in. I sat on the beach a good fifteen metres away from the crashing shoreline, at what I considered a safe distance. I was in a shallow sandy pool, with just a few centimetres of water, happily splashing about with my board tied to my ankle and fins on my feet. But what happened next took my breath away.
A freak wave came up, over and onto the beach sweeping me into the sea in a matter of seconds. Powerless against the waves, I was pushed below the surface and along the stony bottom whilst waves crashed over my head. It was like being inside a powerful, pebbly washing machine as I was pushed to the bottom, again and again by the pounding water. I travelled fast under the surface (over a quarter of a mile I was later told) within a few minutes. I was gasping for breath, praying for a miracle. I did not know how I would escape the onslaught to get my next breath of air. My fins had been ripped off in the turbulence but the body board was still thankfully attached to my ankle. After a few more desperate minutes, another huge wave threw me up, out of the water and at the craggy coastline. I knew it would be my only chance to get out of the water and I took it.
As I was thrown into the air, I saw a tiny shelf, no bigger than the width of my heel which was just wide enough to hold my feet while my hands scrabbled desperately, clinging to the wall for dear life. A few more minutes passed and I was helped by some walkers who had witnessed me being pulled into sea and had climbed down the headland to help. They grabbed both my arms and pulled me up to safety, telling me I was lucky to be alive. I was very shaken. Over the next few days I kept bursting into tears and over the following weeks and months, the shock of the event had significant ramifications on my personality; I stopped being spontaneous, fun and carefree, I stopped taking risks, going in the sea and scuba diving. I became fearful, anxious and cautious. I worried about future events and I worried about my safety. I felt a part of myself was lost in the sea that day and I worried I would never get it back. For the first time in my life, I had become aware of my own mortality. My respect for the sea had greatly increased that day and I took away a valuable lesson; to always keep at a safe distance. No. Matter. What.