Excerpt for Rip Current: A Surfers Tale of Survival by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

Rip Current

a surfers tale of survival

By

Anthony Ivins

Published by Anthony Ivins@Smashwords

Copyright © 2017 Anthony Ivins

No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, or by any information storage and retrieval system without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of very brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

"Good morning ladies and gentlemen on this fine Friday morning the 12th of December 2015. We are expecting sunrise at 05-02 am this morning. The day's high is set to be 90 degrees with a low of 62 degrees. Current conditions are fair with some high cloud cover. Time to get up and at 'em," crackled the voice over the radio.

Matt rolled over and opened his curtains slightly, allowing the early rays of the sun to filter through and brighten up his room. His radio alarm woke him up at 5 am every morning, on cue for the DJ to give his morning weather report. Matt loved waking up on Friday mornings, it signaled the end of the week and he had a whole weekend of non-stop surfing to look forward to. This Friday was special; it was spring tide and the surf forecast was for unusually large waves. 

He had been surfing ever since he could remember and had grown up idolizing surfers like Shaun Thompson and Kelly Slater. Matt had hundreds of surfing magazines, from ZigZag to Curl, strewn around his apartment. There was no place you could sit that wouldn't have a magazine within reach. His walls were decorated with pictures of Pipeline, Waimea Bay and numerous other legendary surf spots. Matt's ultimate dream was to tour Hawaii and surf with the big guns. But today he first had to go to work.

Work for Matt was as a barman at a small seaside restaurant called 'The Shack' that overlooked SuperTubes, the best surf spot in Jeffrey's Bay. Matt had tried many jobs but had never truly felt comfortable unless he could see the sea. He covered the breakfast and lunch time shift which meant he started early in the morning, but also meant that he finished early too. He usually managed to be out of there by 5pm which, in the summer, left him with two and a half hours of surfing time.

Matt rolled out of bed and jumped into the shower. He always enjoyed a cold shower in the morning. This got his blood flowing and kept him on his toes. After washing his sun-bleached hair and shaving off some of the thin, fish moth stubble, that had grown during the night, he dried himself and got dressed in his work clothes. 

He tugged at his curtains, opening them fully and letting the full force of the sun stream into his room. Matt opened his window and let the fresh sea air blow into his face, his nostrils sucking in all the air he could get - he loved the smell of the ocean air. He made himself a cup of instant coffee, black with one spoon of brown sugar. Matt stood next to his window and looked out at the sea, watching as the waves rolled in, wishing he could be out there surfing. He was hypnotized by the sight of the waves and the smell of the sea, having to shake himself to break the trance he found himself in.

Walking was the easiest method of transportation for Matt to get to work, usually taking no longer than a few minutes. He was always the first to get there and normally had to wait a few minutes for Henry, the owner, to arrive and open up. Today was no exception and Matt sat outside waiting for Henry. He sat on his favourite spot, an old oak barrel, staring out at the sea, watching the waves.

"They say they are going to get big today with the spring tide," came a voice from behind, giving Matt a fright.

Matt whipped around and saw Henry standing behind him, his arms filled with parcels of groceries.

"Yes, that's what they say," replied Matt, "and I hope they are right. I have been waiting to surf some real big waves for years."

"Can you give us a hand?" asked Henry, looking down at the keys that were hooked around one of his fingers.

"Yes sure," replied Matt as he grabbed the keys off Henry's finger and opened the padlock on the front door. As he swung the glass door open, he was hit with the stench of stale alcohol and cigarettes that lingered from the night before.  Matt turned his head away in disgust, the smell making his stomach turn. 

Henry hurried past him, bumping him out of the way, "Sorry Matt but these parcels are heavy," he said as he almost dropped them on the floor.

Matt made his way through the restaurant, dodging some of the pools of beer lying on the floor, to his bar counter at the back of the restaurant. He put on his apron and started to clear away the dirty glasses and ashtrays, placing them on a plastic tray that he would slide into the dishwasher. It took him just short of an hour to have his bar area clean and tidy, all the evidence from the previous night’s festivities rinsed away. The rest of the staff had arrived and were busy getting their stations clean and ready for breakfast.

Next up for Matt was his stock-take, and he went to the computer in the back office to print a copy of the stock sheet. He grabbed a pencil from the stationary organizer on the desk and began his count. This was the worst of Matt’s duties, he hated admin work. It took another hour before Matt had finished his stock take, completing a requisition form with all the stock he needed to fill up the fridges again. He walked over to Henry and handed him the requisition sheet.

"It must have been busy last night," said Matt as he handed Henry the sheet, "We need lots of stock. It looks like they drank all the Tequila - there is not even one drop left."

Henry took the sheet and looked at it, scratching his head while scanning through it. "Yes it was busy," he replied, "I think I had a few too many Tequila's myself. Can't remember though."

"One of those nights Mr. H?" asked Matt, well aware of the reputation that Henry had in Jeffreys Bay.

"I just can't say no," said Henry, still staring at the stock sheet.

"Do you want me to issue the stock?" asked Matt, offering to offload that duty from Henry.

"If you can that would be great," replied Henry, "I need to sit down for a bit and have a cup of strong coffee, my head is killing me."

"No problem. Do you have the keys?" asked Matt.

"Yes, here they are." replied Henry as he handed over the keys to the storeroom that held all the liquor. "Please make sure you lock up when you are finished as we have had a lot of stock disappearing recently."

"Yea, disappearing down your throat," muttered Matt to himself.

"What was that?" asked Henry.

"Nothing, just checking which key I need to use," said Matt as he quickly turned around and went to issue his stock from the storeroom. 

Matt issued the stock and carried it to his bar. He packed all the beers, ciders and soft drinks into the fridges, ensuring they would be well chilled once the lunch service started. There is nothing worse than a warm beer! He thought to himself. Matt went through all the liquor bottles on the shelves, arranging each one so they formed a perfectly straight line, that probably had something to do with his OCD. Once he satisfied himself that the bar was in perfect condition, he went to Henry to report that he was ready.

"Bar is ready for service," said Matt as he approached Henry who had remained seated, his head between his hands, an empty cup of coffee in front of him..

Henry looked up at Matt and replied, "Great thanks Matt. Can you help Tracey in the kitchen?"

"No problem," replied Matt, and he turned around and headed towards the kitchen, almost breaking into a run.

Tracey was Henry's niece and Matt had fancied her from the first day he started working there. At first Tracey ignored him completely, but as time went by, she slowly started to warm up to him, even talking to him now. He burst through the service doors and into the kitchen, almost bowling her over.

"Watch out!" she yelled as Matt came through the door, swerving to his left and narrowly missing her.

"Sorry," said Matt as a he came to a halt, "I didn't see you."

"It's fine, just take it easy next time," replied Tracey.

"Henry said you might need some help, and I have finished preparing the bar. Is there anything I can help you with?" he continued.

"Yes, I need some potatoes peeled. There is a pile over there you can start with," she replied, pointing to a bowl filled to the brim with the largest potatoes Matt had ever seen, "I will help you when I have finished mopping the floor."

"Okay, I will start peeling. Where is the peeler?" he asked.

"Right there next to the bowl, under the dish cloth," replied Tracey.

Matt started peeling the potatoes. He had never peeled a potato before so this was a new learning experience for him. At first he found it quite difficult and kept having to move the potato around to get a clean shave in. Slowly but surely it got easier and when there were only a few left he had mastered the art and could peel a potato in a few seconds. 

As he peeled the last potato and put it in a bowl of water, he suddenly realized that Tracey was still busy mopping the floor. He had been too fast. He wanted to talk to her for a while, just hear her soft voice and smell that sweet perfume that she loved to wear. Matt would use any excuse in the book just to be able to spend some time close to her.

"Anything else you need me to do?" asked Matt as he looked around for another task he could help out with, desperately hoping she would find something so he could hang around a while longer.

"No thanks Matt, I can do the rest," replied Tracey.

"Okay, no problem," said Matt, and he made his way to the kitchen door, pausing just before opening it.

"Tracey," he called out.

"Yes Matt," replied Tracey

"I was wondering what you are doing this afternoon? I hear that that there is a big swell coming in and the waves are going to be huge - something to do with the spring tide. A few of us are going to the beach. Do you want to come with us?" asked Matt, sounding a little awkward.

"Thanks for asking Matt, but I am already going to the beach. Paul asked me yesterday and I said I would go with him," replied Tracey.

"Sure, no problem," said Matt, feeling embarrassed as he whipped around and hurried off to his bar area.

Paul and Matt had been close friends at school but had grown apart when they graduated and now barely even greeted one another. Paul had been trying to woo Tracey for a few months and always seemed to get in the way when Matt made his move. 

Matt sat behind the bar and cooled off. "She is out of my league anyway," he thought to himself, "It would be better if I rather focus on my surfing," trying to console himself.

The breakfast and lunch service went by quickly. Matt kept a constant eye on the sea, watching as the waves grew bigger and bigger by the hour. The tide was slowly coming in and bringing with it the huge swell created by the spring tide. There were already many surfers out there, fighting for each wave. Matt knew that when the waves reached a certain height, the majority of the surfers would be scared and would leave the water and stand on the shore pretending they had just finished a session. Only a handful of them were brave enough to take on the big waves.

After the lunch service finished shortly after 4pm, Matt cleaned up his bar area and waited for Johnny to arrive so he could hand over and head off to the beach. Johnny was always late and Matt prayed that today would be the one day he was on time. He wanted to get into the water as soon as possible. The waves were starting to get big and already only a couple of surfers remained in the water. Matt could see a line of photographers starting to appear. He knew if he caught a good wave he might be featured in the local surf magazine ZigZag. 

Matt's prayers were answered and Johnny arrived almost exactly on time.

"Hey Matt, how did the shift go?" he asked as he walked up behind Matt.

"Nice and busy, but nothing I couldn't handle," replied Matt, "I see you had a rough night last night. What time did you finish up?"

"I only got out of here after 2am," replied Johnny, "Boy can Henry drink. He downed Tequila like the world was coming to an end. He must have one helluva hangover!"

"Yes, he looked very fragile this morning. He couldn't even issue the stock. I had to do it for him," said Matt

“Hopefully I can get an early one tonight. I am still buggered from last night," added Johnny.

"Let’s handover quickly, I want to get out on the water, there are some waves waiting for me," said Matt, and he pulled his stock sheet out from under his cash register and started going through it with Johnny. 

It didn't take long to sign off the stock and the cash float as they had done this many times together. When Matt signed the bottom of the sheet he took his apron off, grabbed his bag and headed towards the door, passing Tracey along the way.

"Goodbye Tracey," he said as he walked past.

"Bye Matt," replied Tracey, "Are you going out there for a surf?"

"I wouldn't miss it for the world," replied Matt.

"Please be careful, it looks very dangerous," said Tracey, looking genuinely worried.

"Don't worry, I know what I'm doing out there," snapped Matt, a little annoyed that she thought he didn't know what he was doing.

"Yes I know. It's just those waves are really big and anything can happen," she continued.

"You don't have to worry about me. Have a good time with Paul," he replied sarcastically and hurried through the door.

"Matt wait. . . ," said Tracey but Matt was already out of earshot and on his way home to collect his surfing gear.

Matt mumbled and moaned to himself as he made his way the short distance to his house. When he arrived at home his mood changed instantly. It was time to get wet. He walked up the stairs to his apartment and went inside, ripping his clothes off and throwing them on the floor. He found his swimming trunks hanging in the bathroom and almost jumped right into them.

His wetsuit was hanging in the shower, still damp from the previous afternoon's surf. He looked outside at the weather and noticed that the clouds had started closing in. Matt debated in his head if he should wear his short sleeve wetsuit or the full-length one. Both had their pros and cons. He decided to wear the short one as it allowed him more movement on the bigger waves.

He put on his wetsuit and grabbed his surfboard, a custom board made by Dutchie, from the corner of the room and started to give it a nice thick layer of wax. Matt used a special comb to scrape the wax into a rough finish that would give him a lot of traction in the water. When he finished he had one last look out of his window at the waves and made his way to the door.

Matt had walked down this pathway to the beach hundreds of times. He followed the same ritual every time, making sure he did not step on any of the cracks and keeping to the left of the path. He always stopped at the top of the path, where he had a good vantage point, and planned his entry into the water. 

The tide was almost full, and the big waves started rolling in. Each wave formed the perfect break, with a long and clean ride along the reef before closing out at a place called ‘Impossibles’. They reached as large as fifteen feet on some sets, with even larger waves predicted for later in the afternoon. Matt continued down the pathway and when he reached the beach he decided to sit down and plan his ride.

He liked to make sure he was fully prepared when he went into the water and he always took time to check the conditions. As he sat and watched a few of the surfers he heard the sounds of the camera shutters opening and closing. He looked around at the photographers and noticed there were now at least twenty of them, their lenses constantly trained on the sea, looking for that perfect shot.

After thirty minutes Matt felt he was ready and he stood up, fastening his leash around his foot. He made his way towards the water, his eyes fixed on the waves in front of him. He was fully aware that everybody on the beach was watching him, wondering if he was really crazy enough to be going out in these conditions.

As he reached the water’s edge he bent down picked up some sea sand in his hand and rubbed it with his fingers, letting it crumble to the ground. This was a ritual he did whenever he went into the water, although he could never tell you why he did it. He walked a few paces into the water, pausing to get his body used to the temperature. When he was waist deep he grabbed his board, held it in front of him, and jumped on, paddling as fast as he could to get through the shore break.

He ducked under the first few waves, powering himself through the water. People were staring in amazement at the ease with which he was able to go underneath the waves, pop out on the other side and then continue paddling. It didn't take long before he had cleared the shore break and paddled out to the back line to join his colleagues.

There were three of them sitting on their boards, the wind whipping at their wet hair when Matt paddled up. 

"Hi guys," greeted Matt, "How's the wave today?"

"Awesome," answered Barry, "Nice clean break with lots of power. Watch for the close outs though, I've been dumped twice already."

"Okay cool thanks," replied Matt, "How long you guys been out?"

"I've been here a few hours but Barry and Mike just arrived about an hour ago," replied Jay, "You can get the next one Matt, we have all caught a few already."

"Great thanks," said Matt, never one to turn down a free wave. 

The locals at Supertubes were like a close family. The surfed together almost every day and had formed a close bond between themselves. On the odd occasion an outsider would come and surf there, and if they didn't show respect or wait their turn, they were quickly dealt with. 

Matt sat on his board in the water, his hands resting on his thighs as he scanned the back line for any sets of waves coming in. The sea was flat with nothing on the horizon. He turned his attention to the beach and saw that the crowd had grown quite large. Matt wasn't one to be intimidated by crowds and he looked back out to sea and waited for the waves to roll in.

He didn't have to wait long and within a minute the first wave in the set came in. Matt knew that it was always the third or fourth wave in the set that was the biggest so he allowed the first two to pass by before readying himself. He started paddling while the wave was still a short way off and by the time it arrived it picked him up easily. When he picked up enough speed he jumped onto his feet and rode the face of the wave, all the way to the bottom before digging in the rail of his board and turning sharply to his right, sending up a spray of water.

He made his way to the middle of the wave and let his right arm dangle in the face of the wave as he cruised along it while the lip of the wave slowly started to move over him. Matt slowed himself slightly, allowing the wave to move over him, placing him in the center of the barrel. From the shore it looked like he had been eaten by the wave. He had to pick up his pace a bit as the wave started to swallow him up. Matt started pumping his legs, shredding the water with the surfboard. He quickly gained momentum and as the wave closed around him he shot out of the tube and along the open face of the wave, a huge spray of water following close behind him.

The crowd erupted in spontaneous applause from the beach as he suddenly appeared out of nowhere. Matt rode the wave a short while longer and then swung his board over the lip, falling flat onto his stomach and starting to paddle back to where he had begun. As he was paddling back out, he watched Barry get dumped inside a monster wave. He held his breath for a while until he saw Barry surface a few seconds later, signalling he was okay.

When he reached the back line he was the only one there and enjoyed the few minutes of silence before Jay paddled up.

"Great ride Matt," said Jay as he joined Matt.

"That was beautiful, cleanest barrel I have had in years," replied Matt, "How was yours?"

"Not too bad," replied Jay, "I got a bit ahead of the tube so I didn't get inside it properly. Maybe the next one will be better."

"I watched Barry getting dumped," said Matt, "he must be feeling it. It happened right over the reef."

"Yeah, I saw that too. I don't see him coming back out so he must have had enough," said Jay.

Matt caught a few more waves, enjoying the crowd that was watching. He heard their cheers every time he shot out of the tube and their groans when one of his fellow surfers wiped out. Whenever a fellow surfer fell he would always watch the water, making sure they surfaced and were fine. The afternoon went by quickly and as the sun started to set Matt knew he had one, possibly two more wave left before he would have to get out of the water.

He wanted to make this last ride his best one, and he looked back towards the beach, seeing if he could recognize anybody. In reality, he was really looking for Tracey and it took only a few moments before he picked her out among the crowd. She was standing on the rocks, her hand shielding her eyes from the falling sun, watching him.

This fired Matt up even more and he vowed to make this wave his best. He watched as a new set came in. In the distance he could see it was larger than anything else that day.

"Perfect," he thought to himself, "I can finish off with a big one."

He steadied himself and watched as the first two waves came through, letting them go. He was about to paddle for the third when he decided to let that one go too. As the fourth came he had a good feeling in his gut that this was the wave.

He paddled the same as he had done a thousand times before and caught the wave perfectly as it rose to its full twenty-five feet. Matt jumped up to his feet and steered his board down the face of the wave at a sharp angle, making sure he didn’t go too fast. He turned sharply at the bottom of the wave and rode up the face until he was half way. Out of the corner of his eye he looked to see if Tracey was still watching him.

He suddenly got a sickening feeling, the first wave of the set was heading towards the rocks that Tracey was standing on. From a distance it seemed a lot bigger than the previous waves. Matt instantly knew that Tracey was in danger. She had seen the previous wave’s crash into the rocks a few yards in front of her and she assumed she would be safe. However, this was a much larger set of waves and if she didn’t move off the rocks the waves would crash into her.

Matt turned sharply to the left and back down the wave until he reached the foot of the wave and carried on straight. He started waving his arms frantically in the air, trying to warn Tracey of the approaching danger. She didn’t seem to understand and instead started waving back at him. Matt put his hands around his mouth and tried to shout but his voice had little chance of travelling that distance.

The wave crashed violently behind him with a ton of white water falling on the back of his surfboard, pushing it under the water causing him to fall backwards into the turbulent water. Just before his head went underwater he saw the spray shoot into the air as the first wave hit the rocks that Tracey was standing on. Matt was sure he could see Tracey’s body also being flung into the air but before he could be certain, his vision was filled water.

Matt was thrown around like a rag doll under the water. It felt as if he had been put inside in a washing machine, being spun around in every direction. He was pushed down to the ocean floor and then back to the surface before being pushed down again. For a short while he became disorientated and did not know which way was up. He used all his experience to remain calm and soon he saw the light coming from the surface and made his way up.

He burst through the surface and took a few gulps of air, just in time too as the next wave in the set caught him and threw him under again. Matt tumbled around in the same motion as before, spinning and turning in every direction. This time he remained even calmer and let himself be shoved around, making his way to the surface once the turbulence died down.

He started swimming to the side the moment he broke the surface, hoping to get into the clean water before the next wave came. He swam as hard and as fast as he could. His surfboard in tow behind him, being dragged by the leash. As the next wave arrived he managed to swim to the side of the break and safely made it over the lip.

Unfortunately Matt forgot that his surfboard was still attached to his foot, and the board got caught in the middle as the wave broke, dragging him backwards. He took a deep breath and let himself be dragged, tugging at the leash until the surfboard popped out of the wave and floated on the surface.

Matt continued to pull the leash until the surfboard came within reach. He grabbed it and lay on top, paddling as fast as he could to beat the next wave. He managed to avoid the next wave quite comfortably and as soon as he went over it he turned around, trying to see what happened to Tracey.

The light was fading badly and Matt could just make out the rocks that Tracey had been standing on. He squinted his eyes to see if he could spot her but she was nowhere to be seen. He could see the people on the beach starting to turn around and walk away. It appeared as if his wipe out signalled the end of the day.

Tracey stood on the rocks watching Matt catch his last wave. She had had a nasty fight with Paul and decided she would rather watch Matt surf than listen to him talk about himself any longer. Tracey ventured out onto the rocks to get a closer look, and to get away from Paul. She walked right to the edge of the rocks where she was close enough to catch a small splash of the spray as the waves broke.

Matt was surfing well and she joined in the applause with the crowd whenever he caught a nice tube and escaped the close out. Matt was on a really large wave and she watched him closely, not paying much attention to the waves in front of her. She saw him waving and assumed it was at her so she waved back.

“What is he doing?” she thought to herself as the wave behind him started to crash down, with Matt directly in front.

At that same moment the wave broke on the rocks directly in front of her, lifting her high into the air. If the wave had landed a few yards closer to the shore it would have crushed her into rocks.

As her body came down she landed in the water that had covered the rocks and almost at once she felt herself being pulled backwards, towards the sea. At first she was disorientated and didn’t know what was happening. She knew she was being pulled along and was powerless to stop it. Her mind raced as she tried to keep her head above the water.

She rolled around and tried to swim but the current was too strong and pulled her out to sea with ease. By the time she even thought of screaming for help she was already too far away to be heard, but that didn’t stop and she started to scream, “Help. Help me!” at the top of her voice.

Matt was sitting on his surfboard still scanning the rocks for any sign of Tracey when he first caught the faint sound of what he thought were screams. He sat dead still on his board, “Was he hearing things?” he thought to himself.

Then he heard it again, a faint cry, “Help me.”

He tried to see where the sound was coming from, looking all around. Matt decided to paddle out towards the back line where it was a little quieter and to see if the sound got any louder. He paused every few strokes and listened for the sound, but none came.

When he was well behind the waves he looked towards the shore and noticed that most of the lights in the houses and shops were on, starting to shine brightly as the darkness descended.

“It’s will be dark soon,” he thought to himself, “I had better make my way to shore.”

Matt turned around in the water and took one last look towards the vast expanse of ocean. Then, just as he was about to paddle to shore, he heard the sound again, faintly in the distance, “Help.”

“Hello,” he shouted, “Where are you!”

He listened for a response for a few seconds and when none came he shouted again, “Hello! Is anybody out there?”

He sat for almost a full minute waiting for a response. Then it dawned on him, somebody must have been caught in the rip current and dragged out to sea. As a surfer he had been tempted on many occasions to use the rip current to pull him behind the waves. He would need to kick out of rip just before it dragged him out to sea.

It had always been an extremely dangerous option which none of the surfers were prepared to use although at times they were tempted. Matt started paddling towards the rip which was only about fifty yards away.

It was as recently as last summer that a swimmer had been caught in the rip and had been pulled out to sea and drowned. His body washing up on Albatross beach, a few kilometres away, the following day.

Matt was not sure what he should do next, join the rip current and try to find whoever was out there or go to shore, raise the alarm and try to get help. He knew that no helicopter was available and the local sea rescue crew wouldn’t go out at night but would wait for daylight. The skipper of the rescue crew was a regular at ‘The Shack’ and was more than likely already drunk.

A bad thought suddenly struck Matt. That person out there could be Tracey. She had disappeared from the rocks and that is the exact area where the rip current starts. When the wave struck she must have been thrown off the rocks and into the water, then pulled along with the current. If there happened to be any doubt in his mind about which option he had to take, it was now gone.

He paddled directly into the middle of the rip current and felt himself being pulled out to sea. He started to paddle with the current, moving as fast as he could and calling our Tracey’s name every few seconds.

“Tracey?”

“Tracey?”

After a few minutes of waiting for a response he sat on his surfboard, trying to get as high as possible. He scanned the sea looking for any object or movement that seemed out of place. He cupped his hands around his mouth and yelled out “Tracey!”

Then he heard it again, fainter than the last time, “Help.”

She was getting further away. He started paddling furiously, going as fast as his arms could manage. He had to get to Tracey before she went under. After a short while he slowed down and called out again, “Tracey, can you hear me?”

The reply came almost instantly, “I’m over here, help.”

Matt sat up on his board again. In the semi-darkness he just see an arm sticking out of the water, waving. He paddled across to her and as he saw her he dived off his board and into the water, swimming frantically to her. He grabbed her from behind, under her arms and pulled her towards his surfboard.

“Are you okay?” he asked as he pulled her along.

“Yes,” she replied, water spluttering out of her mouth.

When they reached the surfboard Tracey grabbed it and Matt pushed her on top, her hands clinging to the nose. Matt held on to the rail of the surfboard, keeping it steady. Tracey took a few deep breaths of air and coughed out some sea water. After a few minutes of coughing and spluttering she managed to speak.

She looked up at Matt and gave him a small smile, “You saved my life,” she said, “Thank you.”

“I almost didn’t hear you calling for help,” replied Matt, “I thought I was hearing things. I was sure I saw a wave knock you down, but then the wave threw me under the water I couldn’t see anymore. When I came back up you had disappeared.”

“I didn’t even see it coming,” said Tracey, “I went for a walk on the rocks and was watching you surf. All I remember is being thrown upside down into the air before being washed away. Something kept on pulling me.”

“You got caught in a rip current,” replied Matt, “The same as the one that killed that tourist last year.”

“Oh no! I remember that,” said Tracey, “Didn’t they find his body on Albatross Beach the next day?”

“Yes, that’s right,” said Matt, “What were you doing on the rocks? I thought you went with Paul.”

“We had a fight,” replied Tracey, “and I needed some time alone so I took a walk…”

Tracey was so relieved at being found that she hadn’t even realised where they were. She suddenly stopped talking and looked around her, realising that she was floating in the middle of the ocean in almost complete darkness. Tracey felt a chill come over her, the adrenalin that pumped through her body was fading away.

Her teeth started to chatter and she started shivering uncontrollably. Matt didn’t know what to do, he somehow had to get her warm. He unzipped his wetsuit and took it off under the water. He tapped her on the arm and she looked up, still shivering.

“Here put on my wetsuit, it will keep you warm,” he said, holding his wetsuit out of the water, “It will be a bit big, but it will do the job. It will be easier if you get into the water and put it on.”

Tracey looked at the water and shook her head.

“Please, you have to,” said Matt, “Just slide over the side and hang on to the board. I will put the suit on for you. Close your eyes and imagine you are in a big bath tub.”

Reluctantly Tracey moved to the edge of the surfboard and slipped back into the water, clinging on to the surfboard. Matt managed to get her feet in first and pulled up the wetsuit above her waist. He gently took one of her hands off the board and put it into the arm of the wetsuit then placed it back, doing the same with the other one. Luckily the zipper was at the back of the wetsuit so he could easily zip it up.

Matt lifted her back onto the surfboard and she lay down, her head resting on her arms. Matt continued to tread water, clinging on to the surfboard. After a short while he broke the silence, “I am not trying to be funny but if you pee in the wetsuit it will warm you up.”

“That’s disgusting,” replied Tracey, scrunching up her face.

“Yes it is but it will keep you warm,” said Matt.

“What’s going to happen to us?” asked Tracey, “Do you think they will send somebody to look for us?”

“I’m not sure,” replied Matt, “Nobody knows that I am out here and I have the weekend off work so I will only be missed on Monday morning. What about you? What time will your Dad expect you home?”

“He isn’t,” said Tracey, “I told him I was sleeping at Pam’s house.”

“What time is Pam expecting you then?” asked Matt.

“Well, she isn’t expecting me either. I was going to sleep at Paul’s house, I just told my Dad I was sleeping at Pam’s. After our fight Paul is not expecting me so nobody will miss me until tomorrow morning,” she replied.

“I suppose we are on our own then,” said Matt, looking around.

The sea suddenly became calm, the small ripples that surrounded them died down and the surface became flat. The surrounding air started to feel heavier and a small chill developed in the air.

“What is happening?” asked Tracey, looking around anxiously.

“We have moved out of the rip current and we are now floating in the regular current,” replied Matt.

“Are we going out to sea?” continued Tracey.

“Yes,” said Matt honestly, “But in theory we should float back to shore at some stage.”

“How long will that take? I don’t fancy being out here all night,” asked Tracey.

“Unfortunately it will take a long time. Remember that swimmer that washed up on Albatross beach? Well he stayed in the water for a day and a half,” replied Matt.

“That’s a long time,” said Tracey, “And we don’t have any food or water. What about sharks?”

Matt had been avoiding that subject. This area was well known for its population of Great White sharks that enjoyed snacking on the local seal inhabitants. Although shark attacks are quite rare, there had been a few instances in the last few years around Jeffreys Bay.

Matt felt a cold shiver down his spine. That remained his number one fear - being bitten by a shark. Whenever he surfed he always tried to remove the thought from his mind. Sometimes he would sit on his surfboard waiting for a wave and imagine those huge beasts swimming around beneath him.

He knew that sharks fed mainly at night and loved deep water. With them floating on the surface, and with a full moon above them, they were sitting ducks for a hungry shark.

“There hasn’t been a shark attack for a few years,” he replied, trying to ease Tracey’s mind.

“So do you think we are safe?” she asked.

“We should be fine,” lied Matt, “the sea is a big place so the chance of a shark even finding us is very small. Besides, they would more than likely be more scared of us than we are of them.”

“Ok good,” said Tracey, “because I am terrified of sharks.”

“Don’t worry, so am I,” said Matt as he placed his hand on top of Tracey’s hand and gave it a small comforting squeeze.

“Thanks for coming after me,” she said, looking straight into his eyes, “I know you could be sitting safe and sound at home watching TV. You are very brave to risk your life for me.”

“I would never have forgiven myself,” replied Matt, “Leaving you out here in the middle of the sea was not an option.”

“Well thanks again,” she said, and she leant forward and gave Matt’s hand a small kiss and then looked up and smiled at him.

Matt felt a warm sensation go through his body despite the cold water all around him. He decided to take a chance and keep the momentum going.

“So what happened between you and Paul? Is it over?” he asked.

“We were never an item, just good friends,” replied Tracey, “Paul only thinks of himself; he is so self-centred. I asked him to do me a small favour which he said he was too busy for. I have done so many things for him in the past and he cannot even do one small favour for me!”

“Yes Paul is quite selfish,” said Matt, turning the screws as much as he could, “So the two of you were never going out?”

“No, what gave you that idea,” asked Tracey.

“You always seemed to do stuff together,” replied Matt, “and whenever I asked you out you were always busy with Paul.”

“As I said, we are just good friends. Or should I say we were good friends,” said Tracey.

“So what are you doing tonight?” said Matt, feeling a lot better now and trying to lighten the mood.

“Just hanging around,” laughed Tracey in reply.

They floated in silence for a while, Matt hanging onto the surfboard with his body dangling in the water. He looked at his watch, it was 9pm. They had been floating for an hour and half.

The clouds had cleared and the full moon provided them with enough light to see each other clearly. Matt looked up at the stars, they were a beautiful sight. If the circumstances were different he would be a happy man right now.

Tracey had put her head on her arms again and closed her eyes, she was exhausted. As she drifted off to sleep she felt a small bump against the bottom of the surfboard. She ignored it and carried on trying to sleep. A few moments later she felt another bump, this time half way up the board.

“Please stop that, you’re scaring me,” she said.

“Stop what?” asked Matt, “I am not doing anything.”

“It’s not funny,” said Tracey.

“I swear I did not do anything,” said Matt, lifting his hands off the surfboard.

At that moment Tracey felt another bump on the surfboard and she screamed out load, “What was that!”

“I don’t know,” said Matt, “Just stay calm, don’t make any sudden moves.”

Matt looked around at the water, hoping he would get a glimpse of what bumped the surfboard.

“What is it?” asked Tracey anxiously, “Is it a shark?”

“Wait, I’m trying to see,” said Matt as tried to peer down into the water. He put his face under the water and opened his eyes, hoping he would be able catch a glimpse of what was down there. All he managed to see was a black blur of the dark ocean. He suddenly felt exposed dangling in the water and pulled his legs up to his body. It felt as if he was on death row, waiting for his execution.

Tracey was looking around, her head whipping left and right. She let out a blood curling scream when a small black shape emerged from the water right next to her arm. At first Matt assumed a shark had bitten her but as he looked at the creature he quickly recognised the long nose, whiskers and puppy dog eyes as those of a seal.

Seals are naturally curious and this one was no exception, wondering what two people were doing floating in the middle of the ocean. Tracey was still in shock when Matt spoke to her, “Ok you can relax now it’s only a seal.”

She was breathing hard, almost hyper-ventilating. Matt put his hand on top of hers and reassured her again, “its fine, seals are harmless.”

The seal had had enough, and blinking his eyes a few times, he dived into the water and disappeared into the dark abyss.

Tracey let out a huge sigh of relief and burst out into tears. Matt moved his arm around her shoulders and spoke softly into her ear, “its okay, we are fine.”

“Yes but for how long, “sobbed Tracey, “We are going to die, aren’t we?”

“No we are not,” said Matt sternly, “We are going to survive this. This time tomorrow night we are going to be safe on land, sipping on cocktails and laughing about this.”

“I’m so scared,” said Tracey.

“So am I,” said Matt, “but we can’t give up hope.”

“Close your eyes and try to get some sleep, you will feel a lot better,” said Matt, although he didn’t particularly want to tread water alone and preferred the company, it would be better if she slept.

Tracey closed her eyes and tried to sleep. She kept having visions of being eaten by a shark and had to open her eyes to get that mental picture out of her head. Matt continued to cling to the surfboard, trying to kick as little as possible to conserve his energy.

Tracey moved her arms and put them under her chest with her head resting directly on the surfboard. This seemed to do the trick, and she managed to doze off. Matt stared at her while she slept, using his finger to trace an imaginary line on her forehead, tickling her gently while she slept.

Matt felt himself starting to doze off. His head would fall towards the sea and jerk him awake. He looked at his watch, it was 1-00am. Tracey had been sleeping for three hours. He took his hands off the surfboard and stretched them into the air, relieving some of the tension in his shoulders.

“If I fall asleep I have a good chance of drowning,” he thought to himself, “I have to stay awake.”

Matt decided the best option he had was to dip his head under the water, which would definitely wake him up. The last thing he wanted to do was to make a splash and wake up Tracey so he slipped quietly under the water and held his breath. He was good at holding his breath and managed a full minute before coming to the surface.

As his head broke the surface his ears suddenly filled with screaming. He looked around frantically and saw Tracey staring at him and screaming hysterically.

“What happened, what’s wrong?” he asked, looking around nervously.

“I thought you were gone,” she said, tears running down her cheeks.

“I just went under water to wake up, I was falling asleep,” he replied, “I didn’t mean to scare you.”

Tracey managed to calm down after a short while and they continued to float in what became their normal position, Tracey lying on the board and Matt clinging on the side.

“Do you want to lie on the surfboard for a while?” asked Tracey, praying he would say no.

Her prayers were answered, “Thanks but I am still fine,” he replied.

“How are you holding up?” he asked.

“Okay, I guess," she replied.

She looked around at the dark ocean and then blurted out “I just want to go home.”

“Well get there, don’t worry," replied Matt.

“What is the time?” asked Tracey

“It’s one thirty,” replied Matt, glancing at his watch.

“What time is sunrise? We can hopefully see where we are when the sun comes up,” asked Tracey.

“Sun comes up at 5,” he replied.

“How do you know that?” she asked.

“I normally like to watch the sun rise from my bedroom window. There is no better sight in the world.” replied Matt.

They continued to float in almost complete silence. The only sound came from the small waves splashing gently against the side of the surfboard. The air became thicker and when Matt looked around, he noticed that it was getting harder to see far off into the distance.

Tracey felt something too and was getting nervous, looking around anxiously, “What is happening?” she asked.

“The fog is coming in,” replied Matt, “it normally forms in the early hours of the morning when the air is colder than the sea. When the sun comes up it heats the air and the fog disappears. I’m afraid we will have to wait for sunrise before we can see where we are.”

“It’s creepy,” said Tracey, “Something bad always happens when there is fog.”

“You have been watching too many movies,” said Matt.

The air started to get thicker and the fog became denser, enclosing them in a thick cloud. Matt could barely see a few yards away. He gripped the surfboard tighter and lifted his feet to his chest, that creepy feeling was contagious.

The sea remained perfectly calm with the thick cloud lying just above the surface. The combination of the fog, silence and calm sea was eerie and Matt decided to try to take their minds off their predicament with some idle conversation, “So how did you end up working at the Shack?”

“When I finished school I didn’t know what to study, so I thought I would work for a year and then decide. Well one year ended up being eight and I still don’t know what I want to study. My uncle keeps telling me he wants to retire and he wants me to take over the restaurant,” replied Tracey.

“Wow, eight years is a long time. Don’t you get bored?” asked Matt.

“Not really, I love what I do and you get to meet different people all the time. In case you haven’t noticed, I am not the type of person that likes to sit behind a desk. This job gives me the freedom to move around. Of course it also has the best view in the world,” added Tracey.

“Yes it does,” agreed Matt who chose to work at the Shack specifically for the view, “Do you have any brothers or sisters”

“None, I am only child. How about you?”

“Also only one,” replied Matt, “Do you miss not having a brother or sister?”

“I guess you never really know what it feels like to have one. It gets a bit lonely sometimes being by yourself,” said Tracey

“Yes I know what you mean. I think that’s why I enjoy surfing so much, it is a lonely sport. There is nothing better than that peace and quiet when you are sitting on your surfboard waiting for the next wave,” added Matt.

“You are really good,” said Tracey, “I was watching you from the rocks.”

“Thanks,” said Matt, feeling slightly embarrassed.

“You should enter some competitions,” added Tracey, “I am sure you will win.”

“Well for the last three years I have signed up for the Billabong Pro but then I have always backed out at the last minute,” said Matt.

“Why is that?” asked Tracey

“I think I am scared of failing. If I didn’t it make it through the qualifying rounds I don’t know what I would do,” said Matt, surprised at his own honesty.

“But how will you know if you don’t try?” she asked.

“I guess I just need some confidence. When I surf everyday there is no pressure, no consequences if I fall. But in a competition there is lots of pressure. If you fall, it’s over,” answered Matt.

“But today you were surfing in front of hundreds of people and you were fine. What if you just imagined it was a normal day and surfed as you usually do? It is all in the mind,” she continued.

“I suppose I could give it a try,” he replied.

“When is the next competition?” she enquired.

“It’s in July, three months away,” replied Matt.

“So why don’t you enter? I will be your coach,” offered Tracey.

“Wow, are you serious? That would be great!” said Matt.

“I am dead serious. I will make sure you are ready mentally. You can work on the surfing stuff,” she added.

“Deal,” said Matt, and the two of them shook hands.

Matt was kicking his legs gently when the pain suddenly shot through the calf muscle on his left leg. He scrunched up his face and screamed out loud in pain, “Ouch!”

“What is it, what’s wrong!” screamed Tracey, seeing the excruciating pain on his face.

“It’s my leg,” said Matt, “OUCH!”

“Matt what is it!” screamed Tracey again, getting hysterical, “Is it a shark?”

“No, it’s cramp” said Matt, just managing to get his words out before the pain took over again.

His calf muscle was seizing up, contracting into a solid ball of pain. Matt knew he had to stretch his leg. That would mean letting go of the surfboard and going underwater so he could use both hands to pull his toes backwards, stretching out the muscle.

The pain was becoming unbearable, “I need to stretch my leg,” said Matt through his clenched teeth. “I’m going to go underwater for a few seconds.”

“Okay but be careful,” replied Tracey, looking concerned.

Matt let go of the surfboard, took a deep breath and slid under the water. He felt for his toes and used both hands to pull them back towards his body, stretching them as hard as he could. He held them tight for a few seconds, feeling the muscle loosen up. He let go and wriggled his toes but still felt some tension in the muscle. He reached down and pulled his toes back again for a few more seconds and then let go and shot to the surface for some fresh air.

This time Tracey was expecting him and had a look of relief on her face when he broke the surface.

“Are you okay?” she asked as he wiped the water from his eyes.

“Yes, much better,” replied Matt, “That was unbelievably sore. I have never felt pain like that in my life. I thought cramp was only for old people.”

“It’s your body saying it’s tired and thirsty,” said Tracey.

“I agree with it,” said Matt, “I am tired and thirsty. I wish we at least had some water to drink. It’s ironic, being surrounded by water that you cannot drink.”

“Are you sure you don’t want to lie on the surfboard for a while?” asked Tracey, “I will be fine to hang on.”

“Actually if I can just rest for a few minutes that would be great,” said Matt, starting to feel exhausted.

Reluctantly Tracey slid off the surfboard and into the water, “Oooh its cold”, she said as she submerged her body in the water, filling up her wetsuit.

“Give it a few minutes and you will be warm,” said Matt as he climbed on top of the surfboard and stretched his legs out.

Tracey stayed perfectly still in the water for a few moments before piping up, “You’re right,”

“Huh? Right about what?” asked Matt.

“Your earlier advice,” she replied.

“My earlier advice? Ah….Okay…,” said Matt, remembering what he had told Tracey to do in her wetsuit to keep warm.

“Don’t you worry about what’s underneath?” said Tracey, looking down at the water.

“Yes, but I try to keep my mind off it. Imagine the first thing you are going to do when we reach land,” said Matt, “I am going to have a huge Mexican Pizza and a litre or two of Coke.”

“I am going to have a huge plate of prawns, soaked in garlic butter sauce and served on a bed of rice. I will wash that down with the biggest glass of white wine anybody has ever seen,” added Tracey.

“Urg, prawns?” said Matt, scrunching his face in disgust.

“Don’t you like prawns?” asked Tracey.

“No, they are the roaches of the sea. Do you know what they eat?” said Matt.

“No and please don’t tell me, I really enjoy them and don’t want to be put off,” replied Tracey.


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