Swansea to Catherine Hill Bay: a risky business

By HANS SCHMIDT

We’re bobbing a respectful distance from Snake Gully, a narrow channel cut into the rugged cliff face near Cave Beach, as the largest of a set of rollers throws itself against the right hand portal, exploding in a spectacular column of white. Only metres from the jagged rocks on their left, Claudia and David, helmets their only concession to the conditions, inch cautiously into the confused white water. The idiots are actually contemplating going in there!

This is sheer madness. These two are not strangers I met this morning. Firm bonds have grown between us during my year in this club. David teaches, encourages and prods me constantly to achieve on our trips. I spent a week travelling down the Murrumbidgee with Claudia and Peter; played with their children. I don’t want to lose them, hate watching them take this awful risk. Please get out of there, I silently shout at them.

In reply they make their move, paddling forward with purpose. Kayaks swallowed by white water, their shiny helmets sink from view into the mist-shrouded inlet, its further reaches completely obscured from view.

Rising high on the long swells building under them, the other five continue to hold their safe positions near me. Do they share my feelings, I wonder: what if Claudia and David don’t reappear in the next few minutes? Will the most capable among us have to venture after them into that cauldron to give assistance? Although dangerous, the alternative, getting outside help, would take forever and probably arrive too late if one or both of them are smashed against the cliffs in there.

Dread, anger and frustration churn up my insides. I just hope David is familiar with this coast and knows what he’s doing.

After what feels like an age, a shout of “there they are” breaks the tension. What took them so long? With quick strokes and happy faces they join our group as though nothing special had happened. In spite of pent up emotions, I choose not to talk to either about their excursion; I’m just happy to see them back unharmed.

Driving home an hour later, I can’t help looking back at that incident. I feel wronged somehow. How dare they put me through so much worry?

Later, while describing my thoughts to Lek, my wife, she jumps up: “Now you know how I feel each time you go off and do something ‘interesting’. I have to sit, sick with worry, waiting for you to return”.

Come on, that’s different. I don’t do anything really dangerous or foolhardy.

“What about that time in Switzerland; walking across that Glacier on your own? Or one of your “I’ll just have a little look what’s over there”; then you’re gone for ages. How’s that so different?”

Hmm, she’s got a point there. I love exploring and testing my limitations, whether out there or in my mind. The chance to push through the rising fear of a surf landing, a cold mid-winter roll, or the resistance to letting go a long-cherished truth that no longer deserves the title: these help make up the full life each of us deserves. Risk-taking builds character, informs of weaknesses and strengths, of who I am. Without risk, life would resemble a comfortable cage; ultimate safety, but nothing ever happens.

Risk-taking, more than most things I do, illuminates the fact that I don’t live in a vacuum. I’m connected to all who care for me, for whatever reason, including that I’m a member of the human race. Needing help could place the helper/s in danger, a fact never considered by yours truly as my heart skips a beat when a challenge presents itself.

Although admitting that risk-taking, especially the thrill-seeking variety, is often a selfish act, I believe it is also one of our most noble and rewarding attributes. Few worthwhile achievements are attained without at least a degree of risk of failure, ridicule, injury or death. Life is a risky endeavour.

So, what if I had lost my friends that day?

A rule I find hard to accept, and even harder to live by, is: they are not mine to lose. I know them, enjoy their company and help keep them safe. That doesn’t mean control their actions. Big Brother laws be damned, I say. By all means recount a similar experience to highlight a danger, but advise sparingly…. with restraint.

May our shouts of caution be well considered and mostly silent ones.

Hans

PS: David did know that the inlet opens out into a quieter pool large enough to turn around in.

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