Friday, August 20, 2010

Save The Oysters! (aka: I'm gonna have to buy some hip waders)

It's been a very long week or two since last we chatted.   There were times where I truly believe I have gone back in time to the early 1980's.  But that is for another post.

Today's blog is coming to you from the middle of the Puget Sound.  I am crossing the gap between Bremerton and Seattle via the lovely Washington State Ferry System.

What brings a land locked man like myself across the sound to Bremerton you ask?  Oysters of course.  It seems I am the oyster bureau chief actually.  A couple weeks back you may recall my trip to a little town called Quilcene on Dabob Bay.  The oysters it was said were being killed by rising acid levels in the oceans and waters in the Pacific Northwest.

Well, now it appears something far more deadly is attacking the oysters… Your United States Navy.  Thats right, fresh off their mission being accomplished in Iraq, the Navy declared all out war on the oysters of Seabeck, WA.

It all began about a week and a half ago.  The Navy was performing some drills and speeding about the sound and bays in their really big boats.  What happened, as is often the case, was the really big boat mixed with the really fast speeds made for really big waves.  Those waves moved about 10 to 30 feet of rock and sea life onto previously dry land.  So, the oysters were, to borrow an expression, fish out of water.

The smell I am told was horrendous.  Of course, given my lack of that particular sense, I didn't notice it being any different than a lovely rose garden.  Anyhoo, today I ventured over to check on the 50 or so volunteers moving all the thirsty oysters and their shells and rocks back down to the tide line.  It was a first for me.

As I was shooting the story of huge waves and fish out of water, I was remembering a certain event on the Big Island of Hawai'i.  One where the particular fish that was out of water was in fact a fat human IN the water.  But believe me, he was just as poorly placed as the oysters on the beach.

It all began innocently enough.  Cameron and I were looking for ways to enjoy beautiful sunny days in Hilo because a) we don't get to hang out together all that often any more and b) the sun shining in Hilo isn't an every day event and we didn't wanna miss out on the rare chance at getting a nice all-over sun burn.  Wait, no, not ALL-over.  That would get us tossed off the islands.

In trips past, Cam and I have done a lot of things in the ocean.  We spent a few days trying to teach me to snorkel.  As my mother can attest, I am not a natural swimmer.  As a matter of fact, no less than three swimming instructors, upon having me in their summer class, unceremoniously quit teaching, quit swimming, and have been said to even refuse to take baths because the sight of water caused them to have panic attacks and Vietnam flashbacks.

After three summers of lessons in which I managed to never once get my hair wet, imagine the surprise and amazement when one day I simply dunked my head and did a jellyfish roll under water!  My mom will tell you a cheer went out from every parent, student, life guard and teacher at Cleland Pool in Delta.  I couldn't tell you if that is true or not.  You see, on that day a new creature was created.  A sea creature.  A man who could not be apart from his new love… water.

Fast forward a decade or two.  From the point at which I "learned" to swim until I was 30 years old, I swam in the pool maybe a handful of times.  It remains unclear why my mother would decide I needed swimming lessons at all, however the prevailing theory is she was hoping I would drown and be less annoying at home if I was in fact drowned.

So, when Cam and I headed down to the beaches of Hawai'i, he had no way to know what he was getting in to.  He explained snorkeling to me.  You got a tube.  You breathe into the tube.  You got a mask.  You look thru the mask.  You got fins.  You kick with the fins.  And you got enough fat to stay buoyant in the ocean for days.  Weeks.  Months probably.  Quite simple on the surface, at least thats how it seemed.

An entire morning and most of an afternoon poor Cam struggled thru my flailing and threats of drowning.  It didn't help that he kept pointing out we were in 6 inches of water and I was less floating and helpless than simply balanced on my stomach on the rocky bottom.  We sort of pretended that I was getting the hang of it and eventually we agreed we were getting chilly and headed back home.

A couple days later we went to the Kona side of the island and decided to snorkel at one of the best places in the world for fish and dolphins, Kealekekua Bay.  Cam, although he decided not to tell me this until much later, was certain it was a terrible idea.  We were no longer in a shallow protected bay in the heart of Hilo.  We were now on a canoe paddling into the ocean where we would be directly over protected coral and much less safe for someone who really had no clue what he was doing.  It turns out, that was one of the most amazing days of my life.  We paddled around the ocean for hours seeing the most colorful fish imaginable.  When it was all done and I had not either drowned or flailed about and killed any coral, Cam finally admitted that he was not real sure about doing it.  But we had proven once again that I was meant to be one with water.

That leads me to the real issue at hand.  On my most recent trip to Hilo, Cameron figured it was time to introduce me to real ocean fun.  No more lightly kicking the fins and viewing the wildlife.  He wanted me to try boogy boarding.  I don't know the first thing about the activity but from everything he told me it was simple.  You have a short floating board.  You hold on to the short floating board.  Big waves take you and the short floating board for a fun ride.  Simple.

What really happens I learned is something very different.  After approximately 4 hours of paddling and fighting the surf and being pummeled by waves, you make it about 50 yards off the shore.  The next 30 minutes is spent trying to breathe again and let your muscles quit burning.  Then, you wait for the perfect wave.  This wave will pick you up and hurl you toward the shore with grace and speed and complete joy.

Unless you are me.  If you are me, the wave will come, you will get on it just perfectly to allow it to unceremoniously dunk you into its wake.  Now, you have to paddle back to where you just were and wait for another wave.  This will be repeated with no measurable results for a couple hours.

I did, to be fair, finally catch a wave.  It came at precisely the exact same moment I informed Cam that I would like to no longer be doing this boogy boarding thing.  It was really quite simple.  A big wave was rolling a couple waves out.  Cam got me ready, I turned, started kicking like a cartoon character slipping on the ice and suddenly… I'm surfing.  I am on the wave! Its fast, its fun, its exhilarating! Then its dark, its wet, its rocky, its sunny, its dark, ouch that was a boulder on my nipple, its wet, my shirt is over my head…

I had ridden the wave a bit too far.  I had pointed the nose of my board a bit too low.  And now, the inevitable was happening.  I was drowning.  My shirt had made its way over my belly and was wrapped around my head.  I couldn't see death, but I could feel it.  My board strap was wrapped around my arms and my feet were floating but my head and face were nicely planted on firm ground.

Cam came quickly to my rescue, reaching my flailing heap of a body just as I had finally found the correct orientation for my feet and head.  I bolted from the water gasping and screaming and shouting words my mother would never allow me to say.  All poor Cameron saw was a fat pale white stomach where a blue shirt once was.  That blue shirt was somehow now wildly out of place.  Where my head should be, a knot of wet cotton-polyester blend was now wrapped like a headdress.  My board, still attached to my arms was flipping in and out of the water.  I was displeased.

That was the end of our day at the beach, and really the end of our play time in the water.  There is a rumor in Hilo that Cam now mutters to himself a lot.  But all they can confirm is that he no longer swims, cant stand the ocean, and hasn't been able to shower since the event.

After thinking about it some more I now feel no sorrow for those stupid oysters today.  I guess they got what they deserved for being so dang close to all that water any way!  I bet they were happier being nice and dry and not having their shirts wrapped around their heads!  Quick, turn this ferry around.  I need to go take a few hundred thousand oysters out of Puget Sound!!


  1. First of all, sorry for the delay in commenting. Secondly, great storytelling.
    Third, I was going to write a whole post about this on my blog, but given my time constraints and the fact that I'm about to fall asleep, I've decided to just comment on a few key points here instead:
    1) To be fair, I knew what I was getting into. There was a time when we had a canoe in K&J's pool in AZ, and it was obvious then that you didn't care too much for water.
    2) To also be fair in the other direction, I did think Kealakekua was a terrible idea (although I wouldn't have said "terrible", I would have said "worrisome") but you proved me wrong, and it was a great time for everyone involved. You exceeded my expectations and did great!
    3) It's a "boogie" board, or "body" far as I know, anyway... "boogy" sound too much like the British word for "booger" to me.
    4) We were only at Honoli'i for an hour and a half, and once again you did a great job.
    5) I did not come to your rescue. I rode the next wave in, stopped where I saw your board floating, stood up (it was waist deep), and knowing you were close (as the board was tethered to you) I decided to count to three before trying to fish you out. You popped up on your own at 2½, swearing and with your shirt over your head, and then to your credit chose to go back out rather than call it a day, at least for a little bit.

    While your account makes for better storytelling, I believe the truth must be known (if a week or two late).

  2. that's great. we should be swim buddies. Paul "taught" me to body board in Mexico. Being a North American albino prickle fish & lazy - I didn't realize you had to kick your feet. I spent almost the entire day nearly drowning and getting pants'd every other wave. After 2 cups of water drained out of my sinuses someone let me in on the secret. I'll have to remember to take my water wings to Hawai'i. ;)

  3. Truth, Cameron?!? You cant HANDLE the truth! Waist deep? It was waist deep to an elephant's uncle or whatever the saying is.... 35 maybe 40 feet deep!
    OK, so maybe I accentuated certain points but it was exactly the way I said it was in my own mind. So there. Also, I cant wait to try it again. This time, sans the shirt.