Put this adventure on the list of 'Oops' moments

By Corky Carroll

Editor’s note:

This week, we’re introducing a new column by legendary surfer Corky Carroll. He’ll be writing occasional columns on surfing and beach culture in our region.

Carroll is a five-time U.S. and three-time international surfing champion. He’s currently offering surf adventure trips to surf with him at his home near Zihuatanejo, Mexico.

Recently in another paper, I wrote about things that have made me go “oops” — you know those kinds of moments when it dawns on you that “OOPS, I think I just really screwed up.”

It can come in different ways. Like maybe if you said something to somebody and right after it left your lips you wish you could suck it back in. But you can’t. And then there is that moment that is sort of frozen in time where you KNOW that it’s gonna come back and bite you.

Kinda like when you are doing something and not paying much attention and your wife comes out with one of those “do you think I look fat?” questions. Without thinking you let out a courtesy “Yes dear.” Then there is that moment of silence. And then the realization of what you just did hits you. “OOPS.” Dark fear fills the room and you know that any second the whip is gonna come down hard, very hard.

After that I got a great e-mail from Rick “The Chief” Reigel telling of an “oops” story of his own that was pretty classic. I figured I would share it with you. Here it is:

“It was a late winter day in 1983, an El Nino year, with lots of red crabs washed up on the beaches. I was living in La Jolla near WindanSea Beach. WindanSea was closed out point to point. From the Shores to beyond Black’s was impossible to get past the 10-foot reform on the inside.

A couple thousand people were all focused on La Jolla Cove. The waves were huge, 20-foot constant ground swell with sets double that. The problem was how to paddle out.

Some guys were braving the jump off the 40-foot bluff near the famous cave, but timing the sets and the cops was not easy. The cops were on bullhorns announcing warnings and would ticket you if they got to you before jumping off the cliff.

After studying for an hour, a bunch of us got in a pickup truck and drove down to the Shores. We ran out to the end of Scripps Pier with our 9-foot, single-fin guns under arm and jumped in.

As we paddled for 45 minutes to get over to the lineup, we couldn’t help but wonder what lay in (store). Every other pier from Mexico to Santa Barbara sustained damage or was eliminated during that swell. It was pure adrenaline.

We had plenty of time to study the lineup and pecking order, and the drops were pretty consistent on a big boil.

Finally, my turn came, and I paddled for a nice wave and dropped in but had to pull out after the drop as the wave didn’t hold up. At least I got one big drop under my belt! The goal was to ride one for a minute or so all the way back to the Shores.

Then my buddy and I both turned and paddled for the same 30-foot wave. My buddy made the wave and I backed off. Big mistake! As I was now a good hundred feet inside the take-off spot, it was a scratch to the channel to get over the next wave and the wave after that. The succession of darker and darker lines stacked up on the horizon brought that “oops” feeling — I should have caught that first wave.

I didn’t make it over the third wave! Somewhere during the feeble attempt to duck dive in the impact zone, the board and I were separated. I was under for a long time and envisioned the various boulders and cliff looming in my head. Big oops! Finally, I popped up. My first gasp for air resulted in inhaling the salt brine foam mixture that was at least a foot deep with the consistency of shaving cream. I relaxed and let the next few waves push me like a rag doll to the inside. My board was sitting in a rip eddy current just spinning slow circles. I paddled in prior to the next set and made it to the beach. After a few minutes, four of us who had similar stories (all had been caught inside the monster set) gathered the strength for the walk back to the truck.

When we reached the sea wall at what used to be baseball player (Steve) Garvey ‘s restaurant, we started to notice the next dilemma. The 10-foot shore break at 14-second intervals was pounding up and into the restaurant over the 10-foot concave sea wall that was about a hundred yards long. As us science majors were calculating the odds of doing the hundred-yard dash in wet sand with a board under one arm in under 14 seconds, one of my buddies decided there was enough of a lull and sprinted for it. He got about halfway across before being successively pounded up the sea wall. Oops!

We are all about helping a man in distress, but coming to his aid made no point as it would only risk more of us. Later, I learned that he got shot over the wall by a wave and into the restaurant, breaking his arm in the process.

So we contemplated the only other exit — up the rain-soaked, ice plant-covered slimestone bluff. This part of the bluff is a good hundred to 150 feet up, but three of us working together, using boards as ladders and leashes, actually made it up. Covered in slime and mud, we arrived in the backyard of this posh mansion just in time to see four startled ladies sitting down to afternoon tea. To this day, I will never forget their expression.

“Excuse us ladies, but do you mind if we play through?” OOPS.

Send comments to