My prior experience with the ocean had been small. Living utterly landlocked in the middle of the United States, the little time spent at the ocean was in the relative safety of picturesque beaches and their shallow water. Perfect for the summer vacationer I was.
Here the ocean was always calm, the sky blue, and beachgoers elated laughs swirled through the beach. The whole scene was postcard worthy and that was how I viewed the ocean. Inviting, gentle, bright and happy. The warm water would tease your skin and every little organism was cause for celebration and wonder. Much to my surprise, I would come to find that the ocean had personalities much like any person.
My trip to Japan took place smack dab in the middle of typhoon season and as luck would have it a typhoon had churned the water into an angry boil days before we went out. The night prior to leaving I was told that because of this the odds were not in our favor to catch something. Due to my severe inexperience, I was not sure what any of this meant. Would the waves be big? Is the shore eroded? I couldn’t be sure. That night, I had arrived at my father’s friends house around 8 o’clock in the evening and wholly expected to go to sleep and wake up early in the morning per what I was accustomed to. We had been sitting in his living room discussing equipment and methods when he asked if we would like to leave now.
Whoa, what? My excitement had already been building but it exploded with his question.
The gravel crunched underfoot as I stepped out of the car and listened to the distant roar of the waves coming from over a bluff in the distance. It was just light enough to make out the top ridge of the hill which obscured my vision of the beach. It was evident that certain parts of gear we wore had not received a thorough cleansing for awhile. The dried salt flaked off in white speckles and some buckles on the life vests would not tighten properly because they were caked in the minerals. I struggled with them as we walked and failed to realize we had crested the small hill until I heard my companions footsteps stop swishing through grass. I was dumbstruck. As far as the eye could see was an unbroken stretch of beach barely illuminated by the moonlight. The roar of the ocean was louder now, unimpeded by the hillside.
“That’s the sound of the waves?” I asked my dad incredulously. The look on his face echoed my disbelief.
We stood in silent reverie. The wind blanketed us in its heavy humidity and the air smelled like the ocean’s unique mix of seaweed and rotting leaves. I was sure that the sound would be deafening standing down there. My father and our guide stood in conversation. He didn’t like the look of the ocean here. I swallowed… it looked daunting for sure. Another moment and we decide to move locations.
The area we moved to had submerged breakers designed to slow down the waves right before they hit the shore. After a short drive, the same process ensued; putting on the gear, tightening straps, walking out. Instead of a hill, this area required a stream crossing to get to the water. The stream was only barely above ankle deep yet it was brimming with life. The most abundant organisms were large freshwater shrimp and hundreds of small crabs scuttling their way up the bank that took cover whenever our headlamp beams shone upon them. There were so many that their movements sounded like pebbles tumbling down the rocky embankment. Coupled with the glowing, light-refractive eyes of the shrimp, the whole environment was creepy and mesmerizing at the same time.
After the stream crossing was over I walked the sandy beach to the water’s edge. The sand stuck to my skin and ground against the bottom of my feet where they touched the sandals. The aching wind blew with force and now I was up close and personal to the sea. My interpretation of the noise was that of the nearing vibration of a jet plane overhead. The waves would crash further down the shore and continue rolling down and beyond us into the dark. Easily thirty feet down, the water would tumble away as the wave receded and come back at us like a stampede of bulls only with a more archaic sense of anger.
I was scared.
It would be all too easy to have your feet swept out from under you and become swept around at the mercy of the aggravated waves.
This is not the ocean I was used to.
This ocean screamed obscenities and shook a scar pocked fist at you under the veil of a hooded cowl. I summoned up the courage to stand at the water’s edge and feel the calf deep water drag sand against my bare legs. My shorts and t-shirt offered no protection from the elements. I plodded along anyway. The first location, as the waves receded, resulted in a huge wall of water about as tall as a normal adult. This area was only slightly less violent but less violent it was so we commenced to fishing.
The technique was simple. Cast out a lure as far as you can and reel it back through the water. I was doubtful that any creature could survive in these conditions but our guide said that the fish prowled just beyond the white breakers looking for fish that were caught in the waves. They swim into the boil, snatch a fish and dart back out again. These scenes flashed through my mind and my original fears began to ebb. I would run down, following the water; cast, and run back again at a full sprint. In this fashion I played tag with the currents, goading Mother Nature into catching and ending my swiftness. Really though, these realizations only came after I had left the beach. It was so loud that a person’s thoughts seem to be swept out into the water as well, drowning in the onslaught of bubbling, crashing, and fizzing waves. Bioluminescent plankton would wash up in the foam and the glowing balls of bright blue light would swirl around your legs and fade out as quickly as they’d come. It was like watching the reflection of shooting stars in a mirrored lake; calm and fleeting.
Screeeeeeeee! My rod doubles over and the drag screams out in a warning. I panic and yank the rod in a hook set. I start fighting it, reeling in when it relaxes and letting it run when it strains against the rod. I was so speechless that for a few moments I was unable to shout in excitement. Finally it came. “Got one! I got one!”
I flipped on my headlamp and continued the fight. My group ran over and questions I didn’t answer rattled back at me.
“You got one?” “Is it fighting hard?” “What is it?” “How was the strike?” “How big is it?”
I was focused in the moment, the feel of the fish forced my hands to work on auto pilot adjusting line drag and reeling in line. Soon it was quiet and all eyes focused out into the dark waves hoping to catch a glimpse of our quarry. The headlamps swept back and forth like watchtowers. My father reached out and asked if he could feel the fish. I relinquished my grip and his eyes betrayed a puzzled expression.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
He looked up at the rod tip a moment before stating, “I think you have some trash or something.”
He reeled in line as fast as possible and it was only then I happened to notice that the “fish” fought as the tide went out and relaxed as the tide came in. As if it was being swept around in the current.
He proceeded to drag a mess of line lure and seaweed up onto the shore. No fish. I was disappointed but able to laugh at myself at how caught up I had been in thinking I had one.
We continued to fish long after my excitement had abated but were still not able to hook up with anything.
Out of everything that happened this day, I managed to catch a bug for adventure and new experiences. I am overtaken by wanderlust when I remember the crashing waves and ghostly lights in the dead of night. I learned the name and philosophy of the outlife which became inspiration to live a unique lifestyle. I know that more experiences like this one are out there.
Living an OutLife will show me them.