Herb Benham: Calling my bluff on a beautiful day

Herb Benham, The Bakersfield Californian
·4 min read

Apr. 15—The day was sunny, the water was cool, there was a light breeze blowing. It was perfect. It was the sort of day many of us might have described like this:

"If this were my last day on earth. I would be OK with it because it can't get more beautiful than this."

I've said that many times. I meant it. I think I meant it but I discovered recently that although I meant it, I may not have meant it as much as I thought I meant it.

I was on the Mad Dog. The Mad Dog is a red paddle board so named to give the board's owner the confidence that he can ride smoothly and with great daring in order to cow the uncowed and wipe the smirk off the faces of anybody who may have doubted his surfing prowess.

The Mad Dog is the sort of a board a superhero might ride. I am not a superhero, because I am neither super nor a hero, so for me it is more like riding a racehorse whose mane I am barely capable of holding onto as it tries to tear me from its grasp.

I was doing SUP, short for stand-up paddle boarding, and the idea is to balance on the board, in this case the Mad Dog, and with the aid of a light, 6-foot-long carbon paddle, catch waves.

When you catch waves, it is the sort of thing about which you might say, "This is the most fun I've ever had in my life and if I were to die today, that would be OK."

You get the point. Big statements, grand pronouncements and verbal exaggerations, the sort of which you are surely to be called on some time.

I had just caught a wave. Either I'd caught it or the Mad Dog had and I had held on for dear life. When the wave ended, I turned the board toward the horizon, tried not to fall over and then headed out to the lineup for another one.

As I made the turn and headed out to sea, celebrating both the wave, the day and my awesome skill, I was hit by a wave of nausea, head to toe and then back up again.

It felt like a heart attack. The big one. The one about which Fred Sanford would have said, "Elizabeth, I'm coming to join you."

Surfing or swimming, it makes sense to go into the ocean with somebody and in this case, I had Harry. I like Harry but a lot of good Harry could have done me given he was standing on his board 200 yards away gazing out to sea waiting for a wave with his name on it.

Should I yell? Could I yell? If I did yell, would he hear me and if he did, by the time he paddled over, I'd be at the bottom of the ocean trolling like bait at the end of the leash I was wearing.

I thought: So this is how it happens. You die on a beautiful day. The sort of beautiful day you've always said you wouldn't mind dying on. Well guess what, King Neptune finally called your bluff.

I felt the breeze, the sunshine on my neck and decided that I had been wrong.

I didn't want to die on a beautiful day. I didn't want to die on a not-so-beautiful day. I didn't want to die period.

I'd had an epiphany. I hoped to survive the epiphany so I could have more epiphanies but King Neptune was in the neighborhood and he was open for King Neptune business.

A few minutes later, the nausea passed. I was alive, I think I was alive but if I wasn't alive, I'd made the journey and so had the Mad Dog.

I kept surfing but I was different now. Grateful that my bluff had been called but that I hadn't been called with it. We'll see how long that lasts because, like everybody else, I'm just holding on for dear life.

Herb Benham is a columnist for The Bakersfield Californian and can be reached at hbenham@bakersfield.com or 661-395-7279.