That Time I Almost Died
After a whole week and a half of anticipation, it was finally time to leave the Central Business District (CBD) and head off to Muizenberg where I could finally surf. Sure, there are plenty of spots to surf around CBD, but as my fellow IEPer Matej so gently put it, I wouldn’t have been able to handle it.
I woke up late, as I would on any Sunday morning, and Tizi casually let me know we were planning to leave to surf in about 10 minutes. After scarfing down a bowl of oatmeal, we excitedly headed out to Gary’s Surf Shop, recommended to us by locals, to rent our wetsuits and surfboards. Once there, Gary demanded I, ‘show him that ass’, and spun me around so he could figure out my size. Giggling and blushing, I went to the changing room where I wrestled with my wetsuit for 10 minutes and lost. Gary also warned us that the ocean may be a little rough in the afternoon as the backwash would meet the oncoming waves creating a nasty spot to get caught in. Not really understanding what he meant, I smiled and nodded. A few minutes later I knew exactly what he meant.
We plunged blindly into the freezing cold water and I for one was full of instant regret. My feet felt like they were being pricked with tiny toothpicks made out of ice, and every time a wave submerged my body, I felt paralyzed. On the bright side, I’m pretty sure my pores tightened, never a bad thing. Matej was already paddling out towards the lineup, while Tizi, Katerina, Lisa, Patty, and I were struggling. Determined to keep up, I paddled furiously but just looked like cartoon animal, struggling to run but not moving at all.
Finally, I felt myself gliding forwards and I was so relieved as I was already exhausted after the frantic paddling. My joy was short-lived, however, as it wasn’t my ridiculous flailing that had pushed me forward but the backwater surging out to sea with immense power, only to meet the oncoming surf. The surge coming in from behind pushed me into a wall of water and the force of them colliding sent a spray of water five feet in the air with a tremendous roar, and sent me headfirst into the swirling ocean. I resurfaced, coughing out a mouthful of water and sand, but stayed determined to have fun and catch at least one wave.
Unfortunately for my ego, I have to admit the conditions were too advanced for me. Sets of waves kept pushing me back to the beach, and I spent more time pushing out my board than I did actually surfing. Matej, Tizi and I stayed in for two hours, while the rest scurried home sooner for a warm shower. While I failed to catch a wave, I did catch a small cold and was left with numbed feet as I staggered back to the hostel.
We showered, bundled up in warm sweaters, loaded up his scooter with his surfboard and wetsuit and sped out before the sun could set. It was a 30-minute drive, so we listened to music through our earphones to accompany us while we took in the sights around us. Once we were in Fish Hoek, Matej took a wrong turn on our way to Witsand leading us into a neighborhood we definitely were not welcome in. Onlookers stared and pointed, not looking happy with our presence. All throughout the neighborhood, there were big and hefty dogs roaming freely, and while I found them adorable, they also terrified me.
Finally, Matej got his bearings and luckily the wrong turn led to us having to take a small road through the hills. After being caught up in the city for so long, the sight of beautiful, lush, green hills, accompanied by the sight of the ocean in the distance was honestly breathtaking. ‘Oh fuck’, I whispered in wonder.
We stopped on the road, right where there was a little stone staircase leading down to the beach and took off our helmets and headphones. For a while, we didn’t even speak to each other. We silently took in the roar of the enormous waves crashing in on an isolated beach, the golden glow of the sun slowing setting in the distance, casting cotton candy pink clouds. I turned to Matej and said, “This ride was the most beautiful view I’ve ever seen.” We were giddy and blissful, but still hungry for more despite the rain and wind picking up. We flipped a coin and decided to head up further to Kommetjie.
Once again, we were driving alongside the coast, high up on the hill. On one side, I could see the deep blue ocean and gorgeous waves, and on the other, hills covered in a thick green carpet of trees, and right in front of me, a narrow two-lane road which seemed like it disappeared into the dusky sky. I was so full of joy, with ‘River’ by Leon Bridges playing in my ears, and so much beauty to see all around me. The wind was picking up and it was getting colder but I was so overjoyed I didn’t even notice.
That was until Matej suddenly lost control of the bike. He suddenly swerved left then right and I grabbed his shoulders so tight I must’ve left bruises. My heart was gripped with panic, and I shut my eyes until I felt Matej stop on the side of the road right where it ended in a steep drop to the beach. We both turned to see if there were any cars behind us which is when we realized what had made us lose control.
Matej’s surfboard tucks into a little carrier by the side of the scooter. The carrier, a metal frame covered in foam, had slowly been bending outwards due to the strong wind, allowing the board to jut out at an almost 90-degree angle from the bike. It had caught the wind like a sailboat and almost threw Matej’s balance off enough to for us to fall off the edge of the road. We hopped off the bike, ripped our helmets off and our earphones out, still panicked and full of adrenaline. Matej instructed me to hold the bike steady while he took the surfboard off as it was continuing to catch the oncoming wind. The rain that was once part of the joyful ride was now a burden. I held the bike as steady as I could with my shaking hands and Matej tried to put his board down. The wind was so strong it actually pushed him closer to the edge of the cliff. I screamed inside but I was still too shocked to say anything.
Matej fixed the carrier and we debated our next move. We had almost reached the town and since we were isolated on this small road, us being the only idiots that would ride a tiny scooter with a surfboard, we had no choice but to continue on. I said I would hold the board close to the bike until we stopped, and Matej agreed that it was the best option. We got on, and I held the board so tight my knuckles were white. Luckily it was only a few minutes to the town and we searched for shelter.
After almost walking into a rehab center, we were directed to a little local bar, where we collapsed on the benches, soaked and shaken. We ordered hot drinks and then turned to each other and promptly burst out laughing. We had almost fallen off a cliff and it was the funniest joke either of us had ever heard.
However, once the initial denial had worn off, I began to panic. There was no way we could go back home in this weather, but we were so far from Muizenberg in a town where we didn’t know anyone. Every IEP seminar on safety always stated we should be home by dark and our phones must always be charged. The sun was setting, our phones were dying, and my mind was racing. I flipped and started searching for Airbnb’s before our phones died, wondering where we could get a charger, and picturing how mad Rob was going to be when he found out.
Matej let me ramble for about five minutes before he held my hands and told me to chill. We sipped our drinks and he tried to make me relax with some really bad Czech humor. Once I had a clearer mind, we decided we would wait for the rain to slow down, and take the back roads instead of the coastal road we came on as there would be less wind.
We took the surfboard back to the bike and strapped in on to the carrier the best we could. I asked if there was anything else we could use to tie the front of the board to the bike instead of just around the middle. Matej had a stroke of genius and found a strap for his bag that on one end was strapped to his board, and the other around his bike. It was a bit of a squeeze for us to fit once it was so close to the scooter, but it felt a lot more secure.
Slowly we headed home, nervous that everyone would be really worried and concerned for us. Before we left, I left a panicked voicemail explaining the situation and ending the call with, “If I don’t make it home, tell my family I love them.” It may sound dramatic, but keep in mind if I had really died riding the scooter of a random white boy my Indian parents didn’t know, I’d like to soften them up before they lecture me when they meet me in the afterlife.
Exhausted and still a little scared to face everyone, we headed up to the kitchen only to realize no-one had heard my voicemail and no-one was concerned that we had been out so late. Love you too guys. Thanks for caring.
Overall, it was definitely the most terrifying yet exciting day I’d had in Cape Town, and Matej and I can always hit each other up one day with ‘Hey, remember that time we almost died?’