15 Foot Waves out of Nowhere

The crazy thing is the ocean was flat for an hour before it suddenly tried to drown me.

There were maybe 20 of us in the lineup waiting for a wave, and nothing was happening. Maybe 3 guys caught waves in that first hour. I was starting to think about paddling in a little bit and catching a smaller wave breaking closer to shore and calling it a day. But I didn’t. Like everyone else, I was waiting for the big waves to come.

A couple days prior I’d caught the biggest wave of my life. It was 8 feet, maybe 10, I don’t know exactly because I didn’t see it. I just remember the feeling of being picked up and staring down a massive hill of water as I popped to my feet and dropped down its face, dug in my heels and turned right before hearing it detonate behind me. Then I full-on screamed, I couldn’t help it. I was narrowly avoiding being crushed by a school bus of water. It was the best wave of my life.

Just like all the other guys, I was staring out to sea, watching for the first big waves to come. Then one came. There was a bulge on the horizon, darker than the rest of the ocean. Everyone watched it without much interest because the first wave is usually the smallest. The second, third, and fourth waves have all the power. The shitty thing is because of the up and down motion of the ocean, you only get to see one wave at a time. As one passes below you and lifts you up, you see over the hump and there’s the next one. Maybe it’s small, maybe it’s the biggest wave you’ve ever seen in your life. You don’t know until the last wave passes.

When you’re at the bottom of a big wave you don’t get to see much of anything. This is where nightmares form. I watch the guys at the top of the oncoming wave, and if they go from a relaxed, sitting position to urgent paddling, I don’t even question it. I paddle out like my fucking life depends on it before I’ve even seen the next wave, just based on everyone else’s reaction. Paddling out to sea is how you get over a wave before it breaks. You can paddle over a wave while it’s still forming. But once it breaks, you’re pretty much fucked.

You only have 20 seconds between waves, so acting early is good. When I saw those front guys start paddling as quickly as they did, I knew the time for sitting around was over. I just gave it as hard as I could toward the oncoming waves. Cresting the second wave, I looked over it and was fully terrified. What I saw was a dark wall of water, 15 feet high. The wave was already vertical, and as wide as the horizon. I barely made it over that one and there was another one right behind it. I had enough speed to get over its shoulder without being devoured, but the guys behind me weren’t as lucky. With a loud BOOM and a few seconds of blowback water like torrential rain the wave broke just as I crested it, annihilating all the surfers paddling behind me. I looked back over my shoulder and saw boards everywhere, random heads and harms thrashing in the churning foam. The wail of a jet ski as the lifeguard hauled guys out of the water.

“Look at that!” Someone said. He was off to my right, a bit ahead. He was pointing way out to sea. I looked at where he was pointing and saw a wave far off in the distance to our left, the biggest wave I’d ever seen in my life. It looked 20 feet high and was breaking out on the horizon. It was so far away and the waves around us were so loud we couldn’t hear it, which was terrifying. Like watching an atomic bomb go off and but with no noise.

Seeing a wave that big breaking that far away meant we didn’t have a lot of time before something similar was going to happen where we were. So we paddled, the two of us, like animals. Big waves came, and we got over them. I couldn’t tell how big, but the guy said 15 feet. My eyes were probably pretty wide because he looked at me and said, “We maybe have 10 minutes or so before that happens again, and if it does we’ll get washed back to shore. If it gets bigger though, to 20 feet, we’re not getting in here. We’ll have to paddle to Waimea.”

Waimea was a couple miles away.

“Yup I think I’ll go in then. Are you going in?” I asked.

“Ya we can go together.”

I was pretty fucking happy to have this guy with me. The jet ski was still rescuing people. We paddled for a bit and eventually the jet ski came to check on us.

“IT’S CRAZY OUT HERE!” The lifeguard yelled. “THAT CAME OUT OF NOWHERE!” Then he pointed at me and shouted, “DO YOU WANT A TOW IN?”

“YES!” I shouted back at him. Pretty god damn sure I had never looked so happy about anything in my life.

The lifeguard checked with the other guy, who shouted “I’M A DISTANCE PADDLER, I’LL JUST PADDLE TO WAIMEA IF IT GETS BAD!”

“YOU WOULD!” The lifeguard replied. They apparently knew each other.

I paddled my board onto the raft thing on the back of the jet ski and grabbed the rubber half-rings mounted to it. The lifeguard watched me do this until he was satisfied that I was sufficiently attached to his vehicle, then wasted no more time in absolutely pinning it back toward shore. We were in the air as much as we were in the water.

“WHEN I SAY LET GO, LET GO, OK?” The lifeguard yelled over his shoulder.

“OK!”

I expected him to slow down, but I guess you can let go of a jet ski at a pretty fast clip and you just flop around in the water a bit. Anyway that’s what I did because he didn’t slow down much, and when I surfaced I was only 30 feet from shore. This distance I panic-paddled in no time at all, and was on solid ground again at last.

I found Lia and from the look on her face, she’d been pretty worried. She gave me a big hug. Isla gave me a hug too, but it was her normal hug. She didn’t seem to have noticed that her dad was as close as he’d ever come to not coming back from surfing. I was very shaken up from the whole thing, and was still a bit in shock that evening. I definitely had that feeling of a near death experience where it’s hard to think about much else for a number of hours. I was dazed. Like I didn’t really know what to do next. I still feel that way a bit. Some things seem to matter a lot more, and some things seem to matter a lot less than before. It will probably wear off over time.

Here’s a surfer catching a big wave at Sunset Beach (where all this happened):

Why Finishing Books is Usually Bad

I have mathematical evidence that finishing books is a bad idea most of the time. Unless you love every single book you read, you probably shouldn’t finish most of the books you start.

It’s easy to tell when you love a book – you can’t put it down and before you know it, it’s over. But the majority of books I’ve read were at least somewhat arduous to finish, and I’ve always felt like I was supposed to finish every book I start.

We can probably blame school for this, training us to persevere and suffer through material we couldn’t give half a fuck about. If a book was “decent” I’ve always stuck with it. What I’ve noticed though, is that merely “decent” books are actually worse for me than the truly “awful” books are. This is because I quit reading awful books right away, and tend to finish the decent ones – wasting a shitload of time I could have spent reading fucking amazing books.

We are no longer restricted by the god damn limits of the physical world and the piece of shit library card catalogue and our ability to manually and painstakingly search for fucking amazing books.

With the power of algorithms to match us up with massive databases of books available to us online, we should not be settling for anything less than total perfection every time we read.

I did the math to figure out what my own numbers looked like, and it appears as though there is an infinite stream of insanely awesome books on Audible for me to consume. I just need to stop wasting time on the “decent” ones.

Here’s how I figured out that my own infinite stream of perfect books actually exists:

I looked through all the books in my Audible library. Since 2010 I’ve listened to 118 books, and loved 25 of them. 25 “perfect matches” for me. So it appears that I love about 1 out of every 5 books I read. Out of Audible’s 180,000 title library, let’s say their algorithm finds that I’m only a good match for 1% of the total books available. That cuts the total down to 1800 books I’m initially matched with. Now, if I only love 1 out of every 5 of those books that still means there are 360 perfect matches for me on Audible right now!

At my current rate of listening to 17 books per year, it would take me 21 years to get through this new pile of 360 “perfect match” books. During this time, new “perfect” audiobooks will be recorded at a rate far greater than the rate I’m able to listen to them. With 43,000 new audiobooks added to Audible every year, and with me loving only 1 fifth of 1% of them, that’s still 86 new books per year added to my queue. I’d have to listen to 7 books per month, at 8 hours per book that’s 2 hours per day of listening. During the past 7 years I’ve averaged only 22 minutes per day. So I could listen 5x harder than I currently do, and still not get through all the perfect books available to me.

You can see where I’m headed with this. No more fucking around with less than perfect books.

My new policy: if a book sucks even a little bit I immediately return it (online) and start listening to another one. This process repeats until I find one I can’t put down.

How To Return An Amazon Audiobook

A reader, one of my 3 subscribers actually (Tyler Steeves) asked me how to return Audible Audiobooks, and I sensed a YouTube video opportunity.

Audible allows you to return a handful of books online before you’re locked out of doing future returns on your own, but that’s not a big deal because you can return an audiobook through the Audible chat system in roughly 3 minutes.

Life Change = Feeling Stupid and Incompetent

Last night I was working on a code problem and not getting anywhere with it. I had to write some code (an algorithm) to convert a sentence into “Spinal Case” like this:

“My name is Ryan Lowe” = “my-name-is-ryan-lowe”

The problem was there were several other conditions that my code was failing, like when the original sentence was “myNameIsRyanLowe” or “My nameIS-Ryan lowe”. The algorithm needed to figure it out no matter what format of original sentence was entered.

So between 9pm and 11pm I failed over and over to get it right – feeling profoundly stuck and frustrated. All the while my morale was dropping and thoughts like, “You’ll never get this, it’s too hard” crept closer and closer to establishing themselves permanently in my core belief system. This is the important part, because if that had happened I might have stopped learning code and just gone back to doing the code I already know and am comfortable with. And that would be have been bad.

The problem with change is this: it’s easy and comfortable not to change or to change in a negative direction, it’s hard as fuck and extremely uncomfortable (mentally and sometimes physically) to change in a positive direction.

I don’t know why this is but I’ve noticed it in myself and it’s a pain in the ass. Any time I embark on a serious mission of positive change (such as learning difficult code) the road of progress is fraught with signs that read “You’re just not suited for this” and “It’s more efficient and profitable to continue to perfect the code you’re already good at.”

These thoughts seem to be an automatic reaction to my immense psychological discomfort while trying to grasp new and abstract coding concepts. Concepts that I struggle to even somewhat understand, and that struggling makes me feel both stupid and incompetent. Feeling truly stupid and incompetent is so uncomfortable for me that I’ve already given up at learning 4 other coding languages prior to this attempt. Each failure has hardened the core belief that I’m just not all that good at abstract “back-end” code and I should stick to the stuff I’m good at (design and “front-end” code).

Yet here I am, back at the drawing board and trying for a 5th time to “get it”. This time I’ve made more progress than ever before, been more consistent in studying, and have come to truly grasp some of the concepts that have baffled me in the past.

So what’s different this time? A couple things have helped a lot. The first is knowing that learning something new hurts a lot, especially when I’m not picking it up with ease. Knowing that I will be in a constant struggle and want to quit helps me not quit because I’m prepared for those feelings in advance. They still suck, but at least I’m more aware of them and can be cautious of their ability to sway me towards giving up (again).

The second thing that has helped is being aware of the idea of my own personal “depletion” throughout a given day. Smart sciency people have figured out that our inner “wills” become depleted throughout the average day as the weight of life grinds us down and weakens our resolve.

Events like dealing with a difficult client or arguing with a family member do actually decrease our ability to be our “ideal selves” and increase the likelihood of our self-destructive behaviour.

This knowledge suggests we should do the hard things first, like work out in the morning. We are far less likely to have the resolve to work out at the end of the day after having dealt with all the other crap.

The good news is our depleted “will-power” levels reset every morning, after a good sleep. So if something feels impossible, I’ve learned to just leave it the fuck alone for the night and to give it another shot after I’ve slept. It has worked for me in the past, and it worked for me again for the algorithm problem. This morning, with a fresh tank of “I can fucking do this” in my head, I solved it in under 10 minutes.

And, for now, I feel neither stupid nor incompetent.