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Peter Reynolds

The life and times of Peter Reynolds

Biarritz

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I know this beach very well.  I very nearly drowned there about 30 years ago.

I think it was probably 1991.  I was still married and my wife, Sharon, and I, with our two boys, Richard and Evan, had driven down to South West France on holiday, staying mainly at campsites.  Evan, who turned 30 last week, was still a baby, in a car seat, and Richard wasn’t more than four or five.  It was a great holiday and we did the same the following year.  The farthest south we ever travelled was San Sebastian and I have vivid memories of us eating lunch in a chaotic restaurant there.

But back to Biarritz and my near death experience. It was my ‘surfing period’ and atop the car was my custom made yellow surfboard, emblazoned, I am sure you will be amused to hear, with a large leaf from a certain favourite plant!

I shall never forget the sea that day.  There was no wind, it was flat calm, like a mill pond, except for massive 10 – 12 foot waves rolling in and pounding the beach with surf.  ‘Glassy’ is the surfing term and until you see it, this combination of calm water and hugely powerful waves is very difficult to understand.

I paddled out and getting beyond the break was impossibly difficult.  When the waves broke there was still a six to eight feet high torrent of white water to get past and trying to duck dive underneath it showed up all my lack of big wave experience.

Eventually I made it but I was absolutely exhausted.  I’ve been a very strong swimmer all my life but that had taken all my energy and then I realised that I was being pulled rapidly out to sea.  The rip current had got me and there was nothing I could do.  I tried everything, paddling parallel to the beach across the current in both directions and coming off the board and trying to swim out towing the board behind me with my leash.  Nothing worked and then came the beginnings of panic.

Since a small boy in South Wales, I had delighted played in big waves, well what I thought were big waves but the power of these Atlantic rollers was like nothing I had ever experienced and the rip current they were creating was like an unstoppable train.  Never before and never since have I been so close to absolute panic, nausea deep in my stomach, helpless, this is it, I thought.  By now. I was beyond the large rock Boris is pointing at in the picture

Then, out from the beach, paddling furiously, came another surfer. He undid his leash, threw it to me and started to tow me back in.  I was just flat out on my board and somehow he managed to get us both back in.  I collapsed on the beach, gasping for air and as I recovered I looked around for my saviour.  He asked if I was OK and I thanked him profusely in my very poor French, he didn’t speak a word of English. Mostly though I was coming to terms with the fact that he just about came up to my shoulder.  He was tiny, almost like a child and then brushing aside my gratitude he sprang back towards the sea, threw himself on his board and paddled out into the maelstrom once again.

My humiliation was total.  I couldn’t believe how one so small had shown me up for the lumbering, clumsy amateur that I was! It took me another half hour to recover from the physical ordeal and mental trauma.  What a lesson learned!  My memories of that day in Biarritz when I nearly drowned will never fade.

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Written by Peter Reynolds

August 25, 2019 at 5:14 pm

Posted in Biography, sport

Tagged with ,

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