Here is my story (in the G rated version):
On June 30, 2011, my husband Danny, myself, and our good friend Brian left for what was to be a 6 week surf trip through Sri Lanka, Sumatra and Bali. Although we have traveled the world before, this was going to be the surf trip of a lifetime. We spent our first two weeks surfing for hours every day in Sri Lanka. It was an incredible and unforgettable time.
We arrived in Sumatra around July 17th and spent our first week at a surf camp located on a beach break in the Krui region of West Lampung. We then moved to a camp about half an hour away, located on an incredible reef break called Ujuong Bocur. We had surfed this point a few times during the previous week.
On the morning of Sunday, July 24 around 8:00 a.m. Danny and Brian paddled out among a dozen or so other surfers at Ujuong Bocur. The waves were 8-10 feet and although they were peeling perfectly across the point, the currents were incredibly strong and there was a lot of water moving on the inside (where a surfer will typically get off of the wave). Around 9:30 a.m a local photographer approached our camp (located right on the beach) and asked me “do you know whose surf board this is”. It only took a few seconds for me to realize it was Danny’s. The leash had snapped at the ankle. I frantically ran down onto the beach and within a few moments Brian had paddled in to see where Danny was. Another surfer who had been out said that he had been tangled with Danny’s board on the inside but never saw Danny. There is no evidence that this surfer hit Danny or that his board hit Danny’s board. We believe that after falling off of a wave, Danny hit his head on the reef and went unconscious immediately.
Brian and I spent the next 4 days looking for Danny. Brian paddled out to look, snorkeled and free dove to look into underwater caves in the reef. We both spent countless hours combing over the inside of the break on the reef for miles. The Indonesians did send a search and rescue team who utilized all available resources on Day 3. There were also around 30 surfers staying at adjacent surf camps who assisted us in the search daily.
On the morning of July 28th, Brian and I had started our morning walk down the beach to search for Danny. We had made it maybe a mile or so down when we got word that a fisherman in a village hours away had found the body of a Westerner and the clothing description matched Danny’s. Danny had drifted from Tanjung Setia Beach Surfing Area, Pesisir Selatan, Lampung, Indonesia to Kaur Selatan, Bengkulu, Indonesia; close to 100 miles in approximately 96 hours.
It took us approximately another week to settle things in Indonesia and to bring Danny back home. We are eternally thankful to Jason and Ayu at Damai Bungalows for their dedication, love and support in helping us find Danny and bring him home. We are also thankful to all of the fishermen, surfers and the Search and Rescue Teams, translators, and everyone in the United States who provided us with tips and contacts who may have been valuable in our search.
I can imagine no greater challenge in life than this experience. It is a tragic reminder that life is fragile, that we should take nothing for granted and that, as one of Danny’s tattoos read, our wealth should be weighed in spirit.
It's interesting that I have titled my blog "Surfing Through Life" because this is where life gets serious and surfing seems less important on some levels. On the day of Danny's memorial service (August 7, 2011) we had a paddle-out. At the time I was feeling overwhelmed by the amount of people around. I had a dozen offers for people to separate the ashes or paddle them out for me but it's something I felt strongly I needed to do for Danny. It was incredible work just to find him and get him home, and as his wife, and his love, I felt it my responsibility and honor to bring him back to where he belongs (in the ocean). It was mostly important to me to catch a wave after doing that. Danny would be so upset if I stopped surfing because of this. I did catch a wave and it felt great.
|Brian and I bringing Danny home where he belongs|
Brian and I paddled out a couple of days after that. I have to admit, although I love the feeling of being on a wave, that was one of the most stressful and intimidating sessions I have ever had. From flashbacks of the reef when I'm duck-diving to needing to know where Brian is on every wave at all times, it was stressful. I know that it will get easier in time and I understand the stressors involved for me (I am after all a social worker). I know that I will get back to the place where surfing is fun eventually.
Everyone keeps telling me how strong I am. I prefer determined, not a victim, brave maybe, and I am partial to my brother telling me that I am "more gangster" than anyone he has ever met. Putting on a backpack with Danny's ashes in it, paddling out in a swarm of people and then letting him go in the ocean while everyone screamed was overwhelming, intimidating, heartbreaking and satisfying all at the same time.
So, I am home, and continue to run, will soon be back to yoga, and will continue surfing through life.
Peace and Waves