Saved from the Surf


I was in a tough spot, my strength gone. But would my pride let me reach for the hand that was stretched out to me?

Saved from the Surf

The prospect of two years without warm sand and blue-green waves ahead of me sent me surfing with my friend Gaven. At the end of the summer I’d be leaving for my mission in Iceland.

As Gaven and I carried our surfboards down a steep slope, we saw that an offshore wind was shaping six-foot waves into smooth, hollow barrels, beautiful to surfers’ eyes.

At the foot of the hills, cliffs dropped 50 feet down onto a narrow beach. We followed an eroded gully down the bluffs and easily climbed the last ten feet to the sand. Leashing our surfboards to our legs, we paddled out through kelp beds to the distant surf line.

I got in some of the best surfing of my life that day. The air and water sparkled clear and warm, and salt spray felt fresh on our faces. Seabirds wheeled and cried constantly, and the rides were long, fast, and perfect. Gaven and I stayed until after sunset.

As the twilight began to fade, my friend caught a last ride to shore. I looked at the horizon, which promised yet another set of extra-large waves, and waited for one more. I was rewarded by a last long, pounding ride.

I began the long paddle back, but a current pulled against me, and light faded to almost nothing. I finally reached the cliff’s base and discovered that the tide had risen much higher than I’d expected and now covered the beach. Waves rolled in and crashed directly against the cliff I had to climb. At first I shrank from the foaming water and tried in vain to discover an easier way; then I finally got up the courage to try.

The climb up was nothing like climbing down had been that afternoon. Then the cliff had been dry and high above the surf. Now it was slick as sushi, and white water roiled around me as I climbed.

Just short of the safety of the gully, I could go no farther. One last handhold lay just above my right hand, but I couldn’t reach it. That hand held my heavy surfboard, which a leash still attached to my leg. If I dropped it to the water, the waves would catch it and pull me off the rock. I needed my left hand to hold me in place. I was truly stuck.

Gaven, who had already reached the cliff top, suddenly appeared above me. For a moment, my foolish pride told me not to accept the hand he offered. “I’ve come so far on my own,” I thought. “I can make it myself.” But then I gratefully handed him the surfboard that burdened me, and with my right hand freed, I grasped the last handhold and reached the top.

Summer ended, and I found myself flying off to Iceland. The weather was atrocious, the work was hard, and after the first cold, wet month, I was overcome with discouragement.

I tried to save myself by concentrating on work and studying more, but my confidence continued to sink.

One dark day, when the Icelandic police required everyone to stay inside because of Arctic cold and high winds, I sat on the couch in our apartment. Running through my cross-referenced collection of memories, I stumbled across the image of myself clinging to the cliffs at home. I looked at the blizzard outside and realized I was once again in just that position. I’d swum to the cliff and done all that I could, but my own strength could carry me no more.

I remembered the scripture in Matthew that said, “But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me. And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him” (Matt. 14:30–31).

My confidence in myself exhausted, unable to climb farther, I had no choice but to humble myself and reach for the Savior’s hand. My mission president gave me a priesthood blessing that I would find the assurance I sought. I trusted him. Although I saw no angels or pillars of light, and although the storms continued, I discovered that I had received the gift of strength I needed.

I know that my Savior lives and that he will lift us all above the waves. The hand that was extended to me is extended to all.

[illustration] Illustrated by Roger Motzkus