Nobody surfs a tsunami
A few of the extremists who ride Hawaii’s greatest waves were
on the scene when the December 26 2004
Indian Ocean monster killed 300,000
dwelling on its shores , but if any tried to ride it, none has lived to tell .Yet many surfers the tsunami caught sleeping
on the beach, escaped drowning, reminding us that in many places the tragedy’s magnitude was amplified by cultural as well as natural causes .
Tsunamis strike as waves, but transform into floods as they roll miles inland.
That is where a large and unnecessary
fraction of the victims perished. Not
from trauma, or being washed out to sea , but simply because they never learned
to swim a stroke.
The reason they should have still abides. Thousands of fathoms beneath the Andamn Sea's halcyon surface,
Within hours, the wave cast millions unskilled in swimming into a nightmare wipeout of waters opaque with lethal debris. Board and body surfers ride the oceans wind-driven surface, but a tsunami’s mass and momentum lurk like an iceberg’s far below. Even before the wall of liquid death tore inland, it began wreaking havoc on the living coral in the sea. Thousands of miles of fringe reefs were utterly smashed. Reef biologists view this is an unmitigated catastrophe, but warm-water surfers look on the underwater devastation with different eyes. Coral is their natural enemy,
as omnipresent, as tsunamis are rare, and just as lethal.
Idyllic shores deny
surfers room to ride. Body surfers need a user-friendly sea bottom; for
out is like being inside a washing machine. The only coral they ever
into is dead and ground to sand. A living
reef, in contrast, is the biological equivalent of a pointed wrought
, or brick wall topped with broken glass
. When the great wave hit, corals grown into shapes resistant to
incoming surge were struck instead by an
uphill avalanche. As the tsunami receded , elephantine boulders of
brain coral that had bowled through forests of pinnacles rolled
back to flatten scimitar thickets of staghorn.
From Sri Lanka’s Unawatuna, to the Nias Pipe, the clattering boulders ground down underwater Disneylands of pinnacle coral , destroying a scuba divers wonderland , but leaving a surfer’s paradise in their wake, To resort areas whose underwater tourism livelihood has been shattered, surfers perversely attracted to the bland new breaks may be a gift from the cruel sea.
This will not solace the coastal folk of Aceh’s Lampuuk.
It has become a “town without women” Because local custom frowned on swimming as immodest, less than 20% of its tsunami survivors were female. Women ignorant of swimming drowned in droves with children in their arms, while men and boys saved themselves by striking out for the nearest tree or rooftop, or treading water for the twenty minutes the floodwaters remained ashore.
“Women and children first “ remains a worthy ideal, but in the absence of lifeboats, one best applied to swimming lessons. It scarcely matters if the teachers are veiled Red Crescent volunteers, or saronged Aussie surfing girls steeled to risk some culture shock. They can’t come too soon; for if surfing teaches any lesson, it is that no wave is ever the last.