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Photo ofPresley Bixler-Grant

When I was younger, I participated in the Hawai'i Surfing Association contests for a while.  For this experience, I was finally old enough to participate in the contest at Pinetrees on the north shore of Kaua’i! It was a really rainy weekend. My friend, Alea, and I went to stay at a condo in Princeville with our parents. We got to hang out, and I could practice surfing at Pinetrees before the contest. The waves were really small that day, and it was amazing! We surfed for a few hours and then went back to the condo. We were getting tired, and it started pouring rain on us...and besides, we wanted to go in the hot tub! I had to get ready for the contest the next day.

When we came back the next day, we were sitting on the sand playing and watching the waves. They'd changed so much from the day before!  They were huge, like double overhead. I was nervous. We were only about 4 feet tall, so the waves must have been like 8 ½ or 9 feet high. For some reason, the officials decided to keep running the contest even though they had all these signs out saying ‘don’t go out’. The waves were everywhere...the water was so choppy. Finally, they called my name to go out. I went with the rest of the contestants to grab our jerseys. Then, we grabbed our boards and started paddling out to the lineup. I was having a lot of trouble getting out. I was stuck in a break with waves crashing on me. I couldn't duck dive that well yet. Duck diving is a method to get past the breaks. I was only eight and wasn’t strong enough yet. My board was also really big, and I was tiny in comparison.

I was stuck in the break. Then I caught a wave, and it kinda tossed me over. I don't remember much except for the wave was just washing me and washing me over and over, and pushing me underwater. All I could think was hold your breath, Presley, don't breathe out...this will be over soon. I came up after what seemed like forever. As I was gasping for air and getting on my board,  I got hit by another wave and pushed back under. Every time I got my head above water, I kept getting pushed back in. After watching me struggle, a retired lifeguard jumped on his board and paddled out to me. He couldn’t help me by pushing me out of the break because I would have gotten disqualified from the contest. Instead, he helped coach me out, so I could finish the contest. I didn't want to get caught in another wave, so I followed his instructions and started paddling out. I finally made it out and I was just sitting in the lineup, trying to catch my breath and calm myself down.

They blew the horn, indicating the end of our heat. I was so happy to be able to go in, but I had to catch a wave, which was also terrifying!  My parents said the lifeguard wanted to make sure I could finish the contest so that I didn’t feel bad about having to turn around. That was nice of him, and I was also grateful to have his help. Even more than that, I was so glad that I didn’t drown.  I still love surfing and spend all my free time in the water, but since that day, I have had greater respect for the ocean.

© Presley Bixler-Grant. All rights reserved. If you are interested in quoting this story, contact the national team through this website and we can put you in touch with the young person's teacher.