Breathing heavy and full of adrenaline I stood up from the knee deep waves among the kids and did a 180. With a massive smile I began the long push through the surf back to my fellow bobbing boogie boarders.
It was a Sunday afternoon at Torrey Pines. One of my favorite beaches doing one of my favorite things.
Smiles were ear-to-ear among this pod of boogie boarders, basking in the late Sunday afternoon glow the with warm summer breezes, the water temperature had finally risen to the point where you could stay in indefinitely without shivering.
The swell was building. We all felt it. In our group were a wide variety of skill levels. Experts with nice boards and fins running circles around all of us. Beginners on their $20 boards that weren’t quite the right size. And me, a midwesterner who loved it but resides firmly in the novice category.
Typically, I don’t like to go off shore beyond where I can touch the bottom. My technique is typically to wade out and position myself near where the waves break so that I can move “hop on” a wave rather than paddle and drop in. But the waves have drawn me out here, floating and chatting alongside all the other giddy riders.
We’d all caught enough waves. We were just lined up at the dessert table waiting for something fantastic to happen. In truth, the waves had already been too big for me and I’d been lucky to duck the ones that broke weird and hop on some fantastic rides.
I was way beyond my skill level. I felt it. But the allure of nice, pretty waves, warm water, and my success pulled me out where I didn’t belong. I was trying not to think about
A few minutes later one of the more advanced guys said, “Here they come!” About the same time one of the guys girlfriends said, “Hey, I can touch the bottom.” We all knew that this meant that the next set was going to be big. Most of us got off our boards and stood up, watching where the first waves in this set broke.
I was in the perfect spot. I ducked and let a couple of big waves break over me. And I was feeling pressure not to let this big set go by. I could tell by the excitement level of the better boarders that the next wave was the best one. Judging by the massive size of some of the other ones, which were way taller than me, the best one had to be ridiculous.
And there it was. I ducked a wave and looked up… it was rolling in. The best guys missed it, they were too deep. But I’m there, standing in the sand with my board up against my chest. As it approached me I felt like it was too big. But I had only a split second to turn and dive under it before it broke on top of me. Instead I hesitated. It was too late, I had to go or get rolled.
Pushing off the sand just as this massive wave started to release I could feel the waves massive power. But I was a fraction of a second late. And I was about five feet too far to the right… I was on the waves but in the wrong spot.
It’s hard to imagine how fast I was going… Imagine a fat dude on a boogie board going 30 miles per hour propelled by the biggest wave of the day. It’s a scary thing to imagine and an even scarier thing to experience. The first half seconds were perfect, I cut into it and was flying by as all the other boogie boarders and swimmers ducked as it went by.
In the next instant I was crushed.
The wave collapsed on top of me. I was completely powerless against it’s power. It shoved me to the bottom then flipped me and rolled me and held me under water. It didn’t just roll me side-to-side, my head hit the bottom then my knees then my head. Water rushed into my sinus cavities causing me to gag under water.
It’s a horrible helpless feeling.
Finally, it released me. I felt like I’d been spit out of Jonah’s whale. And I was back in knee deep water among the kids and moms and floaties.
The best leaders are powerless
There’s a silent allure to power in leadership. Early success leads us over our head. But we quickly find ourselves out deeper than our skill level.
We mislabel fear as following. We mislabel position as authority. We mislabel obedience as respect. But behind the mask of many “strong leaders” are very scared little boys. They’ve created a puffed up thing, manipulative, terrified, and tired. Others have mislabeled it as leadership.
Lord, make us powerless leaders who lead with love. Amen.