Green Berets Dive, Too

The Green Beret Combat Dive Academy expanded its curriculum vastly to accommodate a perceived deficit in waterborne operations training in its community. To fill the void, the six-week Waterborne Infiltration Course (WIC) was developed. One of the infiltration platforms taught at the course was the two-man Klepper Kayak. It was a stable, light, silent, and low-profile vessel powered by a two-man paddling team.

The academy cadre spent a great deal of time on the water, training in every aspect of the kayak until it became very efficient in its use in most aspects of saltwater operations. But there was at least one condition that was virtually absent in the training environment in and around Key West Florida where the school was located; that is, surf conditions. Key West is situated on a vast shallow-water reef complex that extends over five miles out to sea. This served to dampen most surf conditions short of just some rippling waves.

A satellite image shows how the reef that Key West is part of keeps the water shallow (greenish-blue) to as far offshore as 6.7 miles before it drops off to deep water (blue).

From Key West To Patrick AFB

To remedy the shortcoming, the academy looked away from the reefs of Key West to Patrick Air Force Base, some 325 miles north of Key West, and its surf-dampening safety. Three of us loaded an academy cargo truck with a half dozen kayaks and set to drive north. Along with me were fellow cadre and good friends Samuel B. Foster and Scott Steele, two of the top kayak hands in the cadre. I was ok with the kayak, but Sam and Scott were aficionados to the degree that they owned their own racing kayaks and kayaked on their days off.

A juxtaposition of Key West’s Smather’s Beach, on the left half of the photo, shows zero discernable surf, while the surf is very pronounced in the right half of the photo where the beach at Patrick AFB is shown.

We prepared for two days and two nights at Patrick to shake out our experience with kayaks in the surf. On our first day, we assembled three single-man kayaks, though our intent was to have only two men in the water with kayaks at the same time. That left one man observing on the beach, ready to swim out and provide rescue assistance if needed—we were young but not stupid.

Men in a two-man Klepper paddle out into mild-to-medium surf conditions.

Sam and Scott, being the bit-chompers that they were, scrambled to the water with their kayaks and went all in for a baptism of fire. Oh, they were baptized alright; their mangled kayaks and pummeled bodies came washed ashore like Tom Hanks and Wilson.

Tom Hanks from the movie Castaway, along with his sidekick, the bloody handprint on a “Wilson” volleyball.

“Can you build us a fire to help us recover, Geo,” Sam croaked from where he lay partially submerged in sand.

Nearby, Scott was in a bodily configuration that a couple of people couldn’t even have intentionally put him in — it didn’t look human in any respect, but I could see the rise and fall of his breathing, so…

“Sam, that was awful — truly (TRULY) an awful thing to see. I thought I was going to have to call your wife.”