[T]hen all collapsed, and the great shroud of the sea rolled on as it rolled 5,000 years ago.” — Herman Melville, “Moby-Dick,”  or “The Whale.”

Call me BUD/S trainee.  The ocean is my nemesis.  Over time, the water will become my refuge and my security blanket but not in the beginning.  In the beginning, the dark and cold waters are my implacable foe.  Not until I receive my full salt water baptism and walk the ceremony of graduation will I learn to love the sea again.

There exists no circumlocution amongst BUD/S instructors.  They tell us we are going to paddle our small rubber boats out through the rumbling and frothing surf and then paddle them back again straight at a collection of rocks stacked upon the shore.  These are not mere pebbles collected at the shoreline.  No, these are boulders, unmovable in the waves.  A few are cobbles, able to be flung up by the tumultuous waters.

Some among us peer at the instructors through our squinted eyes and see in their visages our futures foretold.  We see nothing less than calamity and brains dashed out upon the rocks alongside our dreams of finishing BUD/S training.  We look upon broken and battered bones and envision our appendages deformed and splintered.  No matter.  We start out anyway as we know this is a part of it.  It is as inevitable as the waves rising up out of the ocean into foaming white masses of roiling thunder made physical.

This day the surf zone is especially angry and surging forward with vengeance.  That is no coincidence.  The schedule has been altered to accommodate nature’s turbulent mood.  The instructors simply cannot abide foregoing this rare opportunity to put us to the test.  “Grab your boats, men.  Head to the surf zone.”  We respond reflexively as always but with fear in our bellies.  Lord, do not let this be my last day in BUD/S lest it be my last day on Earth. 

As I and my boat crew carry our small craft into the surf zone we all leap aboard when the depth allows it.  The crewmen begin to furiously work the oars as though their very lives depend upon it.  I begin the steady and rhythmic cadence of “stroke, stroke” to indicate that all must paddle frantically forward straight at the approaching waves.  The entirety of the Pacific seems to conspire against us, as wave upon wave crashes before us.

The sets come quickly, towering waves following closely one behind another.  They resemble some apocalyptic apparition sent straight from Hell to batter us and force us under the surface.  We are an affront to the ocean’s power daring to challenge the supremacy of nature over man.  We finally reach the moment when we must ascend the last wave and exit the surf zone to the safety beyond the breakers.

The men paddle relentlessly while as coxswain I keep us straight and true up the face of the wave.  We come perilously close to full vertical and just as it seems that we will fall backward like some felled tree we slide over the crest to safety.  We have moved beyond the first circle of our oceanic hell.  We must now navigate a mere 150 yards north up the shoreline to bring ourselves in line with the rocks stacked like a dark and squat tower on the shore.