I almost hit a dolphin

I almost hit a dolphin today. I was surfing, and an outside set of big waves was rolling in. I was too far inside, too close to the shore. The two guys to my left, safely to the left and behind the waves, were gesturing vaguely at the dark water in front of me. I looked, and saw the silhouette of a dolphin against the gold sky, cruising over the crest of a wave in their direction. I’ve seen them do this before, swimming down or across the faces of the biggest sets waves. Usually if there’s one, there’s a bunch of them, and today was no exception. Another one (not the one I almost hit) surfaced just behind the first, and a little closer to me. It was about fifteen yards ahead of me. I’ve been this close to a dolphin in the ocean before; that time it had even jumped, lifting out of the water in a magically effortless arc.

Closer, further to the right, and directly in front of me, I spotted dolphin number three. It was surging down the face of the wave, pointed directly at me (this is not the one I almost hit, either). Being at the business end of an iron-gray, torpedo-shaped mammal with a sharp dorsal fin was entirely different that watching the same mammal jump out of the water. I felt very little magic in that moment, and very much of something that didn’t quite have time to be fear. But it was still ten yards away, and I had to keep paddling so I didn’t get whumped by the wave. So I kept paddling and played chicken with the dolphin. In another stroke, the dolphin was gone. The wave was almost above me now, and I started to dive under it.

I’d gotten the front of my board pointed in the correct direction – down, and directly into the wave – when another dolphin appeared in front of me. Its nose broke water immediately to my right. My right hand was on the nose of my board; if I had reached it a foot, maybe a foot and a half out and to the right, it would have been on the nose of the dolphin.

It slid past me, right to left. I looked at its mouth, its eye, its blowhole, its dorsal fin. The uniform gray of its skin. The side closest to me was dark in the shadow of the wave. The line of its mouth was just that – a line. Its eye was sunk deeply into its head; it looked like a little black pin pushed into a pillow. The only part of its eye visible was a small, black, emotionless dot. Its blowhole was still. The whole thing, this dolphin, dipped the top of its body briefly into the air that we both breathe, and then was gone.

In the next moment, the wave was crashing around me because I hadn’t dove under it. I came up with more seaweed in my mouth, and had to paddle to get over the next wave. I had enough time to glance to my left. I thought I saw a gray shape for a moment, but the water was dark and I couldn’t be sure. I don’t even know if it had looked at me.

Obligatory Pic of Dolphins Jumping at Sunset

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