Thursday, 7 July 2011


Whenever the surf got big, he would appear, without fail. Often there would be no-one out at all; just too wild and wooly, whitewater everywhere, any green waves were marbled with ribbons of white. "Not rideable," was the common consensus on the balcony of the surf club. But he'd stroll across the grass of the beachside reserve often barechested even in the Sydney winter. With his thick brown hair swept straight back from his forehead and a full beard he reminded me a bit of Grizzly Adams. Always in plain red boardshorts, usually a smoke in one hand, his yellowed board under the other arm it was impossible to judge his age. Maybe thirty something or possibly even a decade older. The lack of any grey in the whiskers and the taut athletic body coupled with a brightness in his eyes and a lightness to his step made him ageless. On first name terms with all the usual beachfront crew he was never the less a bit of a lone wolf, always traveling solo.

Most surfers would be fizzing with anticipation as they approached the shore, trotting like nervous ponies across the sands. He never hurried. Just walked casually to the northern side of the bay, not even seeming to check the surf on the way. Not that there was much to see apart from lumpy, slow-moving mounds of water. Occasionally the swirling mass would line up and a wave would form way out the back, offering the chance of a clean face amongst the chaos, but it would be a deceptively heavy, seething, unorganised roller that could just as quickly fold under its own weight and dump itself in an explosion of frothing whitewater.

At the water's edge he'd nonchalantly flick his cigarette butt away, drop his board in the sand and tie his leggie around his ankle. Then without haste or panic he'd lunge into the shoredump and stroke swiftly toward the rip that ran out past the sea pool. With the big southerly swell pouring into the bay, the current was moving fast back out along the north side and he was soon swept past the rocks and out into the middle of the bay.

Soon he was just a small, distant shape, defiant amongst the heaving green and white. He would disappear from sight, nowhere to be seen and then reappear fifty metres away, paddling purposefully even further out to sea as a huge set growled in from around the headland. Up and over the first unbroken wave he went, just a sliver silhouetted against a long wall of rising water. As the next wave seemed to draw itself up in menacingly slow-motion he spun around and paddled hard down the dark slope. The wall grew taller and he actually drifted back up the face with the tremendous flow of water. But gravity took over as the wave toppled forward and he sprang to his feet as the lip snarled all around him. He dropped almost vertically down the face and dug a deep bottom turn. Still, he seemed at ease, although there was now a vitality in his movements, a restrained energy to his body that allowed him to surf confidently with power yet smoothly without wasted effort. So many of the other local surfers, even the good ones, moved too jerkily, overdid everything and were self conscious. Whereas even here, in this angry sea, as he swooped back up the face of a wave that was at least triple overhead, he was surfing beautifully. Just the right amount of torque to send a fan of spray out over the back of the lip, a perfectly timed turn followed by a smooth flowing down the line carve, a long arcing cutback and a quick flickout before the section slammed itself onto the inside bank. It was just text book surfing in the most unorthodox of conditions, the fluid definition of grace under pressure.

He'd paddle back out through the maelstrom to get a couple more subtley epic rides against all the odds and then catch one in. Seemingly satisfied that he'd done justice to both himself and the swell. Back on the beach, he'd maybe have a quick chat to some of the crew before strolling off down one of the side streets, barefoot, still dripping wet from the sea. As he never came by car I assume he lived nearby - a real local you might say.

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