Wandering Thoughts

August 10, 2008

Before Dawn

Filed under: Going Places,Ramblings and Musings,Surfing — terence @ 9:05 pm
Tags: ,

If you arrive at my favourite surf spot just before dawn you might find a window of opportunity. If you pull into the car park when it’s still too dark to guess the height of the waves. If you feel your way down the track as the driftwood and dunes start to take shape in the grey. And if you paddle out into the bay squinting, trying to pick the swells from the gloom…then you might get a few to yourself. You might beat the crowds and the westerly that tears chops from the water. And, if you do this, by the time the sun is above the eastern hills you’ll be back on the beach letting it dry the water from your skin, knowing you’ve had the best of the day.

Of course it’s no guaranteed thing: sometimes, no matter how early you get there others have beaten you to it; sometimes you arrive to find the wind wrong or the swell gone. And then there’s the question of timing. It might have been a few months since you last surfed there and seasons come and go. The earth tilts on its axis and your guess is as good as mine just what time dawn is right now.

Last spring I guessed wrong. I dragged myself out of bed at 5am and drove off into the clear black night. It’s always dark when I leave home but what normally happens – what I was expecting to happen – was a patch of faintest grey to arrive in the east and then bleed into the sky as I drove, becoming twilight as I got to the coast. But this time the sky stayed black. I drove round the near-calm harbour with stars twinkling and no hint of dawn. I drove over the hill in the dark. And I wove down along the river with no light but that coming from my car. There was no moon either – so when I stopped and turned off my headlights at the end of that empty coast road I was surrounded by the dark. The lights were off in the few farm houses and mine was the only car in the car park. One headland back a lighthouse blinked.

I still had momentum from the drive in me though so, even though there was nothing to see, I pulled on a second jacket and got out of the car.

I had to use the LCD light on my key ring as I made my way down to the bridge and over the river. ‘Once your eyes adjust,’ I told myself, ‘you’ll be able to see how big the waves are’. Above, the stars bent across the sky – a million keyring lights pointing back at me. I got to the gate and the beginning of the track to the beach. Falling out of the valley the katabatic wind was cold even with two jackets on. It wove round the struts of the gate and coaxed ghost song from the almost-frozen metal. Of course I couldn’t see the surf. But I could hear something, the sound of breaking swell and maybe, just maybe a glimpse of white water peeling into the bay. The wind was right, there was noise enough to let me know there was was swell, now all I needed was light. I walked back to the car amongst a night that was showing no signs of going anywhere. I sat in the driver’s seat for a bit, but with nothing to read and adrenaline born of the swell I’d heard I was antsy.

‘Stretches!’

I got out and in the shivering cold started to go through my stretching routine. As I lay on the grass, I caught my first glimpse of grey in the sky. Stretched but certainly not warmed up I got back into the car and pulled on my wetsuit twisting for lack of space but at least out of the wind.

Dawn, when it broke was surprisingly swift. The determined night of quarter an hour ago surrendered to the twilight with barely a fight. I ended up jogging to the beach – partly to keep warm but partly because now I was there, now I’d waited out the dark, I didn’t want to miss a wave. There was still no one around.

I paused at the water’s edge watching the waves in the dusk, trying to gauge their size. An hour had passed since I first arrived and in the almost light it was now obvious how good the surf was. I waited for a gap and jumped into the sea, paddling out through the deep of the bay, watching as swell after swell peeled along the reef edge, clean and even, the north wind blowing manes of spray from their crests. Hundreds of miles from the Roaring Forties gale that first sent them northwards the waves’ journeys ended where my day began, on the edge of the half-light.

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2 Comments »

  1. I had to go and look up ‘katabatic’! You always make me wish I could surf. Saw be kind,rewind last night – the sweded ghostbusters was the funniest thing I’ve seen in ages.

    Comment by sarah — August 12, 2008 @ 12:22 pm

  2. Yeah, that scene had me laughing good as well :)
    If it’s any consolation I make me wish I could go surfing too…

    Comment by terence — August 12, 2008 @ 7:54 pm


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