Wandering Thoughts

November 29, 2008


Filed under: Going Places,Surfing — terence @ 7:59 pm
Tags: ,

There are plenty of surf spots where you’ll spend time waiting for the surf to pick up; there are a few where you’ll spend as much time again hoping it goes down.

For three days the waves in front of the village had been huge. Somber green-grey lumps of North Atlantic that focused on the point. To catch them you’d take the largest board you could find, put yourself in their way, turn, and paddle with all your might. If the wave was feeling kind, and if your frantic arm-strokes summoned you enough momentum of your own, at the critical moment you’d be at right place with enough speed to tap into the sweeping wall of energy. You’d leap to your feet as gravity pulled your board underneath you and speed away from the exploding peak towards the shoulder and down the point.

If you got it wrong you’d fall and be steamrolled by endless tonnes of whitewater that tore you to bits and pushed you down into the deep black below. Sometime later feeling bruised and bedraggled you’d be let up for air.waves-maderia-b

It was fun, I guess.

Some surfers thrive on the adrenaline that comes with riding big waves. To be honest the thing I enjoyed most was the weary, elated relaxation I felt at the end of the surf. It was the relative absence of adrenaline – the pleasant after-glow once it was gone – that I got off on.

Anyway, three days of oxygen deprivation and adrenaline inundation was about enough for me, and so when I woke on dawn on the fourth morning to the sounds of a calmed sea I was actually excited.

Maria and Lydia were already awake and into their chores, their conversation bursting back and forth in strongly accented Portuguese. I said good morning, grabbed some bread and wandered onto the patio to check the surf. Even in winter dawn was barely cold. It was dead calm and the only motion to sea was that of the swell that still wrapped and rolled down the point.

“Smaller”, I said.

It was still there but definitely smaller. As the waves bent and broke the glassy sea they looked nothing so much as fun. I was still sore from the day before but wasn’t about to waste any time. Give it an hour and everyone would be out – making the most of the change in conditions. And I didn’t fancy hassling for waves. So I pulled on my wetsuit, told my big wave board it could have a rest day and grabbed my 6’6″ – the board I used on the fun days.

There wasn’t a surfer in sight when I got to the boat ramp where you start the paddle up the point. “Keep waves-maderia-dsleeping guys,” I thought cheerily as I watched four waves, double head high max, roll down the point. This was going to be fun.

Such was my hurry to get a few to myself that I didn’t bother to try and time my paddle out from the boat ramp. When the swell was big waves broke right in front of it washing around jagged, barely submerged boulders. But the swell was small I figured, and the other surfers waking any time now, so I skidded hurriedly down the mossy concrete and sploshed into the sea.

I’d made it out about 10 yards – enough to be safe on a small day – when I found myself desperately paddling over the low tide shallows trying to dodge a wave that came from nowhere and which stood bigger than it ought to be, draining water off the rocks. There was no way I was going to make it past it, so I tried to duckdive. Caught right where it was breaking. Whump! The whitewater hit me and, while it wasn’t huge, it was strong enough to tumble and drag me back to the shore. By the time I got there my knuckles were bleeding from bangs on the rocks and my board had another ding.

More carefully the second time, I waited for a gap and paddled out. The swell might be smaller, I figured, but it still had a kick.

waves-maderia-fIt takes about ten minutes to paddle from the boat ramp to the part of the point which you surf. You can actually paddle round from the back of the point too – it’s shorter, but I always prefer the paddle from the ramp. It gives you time to watch the waves as they break, and figure out where to sit and what you were in for. Even on a small day it’s worth doing.

This morning, though, the main thing I was learning was that it wasn’t actually that small at all. Wave after wave rose out of the deep and along the lava rocks. The surf still looked amazing, but I was kind-of disappointed: fun and small was what I wanted. I was also beginning to worry whether my 6’6″ was up to the job.

There was only one way to find out.

So I got out to the point and sat there, just off the shoulder of the main peak, marveling at how quick the waves were getting bigger again. Behind me, perched on terraces above the point the village was as peaceful as sleep. But twenty metres to my left oxen-like waves were rising out of the ocean, steepening and growing as they hit the shallows before plummeting into broken white.

There’s no point watching surf like that for too long. If you do, fear takes hold, and you’ll fall for certain. You just need to get a wave. And so when a slightly wider set stood up in front of me I swallowed, turned and set my arms spinning. Big waves travel fast and you need to be doing the same if you want to catch them. The trouble is, even with the best of intentions, once a wave gets big enough, you’ll never get a 6’6″ moving with speed sufficient to hop on board. I was in the wrong place too – away from the first peak but because this was a wide set, sweeping in from the west, the wave was busy redoubling its efforts right where I was trying to catch it.

I caught it, I guess you could say, although it would probably be more accurate to say it caught me. I jumped to my feet but I was never going to get clear of the falling lip. So, continuing the motion, I lept – clear of my board and out into space. When things go wrong in big surf leaping isn’t such a bad idea. If you’re lucky you’ll land ahead of the wave. Like a leap from the high diving board at the pool, you’ll hit the water with a bang at the bottom, but iwavesmaderia-gf it all works out you’ll penetrate and the worst of the wave will wash over you.

I didn’t penetrate.

Instead I hit the water with a thump that knocked the air out of my lungs and then skidded under the breaking lip. An instant later the falling whitewater found me, tore me in several directions at once and finally settled on dragging me into the depths.

Once the worst of the turbulence subsided I opened my eyes. If the water’s clear enough after a wipeout, this is a good idea. You can get your barings and figure out which way is up. The water was clear alright, off that sandless lava island. But I opened my eyes to find my self surrounded by black. Even if the water is clear, if you’re deep enough, you still won’t see much.

Surprising myself given the circumstances I didn’t panic. It wasn’t the first time that winter I’d found myself in water deep enough to be inky. The trick then was to use your own buoyancy to give you a sense which way up was and start swimming in that direction. Pretty soon the sun will appear, a floating orb guiding you to the world of the breathing.

Except this time it didn’t – after a couple of strokes, with the water as black as ever I started to feel afraid. Maybe, disorientated, I wasn’t swimming up at all?

With an intensifying ache my lungs pleaded for air.

I paused for a moment. And finally saw it, like a dim light wrapped in green cellophane above me – the sun. I was swimming up, I’d just started from somewhere awfully deep.

By the time I got to the surface I was my lungs were screaming and I felt faint. I burst panting into the air.

Things could have been worse. There could have been another wave breaking on top of me. My board or leg rope could have snapped. But the ocean was calm again – it was a one wave set, and my board bobbed happily, and in one piece, next to me.

I climbed on, paddled limply away from the point and any other breaking waves, and lay for a while gulping down air. Eventually, I mustered the strength to catch a little one down the point to the boat ramp.

Back on land I stood dripping for a while and then figured I couldn’t give up. The surf was big, bwaves-maderia-hut it was breaking perfectly. And if I quit now I’d beat myself up about it for days.

And so I went and grabbed my big wave board, waited for a nice long lull, leapt off the boat ramp, and paddled back out.

By the time I made the lineup again it must have been well over an hour since dawn. I knew everyone else was awake, I’d seen other surfers watching from the village as I paddled for my ill-fated wave. But, all of a sudden, no one seemed to be in a hurry.

So, long after first light, as I guided my 7’4 into it’s first set wave of the morning, I did so, in an empty sea, still on my own.

Pinned to the wall

Filed under: Going Places — terence @ 4:05 pm
Tags: , ,

Jardim do Mar, Madeira: late afternoon, early autumn. The wind running round the point and then sou’east – towards the Sahara.


November 26, 2008

On the Harbour

gtcrop1There are days when the Nor’Wester blows so strong on Wellington harbour that it brings surf to Eastbourne. These aren’t open ocean waves like the ones that sometimes weave their way through the heads in a strong southerly swell. These are harbour waves, starting their lives as ripples barely 8 kilometres upwind off Petone Beach. Such is the strength of the gusts that carry them, that by the time they’ve crossed the harbour they’re big enough to surf. It’s the same way that surfable waves are sometimes formed on lakes.

Needless to say they aren’t great waves. Small, short and torn ragged by the wind. But you can surf them and as surf-starved kids we did.

I can remember one day when I was thirteen catching the bus from Point Howard to Eastbourne. Board stashed in the back, the bus ride was easy; my difficulties began trying to get from the bus stop to the beach. To do that I had to walk upwind, towards Windy Point, and around Dellabarca corner onto Marine Parade.

At the time I was using a surfboard I’d borrowed from a cousin. Even back then it was old, a board from the late ’70s. It wasn’t huge, but I was tiny. And as I battled against the wind, the board clasped under my arm turned into a sail. It kicked and tugged, and right on the corner became too much. All of a sudden I was out of control and back peddling, feet slapping on the footpath. Luckily, there was someone behind me. A stranger from the same bus. With an arm on the board he stopped my flight.

“Need a hand mate”.

“Yes please!”

And so the two of us, him holding the front of the board and me the tail, battled our way around the windswept corner. Safe on the other side I was able to scamper into the shelter of the sand dunes and change into my wetsuit. And then stumble through the swept, stinging sand into the surf.

I can’t remember now what my surf was like that day but I can guess. Lots of duck-diving the incoming wash. Lots of paddling against the current that swept down the beach. And just enough short crashing rides to keep me enthused. After my arms gave out I would have retreated back to the dunes, watching the setting sun give colour to a sky full of salt spray and waiting for mum to come and pick me up when she’d finished work.

I’m thinking about this surf right now not because the Northerly a couple of days ago was windy enough to have made surf in Eastbourne (although it probably was) but because I’ve been reunited with my gtcrop2cousin’s surfboard. Thinking nostalgically (and also because old boards can be fund to ride) I asked him about it a few weeks ago. It turns out he still had it, collecting dust and occupying space under his house. I offered to buy it off him, but he was happy to give it away.

I’m stoked. It’s the first board I ever really thought of as mine. It was borrowed of course, but I had it long enough to develop that strange attachment I have for inanimate objects – cars, plants, clothes – which join me in my wanderings.

The first thing that stuck me when I saw it again was how much smaller it looked. And older. The change in size makes sense of course – I’m a little bigger now. But the aging surprised me. This, I guess, was because I’d always thought of it as old – even back then when I first rode it, it was a relic of the 70s. And so I wasn’t expecting the already aged to be older still. But then I did the numbers: it’s over 21 years since the day I surfed in that Nor’Wester. Which explains it.

So the plan now: fix up the dings. Hope my body repairs itself. And take the old board surfing.

November 23, 2008

Quick Laugh Interlude

Filed under: Ramblings and Musings — terence @ 3:57 pm

My wife found this on Youtube, supposedly banned commercials.

I’m not that easy to get a laugh out of right now but this sure worked.

November 20, 2008

Roid Rage

Filed under: Going Places,Reactive Arthritis — terence @ 4:58 pm
Tags: , , ,

I’ve long forgotten his name, but I still remember some of his stories. ‘He’ was a Canadian backpacker who I met in a youth hostel in Cornwall. I hadn’t been travelling long and can remember being rather envious – as I ate my dinner of Vegemite sandwiches – of his ability to cook. More importantly though, new to the world of backpacking I was rapidly becoming attracted to everywhere on Earth. And so I listened eagerly as he told me tales of life in the Canadian ski town that he was from.

The one I’m remembering now is about the jocks. Big burly youths who drove big burly pickup trucks and who chomped on steroids to ensure they remained musclebound.

“Aw man, the worst was when they’d get Roid-Rage. The steroids would drive them nuts and they’d start smashing things up and wanting to fight you.”

I was still keen to travel to the Canadian west but I promised myself that if I ever made it there I’d avoid the berserkers and their trucks.

Anyhow, I am, of this morning, taking steroids (Prednisone). Not, I hasten to add, because I want to buff up for summer or because I want a bigger truck. But because prednisone is very effective in dampening inflammation.

Unfortunately, as our Canadian friends no doubt learned, one way or other most steroids are also very effective at ruining your body. Were I to take prednisone for too long I might end up moon-faced (that’s the reason why you only see photos of the young Che Guevara – who took steroids for his asthma – on t-shirts) and my bones could be damaged (I think), along with other uncomfortable side effects.

So I’m on the roids for a month. I just couldn’t cope otherwise – the pain was too much. The worst I’ve ever hard with my arthritis.

Hopefully, while the prednisone is dampening things down, the other meds I am taking will tackle the underlying disease process and, by the time I’m weaned off it, I’ll be feeling much better anyway. Otherwise, at least I’ve brought myself a month of low-pain living.

The good news is that I’m already feeling better for it.

Great – now I’m off to smash up the living room…

November 18, 2008

The White ‘rolla

Filed under: Going Places,Ramblings and Musings,Surfing — terence @ 7:37 pm

Another old surf-mobile.

Like the Blue Streak it made up for in heart what it lacked in horsepower. The carpet began to rot and it rusted to bits, but it fit the boards and you could sleep in the back. And most of all, on the day in question, and plenty of others, it wove its way around the endless gravel bends, bounced over the rocks, splashed through the fords, and made it to the beach.

November 16, 2008

Travels with Crutches

I vaguely recall reading somewhere that people in wheelchairs often find themselves ignored in favour of able-bodied companions. I experienced this several times over the last few days as I was wheeled through Wellington, Christchurch and Melbourne airports. It was strange to vanish like that, although I don’t really begrudge the people whose questions passed me by. Almost everyone we dealt was helpful and, god only knows, were the situation reversed I can’t say for certain that I wouldn’t make the same mistake (although now I will be mchair-crutching-14ore careful).

Anyhow, I’ve never been assisted in airports before – even when my arthritis has been bad in the past, I’ve tried to hobble along under my own steam. Lesson learnt this time, though: it’s a huge help. I hate to think what the trip would have been like otherwise.

Thunder storms swept over Melbourne on the morning of the appointment leaving a sky of swollen grey clouds in their wake. Jo and I were apprehensive. Maybe the doctor and naturopath who I see would say there was nothing that could be done. Maybe their prescribed advice would be impossibly far-fetched, or impossible to put into practice. But our fears were unfounded: a change to my medication, a reminder to be strict about my diet, and confidence on their behalf that I could turn this latest relapse around.

Relieved, Jo and I left the appointment to find the clouds broken into small manageable tufts that the wind was busy sweeping away. Nothing is certain yet, of course, I don’t know if the changes will help. But I’m hopeful. Time – the next couple of months – will tell. If the changes work, great. If they don’t I’ll return to conventional approaches, and the heftier set of trade-offs that come with them.

That afternoon, Jo and I made the most of the improving weather by finding a pleasant golden-sand section of Port Phillip Bay and paddling in the almost warm water which glistened under a blue sky and the bold Australian sun.

November 10, 2008

Crucking Futches

Filed under: Reactive Arthritis — terence @ 5:48 pm


Ok, I really shouldn’t complain.

As the sticker shows, they let me perform my democratic duty on Saturday. And without them right now I would not be able to walk.

But, dang, crutches are annoying.

Prop them up on any wall without due care and they will fall. They’ll take out your shins (happened today) or break something (during a previous spell on crutches they managed to fall on and break a vase that Jo was given by her grandmother). And then they’ll be on the ground, taunting you, as you play slow motion twister, trying to bend yourself into a shape that lets you reach them.


November 8, 2008

The Perils of Crutches

Filed under: Reactive Arthritis — terence @ 10:54 am
Tags: , ,

So close and yet so very, very far.

I woke up on Wednesday morning feeling slightly stiff. It was a nuisance but I wasn’t too concerned. Over the day things got a little worse but it wasn’t until I got home that night that I started to worry. I told myself it couldn’t be a relapse, but it was. Sometime after midnight I was crawling around the house trying to find my crutches. At dawn I called my parents; my wife was away and I couldn’t dress myself.

Mum raced over, got me dressed, took me to the doctor and cleaned the house for good measure. She was in emergency mode; Jo (who’s back now) and I are marveling at how much she cleaned in so little time.

So, anyhow, the arthritis is back – big time – for now.

Fortunately, I’m scheduled to go and see the doctors who treat it in Australia next week. So hopefully, they’ll have something. Until then I’m tired, sore and essentially immobile.

Oh yeah, and at risk of having this (below) happen to me again in the next North Westerly gale.

November 5, 2008

I was a teenage Duran Duran fan

It’s true. I was. I wore the t-shirt, I puffed up my hair with hair spray, I worried my mother. She confessed this to me the other day.

“I thought their music was quite nice, but then I heard the words. Horrible. All about violence and women and sex.”

I’m pretty sure she’s confusing Duran Duran with Guns n’ Roses (who replaced them when I hit thirteen and rid me permanently of the hair spray.)

But the funny thing is, the concerns she had about my teenage music habits are the exact same ones I have today about the music she’s in to. Have you ever listened to the lyrics of an opera? Terrible stuff. Violent, misogynistic and dripping with vice. Honestly Otello would make Ice T blush.

Anyhow, younger readers are no doubt wondering just what all the fuss was about.

Here we go. Duran Duran – “Hungry Like the Wolf”.

Sigh – they don’t make rock videos like that any more…

November 1, 2008

Sayings I hope to drop into conversation one day to make me sound wise

Filed under: Ramblings and Musings — terence @ 7:58 pm

“Shining a torch in someone’s eyes is not always the best way to make them see the light.”


Filed under: Going Places — terence @ 2:58 pm

If you take the bus from Porto Alegre, you can travel to the town of Gramado in less than two hours. The journey will take you up into the highlands of Rio Grande Del Sur where it can snow in winter and where you will wonder if you’re actually in Brazil at all.

Gramado was settled by Germans and Italians, and if you keep your ears open you can still hear locals speaking dialects of one or other language. Gramado is also clean, relaxed and, well, almost orderly. Elegant A-frame houses stand comfortable distances from wide clean streets.

One my third day there the friend who I was visiting took me to see the local favela. Tipped over the edge of a bank, it still wasn’t the sort of place anyone would choose to live. But it was small, and the shacks almost looked like houses. And, for once, it was hard to feel intimidated.

“So I guess,” I said as I turned to my friend, “that crime is not really an issue here.”

Crime was certainly an issue for me. Raised on horror stories of Brazilian violence I had coaxed myself into a state of barely suppressed anxiety by the time I arrived in the country. This had started to ebb now that I’d actually been there a couple of weeks and nothing horrid had happened, but I was ready to let it return at the slightest provocation.

“Oh, no,” my friend replied. “Crime is still a problem here. In the weekend thieves catch the buses up from Porto Alegre to rob the tourists.”

Relieved it was a Wednesday, and pondering the migratory supply and demand of criminal activity, I let myself relax again as we drove out of town towards a local national park.

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