Wandering Thoughts

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.

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