A day off work, a small sou’-west swell and a remote bay with a reef break. That was the plan. Drive over at night, sleep in the car park and beat the onshore.
But an old friend turned up. Called as I was packing the car. So I ended up out of the way, in a pub in Eastbourne swapping stories over beer. I didn’t start the drive until close to 10. Highway, hill climb, country roads, gravel roads and finally a track, marram grass shishing under the car. It was midnight by the time I got there.
I stopped the engine, replacing music and the thwap of three and a half cylinders with silence. With no moon there was nothing to see, just a dark so thick it wove shapes at the edges of my headlights. Stretching my legs, I stood for a bit in chill of the offshore breeze in the empty lonely car park. Out in the the dunes somewhere, something’s footsteps rustled.
Quickly, before the isolation began whispering me ghost stories, I put down the back seats, made my bed, pulled the boot shut, cracked the windows ever so slightly and locked the doors with a clunk.
Not quite 5 hours later the beep of my alarm stole my dreams and dragged me into the almost morning’s almost light. Groggy in the grey, I crawled out the door. The sky was filled with thick low clouds; the offshore had gone. A gentle puff of wind crept in from the sea.
I was as early as I could be, but the onshore won the race. With it’s arrival went my chances of surfing the reef in the bay.
Twenty minutes away was a point. If the southerly stayed light it would still be clean. Not reef break barrels but long loping walls at least.
I ate as I drove; boards, sleeping bag and mattress bouncing in the back with the potholes.
The road led south, past empty farm houses and churning shingle beaches. In front of me the coastal ranges reached into the clouds, yielding to the sea only at the last possible moment, conceding in steep, scree covered slopes.
Amongst all this the second car park brought better news. A light onshore out the back but calm on the inside. Waves, maybe head high, maybe head and a half, long clean sets with long clean walls. No crowd of surfers. No one at all.
With the wind still light I wasn’t about to wait. I tugged on my wetsuit and set myself a forced march over the steep hill that stood between the end of the road and the paddle out spot. Half way up, I came to a halt. My lungs were rung free of air.
“Damn hill’s getting steeper.”
It was the best explanation I could think of. Though I didn’t know it then, the problem wasn’t the hill but my heart and the valve that no longer worked.
When the air returned I resumed my walk, over the hill and down to the rock point. I picked my way carefully to the jump-off spot.
I lept in on a surge of whitewater and paddled out, oily kelp slipping past my hands.
With the point to the myself I chose a take off spot down the line a bit, where the swells had bent enough to be clean. I’d barely had time to get my bearings when a wave came through. I spun and paddled. To my feet, angling down the line, around the first section and then sweeping turns along the wall.
Paddling back out I started singing to myself.
Later, when my arms gave out I walked back to the car. I changed and ate, and pulled the mattress out and lay on the grass. It was still quiet, no one round, just the lapping of the southerly breeze. The silence that had been eerie in the dark the night before was now only peaceful.
After weeks of commuting and computer screens, work plans and crowds of people, I drunk in the space, watching the waves. When I got my energy back I headed over the hill for another surf.
Later still, driving home with rain starting to fall and the rising southerly traipsing through the trees, I saw my first car for the day – a surfer, heading towards the sea.
“Good luck,” I mouthed as we steered past each other.
Foot back on the accelerator I pondered my own fortunes. I never got to surf the reef but was happy all the same.
The best laid plans often go astray. Sometimes though, everything ends up fine even so.