Wandering Thoughts

January 19, 2009

The One Legged Man

Filed under: Staying Places,Surfing — terence @ 9:16 am
Tags: ,

Damian and I were bored out of our brains. Becalmed mid-summer.

All our hope lay with the southerly that had blown in earlier that day bringing with it a low, murky sky and the faint possibility of surf.

Acting on that, we checked the waves on an hourly basis – flat, flat, flat – each fruitless survey accompanied by much positive visualisation.

“Looks a little bigger now.”

“Yeah, that last one almost broke.”

“Yeah, maybe the incoming tide will bring in a bit more swell too.”

“The tide’s going out.”

“Oh. Well maybe it will break more on the low.”


Then we’d drive back to Damian’s parents’ place and watch another surf video.

“Green Iguana?”

“How ’bout Wave Warriors 4?”

And so the afternoon went. Until some time around 5pm when our surf check revealed something completely unexpected: waves.

Bad waves: onshore and closing out. But waves all the same.

I didn’t even stop the car. We raced back to Damian’s to get the boards.


“Before it goes flat.”

Remarkably we returned to find that, far from going flat, the swell was actually getting bigger.

“Out there!”

“Yeah, quick.”

“Before it goes flat.”

We’d been in around half an hour, the only surfers in the water, when the southerly died away.

Without the wind to cut it up its surface, the sea became oily, smooth as a mirror, reflecting the grey back at the sky.

The swell kept rolling in though; the waves were a little over head high now and instantly better without the chop bringing down sections. Bent in by the outside sandbars, the swells stood up just to the north of the small steel and wood groin below the car park.  Taking turns, we’d catch them right at their peak and speed south, past the groin,  zipping over the shallow sand. The waves would barrel, back off for a moment and then close out in the shallows allowing us the chance to imitate the manoeuvres we’d been watching in the videos all afternoon.

The waves were unreal. We hadn’t anticipated surf like this.

We didn’t anticipate what happened next either.

A guy appeared, standing in the evening murk at the top of the stairs that lead down to the beach. He was wearing a one-legged wetsuit. He was propped up on crutches. He only had one leg.

Very, very carefully he climbed down the stairs and made his way out onto the beach. He stopped about 10 feet from the water’s edge. Following in his footstep was a kid, maybe 10 or 11 years old. The kid was in a wetsuit too, carrying two surfboards: one for him and one for the guy on the crutches.

When they stopped the older man set down his crutches and the kid gave him one of the boards. With it, he hopped the rest of the way to the sea, falling with a splash into the shallows. The kid followed and they both paddled out.

We watched in wonder. Not so much wonder though, that we missed the set that was coming our way.

“Go Damo, go! I’ll take the second one”.

By the time we’d each caught a wave and were paddling out, the old guy and the kid were in position for the next waves that came through. The kid got the first one and rode it pretty well for an 11 year old.

The old guy was up next. We watched, waiting for him to fall. But he didn’t. Somehow – and I still can’t figure out exactly how – he ‘stood’ in a crouch propped up by a bent leg, the stump of his missing leg, and his arm.

He dropped down the fast steepening wave, turned, and shot along it. He wasn’t graceful or entirely in control but he made it.

Faces opened up with surprise Damian and I stared at each either, neither of us saying anything, neither of us really sure what words to use. The old guy paddled back out.

“Does it often get this good here?”



“Not often”

“Well maybe sometimes.” We were still struggling with words.

Technically, Damian and I being locals and the guy and the kid coming from out of town, we should have been grumpy, surly even, at their intrusion at ‘our’ spot. But really? We’d just been joined in the best waves we’d had for months by a kid and a guy who rode the impossible. Pretty soon the four of us were chatting happily.

The newcomers were from up north somewhere, visiting friends who lived over the road from the beach. They’d brought their boards and just happened to stop by on the only day in months that had surf.

The old guy had lost his leg to cancer, but was determined to keep surfing, so had. The kid was his son.

After about an hour they got out and headed to their friends’ for dinner. Damian and I surfed to dark making the most of the waves.

That surf was almost half a lifetime ago now. Damian lives in Australia. I’ve – mercifully – still got both legs but, for now, they’re no good for surfing. The beach we surfed at that evening is almost gone – swallowed by shingle.

I like to think though, that the old guy might still be surfing, up north somewhere. Weaving along wave faces on a stump and an arm. And I hope his son is too, travelling and enjoying all the other good things that come with being a surfer.



  1. Great stuff, Terence, really enjoy the stories and anecdotes.

    Comment by Simon — January 19, 2009 @ 9:27 pm

  2. Thanks Simon

    Comment by terence — January 20, 2009 @ 6:15 pm

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