Wandering Thoughts

March 13, 2010


Filed under: Going Places,Staying Places,Surfing — terence @ 6:08 pm

As a kid I learnt to surf on a succession of dinged-up old boards. Like everything else in my teenage years, it was a source of embarrassment. Big and bulky, and browned by the sun – these ‘dungers’ didn’t look anything like the sleek white boards that all the good guys owned. I felt like a frumpy gumby carrying them down to the water’s edge. It wasn’t fair.

Despite the start,  I learnt to love old boards. Some still surf great once you figure them out. And it’s nice to rescue a forgotten board from the back of a shed and return it to wave riding life. I also learnt that the least cool thing in most surfers’ eyes isn’t owning an old board but rather being learner with a bright new one. If you’re going to learn you’ll do just fine on something old and floaty. A new board under a beginner’s arm will be a waste of money. A sign of vanity. Or that’s how most surfers feel.

Better still, is if you can paddle out on an ancient old clunker or obvious learner’s board and rip. That’s got style.  And everyone else will be so surprised you ought to get a few extra waves while the crowd re-adjust their expectations.

Or, at least, that’s the story I told myself as I lugged a big bright blue learners’ soft board down to my favourite surf spot. It’s the same wave where I’ve failed at least a couple of times in recent months. Fast walls and chunky sections, down into a bay. Out the back thick swells which are hard to catch. None of this easy for a broken old body. Nor quite what learners’ boards are made for. But I’d shipped everything else to Australia and I really wanted one last surf before departing. And so there I was, quite a sight to the guys out the back as I stumbled into my wetsuit. And lugged the board down the beach. Paddling out from the wrong part of the bay because I was too tired to walk any further.

The one good surfer in the pack paddled around me like I didn’t exist. Fair enough. I wasn’t sure if I existed either. Or more accurately. I wasn’t sure I wasn’t sure I’d actually make it to my feet. Or that the board would let me down the line. I floated about in sparkly blue sea wondering about this for a bit. Looking up at the eroding grey hills. And out into the patterned ocean. Waiting for a swell, a manageable wave to come my way. When it did I paddled just as fast as my lungs and heart would let me and half lept, half staggered to my feet. It wasn’t graceful. But my feet ended up where they needed to be and the board, big blue and floaty, turned just fine. Off I sped down the bay. On subsequent waves I started taking off deeper and turning harder. And the board, this blue pop-out thing, cut from soft foam so as to be safe for learners, went just fine. It flew even. Down drops. Past sections. Into turns.

Who knows what the other guys out there thought off all this. The weird old guy on a learner’s board and in a sun hat. But I’m figuring they were surprised. They sure let me get my waves. Let me have my chance to say a surf-happy goodbye to my favourite slice of coast. Left me with plenty to day-dream about over here in Canberra. Not to mention inspiration to take the blue board with me on the two hour drive to the nearest bit of Australian coast. First chance I get.


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