Under the arthritis diary I’ve been chatting with a fellow surfer and arthritis sufferer, who happens to live on the Great Lakes. Which reminds me…
Growing up in the harbour we relied on southerly storms or huge south ground swells to provide us with waves. When they came, the ground swells in particular, could be great, but the wait in between could be agonising, especially in summer.
And so, in between the big south swells we’d do what we could to keep the surf stoke coming. Riding pushbikes miles out along a closed gravel road to the harbour mouth, to a couple of sketchy rocky reefs that broke in polluted water. Catching the ferry to Lambton quay and then the bus to Lyall Bay, pleading our way past drivers and ticket collectors, trying to convince them that they could indeed carry our surfboards. Sliding down pine-needle covered hillsides on skateboards with their trucks removed, pretending we were on snow boards (this we called Pine Boarding – it sort of worked but you couldn’t turn and the wipeouts hurt.)
One other alternative presented itself from time to time. When the nor’wester was particularly fierce, on the days when the hillsides roared with the sound of the wind tearing at the trees, and when the harbour was covered in white horses. Then we could surf at the Yacht Club, a beach that faced north west, inwards, away from the open sea, towards Petone and the other end of the harbour. The fetch wasn’t long: 7km to be exact (4.3 miles) but for a 40 knot nor’westerly that was still long enough. And so we’d surf these wind ‘swells’ in the stinging salt and sand. It was difficult, although not because the waves were too small, they’d actually get up to head high when the wind was really blowing. The trouble was the wind, and the current that came with it. Too often we’d spend all our time paddling, spindly little arms flailing against the current, slowly drifting south down the beach. Still, amongst all that we’d usually get something. It wasn’t much but we were in the water at least.
The best surf I ever had at the Yacht Club was probably my last, right on the edge of getting my driver’s license and all the open coast that came with it. It was evening, after school, and the salt spray was melting the setting sun over the Western Hills. I was out on my own. For some reason, maybe the wind was more westerly, or maybe I was simply growing stronger, I was able to hold my own against the current. And the tide, or the wind, or something was right too, and so one torn windy peak after another came to me. Short, steep and surfable. Turn after turn. Each one no-doubt much better in my head than in reality. Nevertheless, I was surfing, having a ball. Singing away to myself.
Among the other side effects (terrible surfers ear for a start) of the Yacht club days, one thing I acquired was an ongoing interest in surfing in confined bodies of water. We found an old surf guide once that claimed there were surf sports on Lake Taupo. We wondered what they’d be like. One, supposedly, was a point.
“Points never break any good in wind-swells” my friend Jerry informed me authoritatively. He was already a Yacht Club sceptic.
We read also read about the Great Lakes, in Surfing and Surfer magazines. Their Californian editors were sceptics too of course. Although, I, ever the day-dreamer, got my atlas out and measured the fetch of Lake Superior: over 200km. If 7km was enough for head high waves, who knows what they got on those lakes.
I don’t think I ever surfed the Yacht Club again after that best-ever surf there. With access to a car, I was able to go to Titahi Bay instead when the Nor’Wester was blowing. Still not a great surf spot but actual ocean waves of a sort. And then there was the South and East coasts with real groundswells and offshore winds.
Crazy as it seems though, I’m still kind of hopeful I might get to surf the Yacht Club again. Nostalgia, of course, and curiosity (did the waves really get that big?) and also the fact that when your last memory of a spot is a good one, you always want to surf it again.
Come to think of it, I still day dream about getting to the Great Lakes one day too. Although, for the time being, I’m just hoping I’ll be well enough tomorrow morning to get down to Bawley point for a few.