The term the TV presenters use here in Australia is cell. Thunder cell. Like an al-Qaeda cell. Clouds gone bad. Mingling together in hidden valleys. Gathering. Spilling down from the hills. Darkening. Growing. Gathering.
Jo and I have figured a way of going surfing. If I use the soft, floaty, blue, learner’s longboard, I can catch waves and ride them on my knees. It’s exercise (in the sea!) and it doesn’t hurt that much, physically. Although I hide from other surfers. Trying to find quiet lonely corners of beaches where no one will laugh at a broken guy riding a soft foam board, awkwardly, on his knees.
And so that’s what we were doing – surfing – three evenings ago while the thunder cell massed. First there were just clouds, and then ‘it was looking a little dark to the south’, and then there was a big black wall, creeping up the coast from somewhere near Moruya.
We caught our waves a little anxiously, watching its progress. The lick of the lightning; the thump of the thunder. We rode small lefts down a sandbar, peeling into a bay. Not big enough for anyone else to be surfing but folding fast little sections for us to skim across, and bent by the curve of the coast so that the ebbing nor’easter was offshore.
Arms of cloud reached out off the edge of the storm, trailing soft curves of rain, blurring the horizon behind. And through that haze, on the other side of the weather, the sun was starting to set, burning colour around the edge of the clouds.
Jo was counting the seconds between lightning strikes and the sound of thunder.
The cell had crept north, maybe over Broulee.
“Time to take a wave in?”
“Yeah, that lightning’s getting close.”
“And it will be dark soon.”
So we caught one last set. I paddled into my wave, just off the edge of the peak. Paddle. Then the motion changes. Then I pull myself to my knees and turn down the line. And as I turned the sunset flared. The half of the sky yet to be swallowed by the black of the clouds was melted, molten, and reflected in the glassy water that I sped over. The impossibly red sea also reflecting, for a moment, then a moment, then a moment, the dance of lightening across the sky. I skimmed along laughing, shouting. If I’ve ever seen anything more beautiful surfing, I can’t remember it.
After, we hobbled up the beach, got changed into towels, and drove north away from the rain.