Wandering Thoughts

January 1, 2018

Into the harbour

Filed under: Ramblings and Musings — terence @ 2:43 pm

I can almost remember the first time I surfed the Pipes. Half a bay, halfway along the gravel road to the harbour mouth. Rock reefs at either end and a beach of greywacke pebbles. A valley stuffed with gorse, and concrete pipes, almost large enough to stand in, leftover from when the sewer was built, piled up on the inland side of the road. To get to the Pipes you had to cycle or walk, the road was closed except to the odd truck that rumbled by on its way to a distant quarry.

Surfing there was a rite of passage if you grew up in Eastbourne. Unlike the beach back in the harbour where I learnt to surf, the Pipes broke over rock and gravel. Unlike the smaller points further in, the Pipes got enough swell to produce real waves — sometimes.

That first surf wasn’t good. My almost-memory is green water, a waning southerly, and the frustration of small waves that went nowhere, breaking all at once. That was a rite of passage if you grew up where I did. I remember the frustration of the waves interwoven with the perennial cheated feeling felt by teenage surfers growing up in a harbour. Other people got to surf real waves, me and my mates lamented every day until we finally got our drivers’ licences.

Occasionally, the Pipes actually gets good – I have memories of that – once you’ve worked out the right swell, wind and tide. Even when we had our drivers’ licences, even when there were other options, we would still walk or ride to the Pipes if things looked right.

Last week wasn’t really right – the strange, sunny, summer southerly storm had too much west in it, so the hills did nothing to shelter the waves from the gale that made the swell. The water was a warm green, but torn up by squalls. Still, the surf was marching past the reefs at the harbour mouth, and big enough to make it to the Pipes. And living in Wellington you get used to the wind.

What is more, living in Canberra, the odds of being back home for a big southerly swell are low. I didn’t need a guarantee of good waves to get me walking down that gravel road, where trucks have been replaced by triathletes and mountain bikes. The wind wasn’t right but I was pretty confident there would be waves. I was less confident I’d be able to surf them. Living with arthritis I’ve become used to the risk of failing in the surf. Certain types of waves won’t forgive the slow, strange way my back and hips force me to get to my feet. My inflammation levels fluctuate day to day. Unless I’m too sick to surf, I never know in advance how a surf will work out. After all those years riding it I ought to be able to surf the Pipes. But after all those failures I was anxious and unsure as I stood, my board kicking under my arm, by a gap in the rocks, getting ready to leap onto the back of a white water and paddle as fast as I could away from the point before the next wind-driven wave rumbled by. With no idea when I’d get the chance to surf the Pipes again, I wanted the surf to work.

I did everything right – I paddled out fine. I waited in the right place. I chose the right wave, catching the corner of white water that forms after the swell hits boils of dry rocks on the outside reef. With my memory leading the way those parts were easy.

Then, then, then…I got to my feet. Fast enough, on a wave forgiving enough to allow for me. I cruised for a moment, following the last of the bend of the outside reef, before angling into the bay, my body, my board, the wave, all cooperating. There’s no frustration. No cheated feeling. No wave breaking all at once. Instead, amidst the gale, and the arthritis, there’s me, going faster and faster as the swell steepens, changing my line with the curve of the wave, flying past surfers paddling out, past illness, down the point, into the harbour.

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