Wandering Thoughts

July 18, 2009

The Comeback

It was the best day I’d seen at the best surf spot around these parts. Surf law says I can’t give the game away and tell you where it is, or even reveal too many telling details. So maybe it was a beach-break with the best sand bar ever, or maybe a rocky point, swells crunching down its length. Or maybe a river bar after the flood of the decade. Or maybe a long shallow reef. The main thing is, it was the best day I’d ever seen. Just the, best, day. Double head high sets, blue-green walls, held up by an offshore wind until they spun off down the line, in hissing curving tubes.

The car park was full. Someone videoing the action. Someone nursing a snapped board. Hangers on, restless dogs, people exchanging excited diagnoses. Out the back was a serious pack of serious surfers. Old grumpy guys, locals, rippers, wanna be rippers, and one weird guy who limped down the beach and paddled into the line-up wearing a single white shoe.

The weird guy, that was me, of course. My heart hammering as I paddled. Watching the waves, breaking faster and angrier as they sped down the line. I tested the shoe with my good foot. I had to wear it; I couldn’t stand on a surfboard without it. The pain in my heal was too much. The padding of the shoe helped, got me into the gentle waves round home. But now as I paddled out along the edge of the exploding whitewater towards the serious pack of serious surfers I wondered what would become of the shoe and I should we actually catch something.

It wasn’t that I hadn’t surfed waves like that before. I had – plenty of times, from the outer edge of Atlantic Islands, to the murky beaches of Mexico, to the coral reefs of the Indian Ocean. But I’d done all that when I was whole. When mind and body worked as one. Now I wondered: could I even get to my feet quick enough; would I trip over the shoe; would I snap if I did.

In the end it all came down to one wave – my first. It broke wide, away from the pack and I spun into it a little way down the line as the barrel started to race. Lots of things could have happened: I could have been caught in the lip and pitched into the shingle; I could have nose dived on the drop and slapped into the shallows, I could have slid sideways under the lip as I tried to angle into the tube. Could of, could of, could of, but – in that instant, in that moment the story hangs upon – didn’t. Instead my feet fell into place under me, I made the lurching drop and pivoted into the tube, racing the raucous breaking swell. In the end I lost the race – flipped over the falls. But by then I knew all I needed to know. I knew I could still surf. I paddled out the back, where the serious surfers bobbed like black swans, and started catching waves, big draining barrels, beaten by some but making most, swooping through tube after tube, board chattering, hurtling towards the channel. Even the grumpy old guys hooted me on a couple. I can not tell you how happy I felt.

That was 2005. Back in the present, the methotrexate is helping. I’m getting round a lot better. But I’m still a long, long way from surfing again. Hoping though, as you can imagine, for another chance at a come back. They’re almost worth going away for.

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