Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Walking around the headland, eyes on the water, the rocks lining the point, occasionally on the path in front but not often enough as something seems to have lodged itself in the palm of my foot. It can wait. Nick breaks into a trot and I follow suit, past the normal jump off rock, past the folks who don't know any better with no real idea of just how strong that current they're about to jump into is, folks with no more idea than I have but folks who don't have someone who knows better to follow, someone lit up by surf like this, surf far beyond my comfort zone, my capabilities, but surf I have every intention of launching myself into just as soon as I've scrambled across the rocks after Nick, who knew exactly what it would be like today long before he got on the plane to come up here, whose 6'3" six-channel AB has been chosen exactly for this sort of day. A no-nonsense surfboard for no-nonsense surf and a no-nonsense surfer who knows exactly what he's getting himself into and what he wants to do once he's there, and me behind him, ducking through the scrub and across the rocks, still overwhelmed by the piece of fibreglass and foam under my arm, my first custom, a board I hadn't expected to push for months.
I knew it would be like this too, knew from the charts and from the early I had at home this morning at a beachbreak that's always got a dozen people out even at six am but was deserted this morning, just me and six feet of straight swell, giving me some confidence to deal with this afternoon because I'd paddled out when others hadn't, and felt comfortable and focused but known that beachbreak was not what it was about, not really, not in swell like this when where you really, even if you don't, where you really want to be is at The Point.
Almost at the rivermouth, we follow wet footprints off the path through this odd little blob of national park down through the bush and onto the boulders, not stopping to watch the sets heave onto the rocks, picking our way across them, boards under arm, trying not to rush, a recent trip to get sewn up after launching into the water too early at the front of my mind and a quick glance at my foot finds it covered in blood, a 20 cent-sized piece of skin flapping under my big toe but it'd have to be a lot deeper than it is to be worth turning back for even as I watch someone probably someone who knows this place a lot better than I do scrambling out of the ocean with two pieces of cleanly snapped surfboard, session over before it's even started because this is really heavy, and jumping off the rocks isn't just jumping off the rocks, it's years of timing the sets and knowing the tides and there's a break in the waves that lets me pick my way from dry rocks onto the slippery barnacle-encrusted half submerged ones and overcome the knowledge that this wave bearing down on me will snap board and bone because it will also get me out into that mess of whitewater and somewhere, some half a kilometre back around the headland if I'm lucky into the takeoff spot and I'm in the water, scrambling to find purchase in the boiling bruised surface, bubbling and hard to paddle through, Nick in front of me, duckdiving wave after wave, both of us paddling away from the rocks but not wanting to get too far into the impact zone, not wanting to be anywhere near these waves when they stand upright and break, and we're paddling, and duckdiving and paddling and being swept down and the set's dying and I'm paddling to get beyond the break and round the headland and into the lineup and there with blue water in front and behind.

It's crowded, but unlike when it's half this size the crowd is not entirely unwelcome, people in the water looking each other in the eye not to stare each other down but to acknowledge that we're out here in the water dealing with this and not standing with the dozens on the headland as witnesses, but part of the spectacle, in the arena and people are smiling and nodding like they never do when the surf is not heavy, not of such consequence, but no-one is sitting on their boards, we're all paddling against the sweep, the bastard current that runs down every point break on this bit of coast whenever it's big, and there's a whistle and everyone's heading out to sea, towards this straight blue slab of energy that's sucking and lifting the water and the surfer furthest inside is wheeling around and paddling and the wave is already throwing wide open when he goes and we're over the back and looking for the next one and forgotten while he's in the barrel of his life or being dragged towards the rocks underwater but he'll be right and Nick is going and someone else is going and I'm furthest inside and this thing bearing down is my wave and it's why I'm here and I turn and paddle as the wave stands straight up and the bottom drops out and instinct takes over and I'm on my feet willing the rail of my board to stay in the face and looking down the line as this thing throws way out over my head and there's no way I have anywhere near the speed to come out of this and I'm straightening out, trying to outrun the lip, crouching, swallowed by the whitewater and coming up seconds later reeling in my board in time to get under the next wave and the next, paddling towards these huge caverns, lines of swell that have marched across thousands of kilometres of ocean only to hit this spot and turn themselves inside out, unloading down the boulder strewn point, take us with them if we're lucky and have known what we're doing our whole lives or giving us the most ridiculous hiding and two hours later we're back at our desks quietly buzzing and trying not to make a deal of it to the people in the office who couldn't make it out or stayed on land and watched because I know I got lucky today, got my waves and didn't get held down too long, didn't get wailed or have my legrope snap or board break and am back and can wonder how long this swell will last and what it'll be like in the morning.
Someone's talking about a nightsurf down the coast, if the cloud stays off there could be enough moon and it's one more thing to get excited about but I can't, but the next night we're on it even though it's cloudy we stand on the hill watching these perfect waves stack up and the swell's dropping and we know it's dropping and that's not really a bad thing not at night anyway, not when it's this dark and going out is just stupid and pointless but even in the dark those lines of whitewater breaking so perfect and even, stacking up like I'd scarcely have believed I'd see with my own eyes when I was growing up far from here and fuckit we're out there, the three of us in the dark in the middle of the night because come dawn there'll be the most ridiculous crowd all over this, and we're being swept past the rocks and there's a set and I'm watching a wave break, no idea weather I'm in position or what I'm doing so I dive and as I do so realise I could have gone so the next one no matter what and there's a wave out of the blackness and I'm far too late and get pitched and come up bummed I missed it but stoked, stoked to be in the water in the dark with two friends who would rather be nowhere else than here in these perfect little waves in the middle of the night.

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