Wednesday 31 December 2014

Up the wave like a walking marlin.

A small portion of the horde outside Woollies.
I am supposed to be taking some time off over this period of the year, having a break from writing, but then last night at 2am, I was infuriated beyond belief, and that reminded me of why I started this blog in the first place: to complain.
So, to start with we went through Xmas, and as Xmas approached I was not really conscious of a feeling of unease, of not really being able to settle to any particular task.
Now I'm an atheist, and so obviously don't celebrate Xmas, but of course, living in the town that is
ground zero for summer partying in NSW, Byron Bay, meant that in the end I couldn't really avoid it.
I did my best, I got all my clients' gardens mowed well before the traffic began to build up, and received a couple of superb Xmas cakes from Joanne and Becky which was better than nice. Both were superb, and since (like most middle-aged men) I have to watch my diet, and had been dieting most of the year, I decided to go absolutely hog-wild, and have a piece of cake each day over the holiday period.
So that gardens were done, and I like all the other locals in the area, I then hunkered down for the waves of tourist hordes that descend on us annually at this time.
However, the run to, and during Xmas, wasn't that bad, and I was reminded that, actually the crowds don't really begin to affect us like fleas on a dirty dog until New Year.
Most spend Chrissy with their families at a home of a family member, and then once boxing day had passed, they begin the long trek up the Pacific Highway to Byron Bay.
Clinton's lawn was nowhere near as glamorous as this.
Thus Christmas was quite pleasant, I spoke to my Brother Robert in the Hunter Valley, and we had a good chat. I texted with my other brother, David, also based at the headwaters of the Hunter in Newcastle. And that was really the end of my family Xmas.
At lunchtime I cycled down to join my friend Clinton for Xmas tea on his lawn.
Normally we go to his local coffee shop, the Yellow Flower in Suffolk Park, but they were of course shut, and so we recreated the last days of the Raj in India, with tea on the lawn.
That was nice, and we talked, then I got on my bike and cycled back to town.
I was able to pass on a piece of Xmas cake to Clint as well, which shows how the trickle down effect can work. (He enjoyed it as much as me.)
As I cycled back down Bangalow road that Christmas Day, I was conscious of a feeling of peace that I hadn't had since really, the first Christmas ads appeared on our TVs, sometime in October.
The pre-New Year's Eve traffic on Jonson Street
Being Christmas Day, there was no one on the road, and so in devil-may-care fashion I weaved back and forth across this perennially congested artery just for the hell of it, and great fun I found this little antic.
So with Xmas come and gone I was kind of starting to relax, and so when I went to the supermarket on the 29th of December, the crowds hit me like a punch in the face.
The line of cars bringing holiday makers stretched from the centre of town out to the end of Jonson Street.
For anyone who lives in Sydney, this is a daily event, but for us parochial coastliners, this annual holiday season influx is always stressful.
However the traffic wasn't worrying me on foot, but it was certainly a pre-cursor to what was going on in Woolies.
Everyone currently in NSW, north of Coffs Harbour, seemed to be in our shops.
I finally wrestled a shopping basket out of another customer that had finished with it, did my shopping, then queued at the checkout. I go through the self-check-out part, and normally I'm there for ten minutes, but this day it was like they were selling Stones tickets in the deli, the queues were indescribable.
Eventually I got through, and came out wondering if it was already February, but no, it was still the same New Year's Eve madness all around me.
So I took my groceries home, put them away and then commenced hunkering down (again).
So finally New Year's Eve came to our town, by this time I had changed my shopping schedule and was getting to the supermarket as soon as it opened, 8am.
Not a great chore, but it was all part of what we have to do around here to beat the crowds.
As I walked about I saw the preparations for NYE all around. There was a guard at the Gym car park, with a sandwich board sign, saying 'Gym and Club Parking only', (my gym is behind the RSL club).
Down on the beach front there were 'no parking signs' all around, and traffic flow diversions were all over the place.
So I think all of this, though it didn't affect me directly, as I wasn't driving, and had done my shopping, did affect me, and I was very unsettled and quite stressed all during NYE.
I guess it was the sheer weight of numbers in and all around the town, that just created a kind of subliminal background radiation of tension.
However, hunkered down though I was, I couldn't just sit in my flat and do nothing, as I was kind of antsy, so I went to the Gym and had a decent workout, which did help.
I cycled home, and then brought up the Coastalwatch camera to check the surf.
I had no great hopes, as summer is usually not such a great time for surfing. The reason for this is that the wind tends to be onshore. When the wind is onshore, it makes the waves ragged and scrappy.
The offshore wind is what we crave, as that creates smooth, glassy waves, that are better than sex.
So I checked the Coastal Watch website and discovered somewhat to my surprise that the wind was offshore, out of the south, and the waves looked quite good.
However, an offshore wind that is too powerful, is as bad as an onshore wind, as this makes it hard to paddle onto the waves.
Once I went out and the wind was offshore at 30 knots (ie, very, very strong), and had the quite unnerving experience of being blown back up the face of the wave. That day, when I did finally get hold of one, I stayed crouched for the first part of the ride, but then with the corner looming, I stood up to negotiate the change in direction across the sand bar, and the wind blew me straight off my board and up and over the top of the wave.
Here is today's Coast watch, showing
a return to the more usual onshore, north wind.
That was some experience.
Anyway, back to New year's Eve, the coastcam was telling me that the wind was offshore at 18 knots.
Not wanting to relive the 'being blown backwards' experience, I said to myself that I'll watch the coastcam throughout the day, and if it stays offshore, but drops in strength, I'll go.
So I watched and waited, then just when I was thinking of giving it away for the day, around 5pm, the wind dropped down below 15knots, and it was time to go.
I'm so glad I did, as it turned out to be one of the best surfs I've ever had in the bay.
The swell wasn't big, 2ft, or thereabouts, but with the (now) light offshore breeze, it was so glassy that you could see fish swimming in the waves.
By the way, I always hesitate to write about surfing without pictures, but the problem I'm sure you can appreciate is that while I'm out there, I can't take photos. However, I found this one on the net of the day, so this should give some idea of the perfection.
Anyway, I went. I was anxious all day, but got some help from Kieran who runs the book shop in the little mall part of the apartment complex where I live.
He checked that indeed my door was locked. As you may recall when my anxiety gets bad it manifests with a range of bizarre checking procedures, that make it hard to leave the house, or even live my damn life.
I'd love to present the image of a cool surfer with a devil may care 'tude, but sadly it's simply not the case, and I am like everyone else, a mass of conflicting fears, doubts and neuroses masquerading as a human.
But with Kieran's help I got out the door, and walked the kilometre to the Pass.
In I splashed, and then headed out wide away from the oncoming surfers knifing at you down the waves.
Once I got out there, I suddenly realised how good it was.
'This', I said to myself, 'is gonna be good'.
And so it was, talk about the glittering prize.
The big problem with the Pass is that it is so crowded, and this was New Year's Eve no less, the most crowded day of our holiday town's year.
However, there weren't a lot of people out there, much to my surprise, I can only assume that either a) the word of the glassy waves hadn't got out yet, or (more likely) b) everyone else was getting ahead start on getting pissed for NYE.
Anyway, giving thanks to whichever supernatural deity you choose to explain away the physical manifestations of nature, I sized up the oncoming waves and made my move.
The Pass is a right handed wave, and as I was out wide of the break point, that meant I had to loom in menacingly from seaward until I got to the nexus of breaking wave and smooth water.
In I went, and did a lateral turn to pick up the oncoming wave's energy. Though a smooth day, this is still kind of a hairy moment. If you get it wrong, you end up a) near drowned, or b) looking stupid, and in my case c) mostly both.
But I had got my timing right, and the white wash came at me in a foaming torrent.
The board began to buck and caper under my stomach and as ever at this time I felt rather than saw what was going on beneath me via vibrations through my rib cage.
One of the hardest things about taking off by the way, is keeping on paddling, when all you want to do is grab the board with both arms and clutch it to your stomach like a much loved baby.
However if you do do that, the wave will pass beneath you and you will end up looking a), b) and c) as described before.
But I felt the ocean through my bones, and gave it a brief steam hammer of paddling, and then got the reward, the front of my board poked out of the white wash and the glittering prize of the wave opened up before like the Yellow Brick Road in the Wizard of Oz.
I don't think that's me, but it is possible.
With an ecstatic cry of 'Yeah Baby Yeah', taken from the Austin Powers movies, I gave it one last paddle then clambered to my feet.
I'd love to say I leapt to my feet in one smooth balletic movement a la Nijinsky, but I'm fifty years old now, and nothing I do is smooth and balletic.
Mind you, considering I was planning to stand on a board no longer or wider than me that was moving across the Pacific ocean at close to thirty knots, I have to give myself some credit for even getting myself in the position to do it.
Anyway, up I clambered, and then the wave unfurled before me like a kind of slanted escalator.
The surface was so smooth that I felt like a hockey puck gliding across some Canadian ice rink.
I jabbed my right, rear foot into the board hard, and that took me up to the top of the wave where you go to pick up speed.
I raced along, flying like a bird.
Paradoxical this is, nothing in written from can really describe what it's like to be riding a glassy wave in speed and silence in the sub-tropical sunset, though that's what I'm trying to do.
Then I realised that the wave was slowing down, or I was outriding it, either way, it was time for a course correction.
I dragged my left, front foot, down and away, and brought my whole travelling system round in a long raking left hand turn, re-entering that's called, or 'rio' for short.
I came all the way around and now I was going back up the wave in the opposite direction.
This is how you regain your speed.
The oncoming wave front met me within seconds, and then it was time to u-turn again round to the right.
Round I went, and now I was cruising with frantic pace across the bottom of the wave.
When you are down there, you can, if the waves are glassy, look into the wave, and at times I have had the extraordinary experience of travelling along with a school of fish, as if you are one of the school. It is totally trippy I can tell you.
However this was denied me this day as the setting sun in the direction of travel made the whole face of the wave glow, and reflect orange and gold. (Not complaining, definitely)
I scrubbled my back foot again to maintain the speed and then came to the Corner Bar.
This is not a local drinking hole, but a sand bar at the corner of Main Beach.
Here the waves go from peeling along from the Pass, around the corner, and become front on atom smashers.
If you're a really good surfer, you can make this corner and keep riding, but I'm definitely not that, so judging discretion was the better part of valour, I baled out.
This I did by stamping with due force and violence on the back of the board with my rear foot, and arcing like a walking Marlin up the face of the wave, briefly into the air, and then to splash down into the crystal waters of the Bay.
Man that was great.
I hope you get some feel for why we go surfing from that.
I then had to face the paddle back, but after a wave like that you are prepared to paddle to New Zealand if you can have another one, so I dug 'em in, and paddled back upcurrent to the takeoff point.
I got four rides that day, all as good as that, and was in the water for an hour and a half.
Landing with splash like Apollo 13 after the fourth one I knew I was done, so tired even lifting my arm shoulder high was beyond me, so I picked up the shore break and coasted home on my stomach.
Home I walked in the sub-tropical dusk, had a shower, watched some TV then hit my bed like a cut down pine tree.
A great day, and I have to say, the sort of day that I can have now that have given the grog away.
If you drink heavily on a daily basis, you simply don't have the physicality required to do that sort of on-ocean explosive exercise.
I'm writing this on Jan 1, 2015.
Today marks two years since I've had a drink, and days like that will remind me why I am doing it.
Wishing you all a great 2015.


  1. Fantastic Lock! Almost inspires me to take up surfing!

  2. Thanks Sand. Surfing is the source, see you out there(?)