Read on only if you dare!
Hidden in darkness, I blink out through calloused eye-holes. My brows prickle with the exertion of simply being 46.
Tears well up at the glare of Antipodean vigour streaming in thought the windows. I repeatedly awaken these days to find myself strapped into a sort of biomechanical exoskeleton, woven of ossified visceral fat, emotional scar tissue and wasted opportunity.
Somewhere a tanned young man of muscular passion shouts forlornly in the distance, woolly and indistinct.
What’s he saying? The swash of the sea overtakes his voice. “Dissolution” and “oblivion” it chants, endlessly. Gratefully I greet the nights and every respite of sleep. I dream of a head full of hair, and the caress of tight-skinned turns on a cerulean playing field.
Twenty years of mostly not surfing had taken their toll. Between the acid-bath of dedicated alcoholism and the numbed-ass, anti-yoga of time-clock computer worship, my muscle memory had gone; departed, disintegrated, dissolved, deliquesced.
As does wet-rot fungus and termites to the wooden balustrades of those derelict mansions in the woods, merely the idea of timber remains beneath a skin of varnish, crumbling under the lightest touch when asked to again serve.
I had tried to surf repeatedly over my extended northern European tenure, but my attempts started to feel like self-abuse.
“It’ll be better next time,” I’d say, shivering on the cobbled beach.
My previously honed late-drops-to-victory were completely wasted on the grey mush which followed here. The promising form of a peak turned into a slumped shoulder immediately following the first bottom turn and left me eternally hanging.
You could hear the groans of the denied cutbacks as they fluttered away like ghosts unspent. They continued to rattle me as I paddled back out for another shot at the only North Sea swell in a month pretending to be over two feet.
The starkness between my tropical memories and the cold rationality of my absurd windmill-tilting was heartbreaking.
Far easier then, as I started aging ungracefully, to just skateboard to the grocery store in between the rain showers, ducking beneath overhanging hedges for a barrel-effect. Getting stoned in the flat yet again, and later laughing with mates in the pub. Spending years, trying not to think back to warm lefts off the reef and sand between toes as I drover home barefoot.
A sort of tide rose and brought a serious partner, a full-time office job, children, family stress and suburban routine. My boards lay in the corner of a dusty shed. The call of the water went unanswered.
“Who’s got time for that? And what’s even the fucking point in that slop?”
Eventually, a new tide brought opportunity to festoon the shore. We upped-sticks, decamped, emigrated.
We came seeking a better life for the kids and new horizons for bored bones. Resignations were tendered, the bottle left behind, a fluttering standard raised against the bitter wind. The contents of house and shed were stowed into a large shipping container. A strange gleam sparked in my eyes as the old sleds were slung into the truck.
Now, I pilot my creaking flesh down a bush track towards the burning grains of an Australian beach, an archaic board from my glory days tucked under my arm.
Bird calls, lizards underfoot, the fragrance of foliage lifting into the sun all bathe me in a reminder of environmental riches I had missed in that far northern mist.
Time pissed against the wall and up in smoke.
“Nevermind,” I say to myself, “here I am.”
I emerge from the low canopy and see hipsteroid beauties of all sexes picnicking on a grassy plateau, now giggling at the kooky old fool with a dad-hat, pale skin and dumb grin.
They shake their heads as I pick my way past, clutching a yellowed 6’ 10” and heading for onshore, under-head-high beach break closeouts. They will be me sooner than they realise.
Yes, George, youth is wasted on the young.
A truth so painful, it should surely be made in thirty-foot tall letters of basalt and installed on hundreds of cliff tops round the planet.
A long-sleeved rash shirt, very old, shields me from the solar din. I slip into the delicious waters of a delightfully uncrowded bay. I choke on a sour inward laugh at the lithe youth lounging on the shore, earth-toned pastel fish and hi-perf wafers stuck nose-first into the sand. Quirky-retro longboards, casually scattered round colourful towels complete the social media shots.
Various owners intertwine limbs under frilly umbrellas. They’ve been here for a few hours. catching a few sets here and there in-between self-conscious preening and canoodling.
Do I envy them? Of course.
To be fair, mostly for the opportunity to hit the peaks before the wind took a shit on the swell. I had kids to look after and housework to do or I might have been here much earlier to attempt to flail about on cleaner faces for their bemusement. I admire their firm flesh. The naiveté and lack of wisdom is something I am glad to have behind me.
Over months, I work at to lose the blubbery Kook-Suit. Newly tanned skin now shows through hard-won cracks. Every time I go over the falls and lose myself in the washing machine, I remember to rejoice and relax. I missed this so much. I wanted to be here for so many years.
Now, where I used to squeeze the pips and work the rind with my rear foot, my front foot so often is unanswerably dominant. This leaden stance is bogging me down at every turn. The fruit of my performance falls away again and rolls into the corner of the beach, un-juiced.
My abs begin to tighnten. My paddling gets stronger, my pop-up is returning but my hair never will.
I have to laugh, but oh fuck it hurts. Online surfing tips are now taken in earnest as a serious focus of mature study after children are in bed.
“Look up or you go down.”
“Focus on where you want to go.”
The mantras I mutter to myself in the lineup, unnerving those in the next take-off zone. I try and concentrate on the beauty of every moment. I am in the water, good or bad weather. I celebrate the days I slog it out in the slop as basic training to help me enjoy the good stuff. Not something to share at the dinner table, however, to a working wife and clueless children.
Occasionally, I can hear the voice of that cocky young man a little clearer. He is smiling and laughing gently at my antics on the Other Side of the Hill. He seems to encourage me to keep going in that endearingly optimistic way of invincible youth.
“Of course you can do it, just push harder! This used to be as effortless as breathing, don’t you remember?”
A movie plays again in my mind’s-eye, a first-person clip from days of yore. A casual take off and a wiggle to a barrel, the long arc out onto the blue-green shoulder followed by a cutback.
The film breaks and reels clatter as the harsh light of the projector illuminates the my reality.