Can a kook finally reach nirvana if given enough pool time?
I’m an intermediate surfer, lower intermediate for the sake of precision, and will never be anything more.
This isn’t a new revelation.
It’s a truth the has been demonstrated to me at various times and at various places, Cloudbreak Teahupoo, Ours and, twice last week, at Australia’s first commercial wave pool, which can be found just a mile-and-a-half from Melbourne’s international airport.
On Monday, I enjoyed Urbnsurf’s hospitality from one through til six as part of a media reveal. The catering was excellent, Cliff bars, Poke bowls, spring water in plastic bottles, beer and coffee from an on-site van. I discovered the CEO of Urbnsurf, Andrew Ross, and I grew up, in the same era, lived roughly one mile apart and attended neighbouring schools. Eerie.
Waves were, mostly, a three-foot ledge called The Beast, although there were waves in some sessions where turns could be employed. It was very hot, one hundred degrees Fahrenheit, the wind was a northerly offshore and I surfed, first, in trunks, but was soon forced to dress in a short-sleeved steamer as the water was cold. With fourteen surfers in the water and eight-wave sets every two minutes only one wave was caught every four minutes. There was no paddling in between to keep heart-rate up, body warm. An estimated fifty waves snatched.
One head injury was sustained. Stu Nettle, a very good surfer and editor of the Australian surf forecast site swellnet.com, was sucked up the face of a lefthand tube and into the concrete bottom when a layback went awry.
That same week, on the Friday, I joined the party of an old friend who had hired the joint from nine am until eight pm, although the pool was switched off at seven, much to the chagrin of the two surfers left out the back and who were forced to paddle in.
I spent seven hours or thereabouts in the water and caught, at a conservative estimate, one hundred waves. It was cold (eighteen degrees C or sixty-four F) and the wind blew onshore from the south. A four-three was the suit of choice although my Rip Curl 3/2 sufficed. Over the course of the ten hours the pool was open, I sustained myself by taking hot showers and eating handfuls of the protein balls supplied.
One head injury was sustained. David McArthur, a very good surfer and newspaper cartoonist, was sucked up the face of a righthand tube and into the concrete bottom. The way he staggered out of the pool suggested a mild concussion was also included in the deal.
What did I learn from the experience of two days, of one hundred and fifty waves under my feet? That I suck. Yes, that, but that is hardly news.
I learned that all those elements that I can disguise in the surf, the indecisive takeoff, the mistimed turns, the habit of staying ahead of the pocket, the back foot refusing the plastic of my tail-pad are magnified ten-fold in the pool.
Ah, yes, there’s a yet.
It is only through the reveal of our flaws that we can improve.
What good is it to tell a child he’s clever if he’s stupid?
Or a painter that she has something unique when her work is derivative and poorly drawn?
I find my best moments when I’m overtaken by an anger at the repetition of my mistakes and the slap in the face of being reminded of my inability to surf. Usually, I’l rectify on a wave, get my back foot on the tail-pad, actually locate and hit the lip, then go in, mission complete although new approach not ingrained in muscle memory.
At the pool, I was there for an extended period – what was I going to do, sit and watch? – and there was no escape from the truth.
In the Monday session, I couldn’t understand why I was missing the tube. I sent an email to the professional big-wave surfer Mark Mathews who, perversely I suppose, has been to the pool five times. He told me to forget turns, stomp on the tail on the take off, sit in the one allowable groove, and you’ll be caved from ass to mouth, as they say.
Even if it sounds straightforward enough, it took me all of day two to understand what he meant and to…see…the groove. It was only on the last wave of the day, at one minute to seven, I completed a ride satisfactorily.
Backside, less successful, although I’m starting to see the line on that side, too.
I won’t bother you with my philosophical take on pools or whether you should spend eighty Australian dollars on a one-hour visit there, that’s up to you.
What it gave me was a reminder of my frailties and an extended period to, finally, address these multiple errors.
I’m back, I believe, next Thursday.