"Fuck off with your shit board and crap wetty and go surf Broken Head with Rasta and the rest of those pussies."
In this time of apocalyptic-pandemic lockdowns and isolationism, surfers in northern NW are returning to heights of tribalism not seen in decades.
Biblical connotations present themselves at every turn. Amid public outrage as the Australian cardinal George Pell walks free threats of mid-session baptisms are on the rise.
I should know.
I narrowly avoided one last week at one of Australia’s premier point breaks.
Admittedly, I sinned.
Over excited, I paddled straight to an outside take off the spot and sat five metres deep of everyone.
“Do you always paddle straight to the inside at a new spot mate?”
He is sitting there half-sunken – tattooed and snarling – like a wild and bronzed deity.
“No,” I say, stunned and fearful.
There is a terribly awkward stillness in the ocean.
Silence in the chasm between us.
People are watching in wonder.
I can feel myself becoming part of this week’s carpark folklore. The latest blow-in to get called out by the enforcer. I’m thinking all this while I stare out at the serene ocean awaiting his next remark.
Then he lays it on me.
“Where you from?”
He doesn’t like that.
Doesn’t like that at all.
“Well fuck off back to Byron and don’t come back to this shire.”
It’s an improbable request.
Am I simply being subjected to a verbal territorial ritual that will run its course without incident?
Or am I quite literally about to be punched in the head?
Now he’s paddling right at me.
Parting the waters like a fuckin’ P&O cruiser with his white-blonde hair and his huge back.
Then he sits up and we’re sitting shoulder to shoulder.
Social distancing is all but out the window and I’m thinking this guy better not have COVID, but I don’t say anything.
I just look at the two stars I can see tattooed on his chest and the outline of Australia underneath his armpit and his head.
Now he’s looking straight at me
“Are you not fuckin listening cunt? FUCK OFF. GO IN.”
I hold my ground because like him my whole identity, my manhood, my honour, hinges on the way this situation is going to unfold.
What would it be like to live with the fact that you were sent in? Not in Hawaii after a fatal error but here in sunny Australia surfing a three-foot pointbreak.
What would it be like to be told to leave the ocean by another man and obey?
Is there ever any coming back from that?
I tell him
“I’m gonna get a wave here then after that I’ll sit down the point and we don’t need to know about each other.”
By my judgement it’s sensible compromise. I
don’t really want to get decked by this guy but there’s also no way I’m paddling in.
That’s not happening.
What is he going to do?
What am I going to do?
When is a wave going to pop up and interrupt this masculine stalemate?
Then it happens. A wave does pop up and the enforcer is forced to choose.
Dopamine or testosterone?
Surf the wave or show me the strangle-hold.
Last year some guy paddled past the enforcer on a pink fish wearing a front-zip vest and was instructed to fuck off with his “shit board and crap wetty and go surf Broken Head with Rasta and the rest of those pussies.”
I’m left out there in the stillness remembering a story.
A story I was told by a credible source. Last year some guy paddled past the enforcer on a pink fish wearing a front-zip vest and was instructed to fuck off with his “shit board and crap wetty and go surf Broken Head with Rasta and the rest of those pussies.”
Not a bad line, I’m thinking to myself.
By the time I emerge from this little reverie the enforcer is steaming back out through the lineup with his eyes locked on me.
This time, god is on my side.
A set pops up and I go, and I leave it all behind.
Two days later, I am sent (via social media) information about another enforcer-incident. He has sent out a public warning message to the people of QLD and the Byron Shire to stay away from his local until this virus-nightmare is over.
It appears his hostility was part of a righteous, if not virtuous, COVID-19 crowd thinning campaign.
After all this many questions remain unanswered.
Is the man a genius or a fool?
Is he the only one seeing this public health scare for the opportunity it is?
Should we all reclaim the territories we were born to defend?
Should we revert to old-school localism under the guise of sensible social distancing?
Or is COVID 19 being exploited in the name of unjust and unruly behaviour?
Are we witnessing a return to natural order or a descent into out-dated brutality?
In this volatile time when even democracy, the very fabric of our civility, seems to be in a state of uncertainty let all have an equal say.
The hardened enforcer. The friendly visitor. The bemused tourist. The kook. The pro.