A modern surfing tragedy.
When I get to Phil’s joint he’s just finished working out.
Sweat mattes his grey singlet and sweatshirt, and turns his already pale skin translucent. With his short, stocky build and barbershop fade he looks more rugby jock than surfer.
‘Sorry bro, still a little juicy,’ he says as he shakes my hand, before reaching for a towel to wipe himself down. “Thanks for coming over. Welcome to my pad.”
It’s a beachside-adjacent apartment. New building. Prime location. The view out across the lineup we both surf, Main Peak, is impeccable. Better than any magazine double page spread. This is the same Peak I grew up on. The Peak I now can’t afford a place anywhere within ten miles of.
His place is spotless. Black leather lounge. Small black flatscreen TV. Non descript black bookcase. You’d think it was a hotel room, if not for the weight bench and rack of four brand new boards across the near wall.
“New boards,” I ask
“Yep, the new sleds. Just had them delivered from Surfboard Warehouse. Two Black Boxes, two DX1s.”
“Oh yeah, right.” I rack my mind trying to think who shaped them. I haven’t been able to afford a new board in years. “JS and, ah, DHD?”
“Correct. Both shapers recently won Stab in the Dark. I like to try and keep on the best equipment.”
He takes out one of the DHDs from the rack and puts it under his arm, but seems to be holding it too far back from the midpoint. I see it’s the only board without a GoPro mount.
“They’re all the same dimensions too, but I got different tail shapes for each of them. Custom. They’re my go to boards for everyday around here. “
“Of course I like to have a bit of fun, too,” he continues as he puts the board back in the rack. “I’m not just a high- performance guy. I’ve got a mid-length and a Beater down in the garage for those muck around days, as well as an alaia”
Above the boards I notice three framed surf shots. All seemingly taken at the same spot, a jungle lined point break. Looks like Burger World. All the shots are of an identical turn. A functional but awkward forehand hook. Knees barely bent, upper body stiff. Not a bad spray, I guess. The only discernible difference is the surfer’s gear. In the first shot it’s knee lengths and yellow rashie. Second, floral shorts and open button up shirt. Third, plain black boardies, and a front zip vest.
“Is this you?” I ask.
“Yep, My patented hack,” he chuckles. “I know, it’s a bit narcissistic. But hey, you spend that much money on a Ments trip. You want something to remember it by, right?”
He shrugs, answering his own rhetorical question, and throws his towel over the door behind me, slinging cold sweat onto my face.
This guy’s tripping. Time to get to it.
“So where’s this…”
“Hang on, check out this,” he says, cutting me off again. “You don’t get these for free, that’s for sure.”
He goes to the bookcase. Placed between a copy of The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck and Let My People Go Surfing is a small trophy of a surfer riding under a curling wave. One of those cheap ones you’d see at any kids sports presentation.
He picks it up and hands it to me carefully.
“Third place, open B division, City boardriders ‘17. It was a tough year, but a good year. We had great conditions that suited my surfing and I was lucky enough to string a few decent events together. Met some great crew too.”
“Oh yeah right, City,” I say, inspecting the trophy.
The lip of the wave has a sharp silver cap on it, almost like a spear tip.
“Do those guys still run?”
“No, they don’t. They folded that year due to lack of competitors.“
I squeeze the tip between my thumb and forefinger.
“You used to do alright in the comps, yeah?” he asks.
“Oh, that was a long time ago.”
“C’mon man, I heard you were a legend back in the day.”
“Sam ‘Shred Dog’ Smith, with the best forehand hack in the business. Is it true you beat Shane Beschen in the final at Huntington one year?”
“No mate, it was Shane Bevan in the third round at Surfest. And it was only through an interference.
“Oh, right. Still. Impressive.”
I look out the window to Main Peak. There’s a nice little swell running. Very contestable. I imagine myself out there, Shred Dog Smith, circa ‘93. Shreddin’ lips. Slammin’ heads. I haven’t heard that name in an eternity.
“A long time ago,” I say to myself again.
With the trophy still in hand, I think of my own collection of gongs gathering dust in the back shed. ACCs. Regional amateur titles. The two-star QS. All worth nothing now.
My watch beeps me back to attention. It’s midday. Fuck it, I’m already running late.
“So, c’mon, where’s this…”
But the cunt cuts me off again.
“I have some footage.”
“Some footage. Of me surfing. I was wondering…”
I sense where this is going. Can this guy not take a cue?
“… well, I sent it in to those high performance guys at Cabarita but they don’t reply to my emails anymore and…”
I let out a heavy sigh. ”Mate. Look…“
“It’s just a five-minute cut. GoPro and iPhone footage mainly. I just want to know if I’m rotating my arms enough through my top turns…”
“I really don’t know if I’d have much to tell you.”
“Oh please, you still rip. I watched you taking apart Mains last winter when I moved here and I’m in awe. In fact, this is sort of embarrassing to say, but…” He turns and looks out across Main Peak, so I can’t see his face. “I model my surfing off yours.”
For a second I feel pity for him. This guy’s a kook, but he’s got money. All the trappings of success. Brand new apartment. Brand new boards. What’s he doing looking up to a piece of shit has-been like me? He doesn’t want my life.
“Well, shit, thanks, but…”
“So just watch my video. Tell me where I’m going wrong. I’ll pay you.”
“I can’t. “
“Yes you can. This is what I want. This is what you will do for me.”
He turns back to face me. “I want to be like you. I want to dominate Main Peak. I want people to call me ‘Shred Dog’ Phil Davies. I want to be respected.”
He looks me in the eye now.
“Like you were. “
Like I was? Is this prick taunting me? What the fuck does this he know about respect?
I let him have it.
“Listen, you fucken kook, I didn’t come here to talk surfing. I barely even recognised your name when you called. I’m a plumber. You called me because your shitter is broken. I’m busy. I’ve got three more jobs to get through today. I haven’t surfed in six months. The wife and kids have left me. I got nothing except a bad back and a bunch of old trophies nobody cares about anymore.”
I throw his shitty trophy back to him.
“And you. You’ve got all the gear and no idea, mate. You moved into Mains not even a year ago and act like you own the joint because you can string a couple of turns together and surf it a few times a week. Fact is, if this was fifteen years ago you would have already had your head punched in. Probably by me.”
He stands there with a stupid look on his face, trophy by his side.
“But nowadays everybody’s too scared to lay a finger in case they get sued. So arsehats like you are able to strut around the joint with your shithouse style and pop out boards and weak cunt trophies acting like you own it. You own nothing.”
I take a breath, calm myself down. That felt good. Too good.
“Now. Are you going to show me this fucking leaky dunny, or what?”
“I’m sorry. It’s this way,” he says pointing down the hallway. “I really am sorry, I didn’t mean to…”
“I don’t want to hear it.”
So I get down on my hands and knees and get to work, sifting through his shit. But my mind is back on the halcyon days. The comps. The parties. The waves. The cheers I’d get from the crowd as I sunk rails, sunk piss, sunk myself. Then there was the amphetamine blowout. The string of toxic relationships. The money lost on dodgy real estate deals. The eventual settling down with the kids I hated only a little less than I did the wife. And now even they’re gone.
All I’ve got left is a scorched pterygium and an occasional heart murmur, while cunts like Phil get to live in their beachside investment properties, pissing on everything I ever achieved.
I think about the monument to compromise my life has become as I finally get the toilet flushing.
My watch beeps at me again. Fuck it. I really am running late.
I walk back out to the loungeroom . Phil’s in the downward dog pose, WSL podcast playing through his phone speakers.
“Oh, cool. Thanks,” he says as he stands back up. “Look I’m sorry about before, I really am.”
I head for the door.
“Hey Sam, before you go…” He reaches for his phone and switches off the podcast.
“Can I at least get a selfie? I’ve got a large following on social and I can tag your business in for a plug. It could definitely lead to more work for you.”
“Yeah, ok. Whatever. “
“Here, hold this.” He passes me the trophy and stands next to me, arm outstretched in front of us for the shot. I can feel his damp, sweaty skin against mine. Sickening.
“Thanks,” he says, “I can’t wait to upload this. Do you have TikTok? No? Cool.”
I’m almost out the door when he grabs my arm.
“Wait! You’ve got my trophy.”
I had forgotten I was still holding it. I guess it felt comfortable having one back in my hand.
“Oh by the way,” he says. “I know you quoted me cash, but can I pay by card and get you to invoice me? That way I can write this off for tax purposes.”
Something about his request triggers me. Maybe it’s the audacity of it. Maybe it’s some long-dormant anger awakened by the nostalgia.
I see a bright light, and a wave of rage sweeps over me. I feel… energised. Like it’s ‘93 and I’m about to tag the end section to break combo, and win the comp.
In a flash, I raise the trophy above my head, its silver cap glistening in the early afternoon sun now streaming in through the window. From the line up a small flash would be seen as I bring the trophy down over Phil’s head, the keen metal of the silver lip cracking him open like a watermelon.
This is it. Shred Dog Smith’s last, best forehand slash. I hear cheers coming from the beach across the road.
But then the bright light fades and I realise I haven’t even moved. The trophy is still in my hand, and Phil’s still standing there waiting for my response, with that same stupid fucking look on his face.
“Sure mate. Would you like to Paywave?”