Only a surfer knows the feeling.
Bob smiles as he pulls his old Rusty shooter from the back of his work truck. The RP custom, shaped during a time of better intentions, is browned.
Waterlogged. The deck sunken. But it still feels magic in his hands.
The yellow pin-line spray. The hypercolour Billabong sticker, placed below the iconic R in a moment of Occ-induced adolescent lust, now emblazoned in semi-eternity.
Even after all these years, the sight of the board in the cold dawn light gets him giddy. Like seeing an old flame.
If you count the one drunken, fifteen-minute paddle he had after the beachside family BBQ in February, this will be the third time he has surfed this year. Just that brief tryst was enough to leave him feeling spent. But after a heavy winter of work he’s expecting his surf fitness to be completely decayed. Fossilised, desiccated, decomposed.
Still, it will be good to get wet.
He shivers as the early morning sou’wester cuts down from the hills and into the empty car park. Fuck me, he thinks, isn’t it meant to be summer almost? His ancient Billabong springsuit will be doing all it can just to hold him together.
It’ll probably storm tonight.
Of course, if he’s really counting, he’d pushed young Kaden into a couple last summer as well, hopeful that his own youthful love of surfing would rub off on his eldest born. Picture a perfect sunny day, knee high foamies pushing across a soft sand bank, Kaden decked out in his new Quiksilver wetsuit, mum filming the whole thing from the beach.
But the kid’s interest had lasted about as long as the first and last nose dive on his 7S fish, which in the ultimate GenZ judgement he had later deemed not worthy of a Tik Tok. (The only thing he’d say to the old man on the drive home after was: “that was NOT fabulous”.)
Bob thinks of his son, his son’s entire generation, chained to their screens like doped up lab rats while the world passes them by, and what part he’s played in allowing that to happen. Then he thinks about his daughter he barely speaks to. His wife he hasn’t been close to in years.
A deep pain like he didn’t know was possible shoots up from the base of his spine and into his shoulders, neck, head.
He sighs as he slides on his Hurley rash vest and Billabong wetsuit.
At least the board still feels right. Comfortable under his arm. Yielding to his touch.
The surf goes as expected. Long bouts of frustration punctuated by moments of bliss.
But hey, only a surfer knows the feeling, as it says across the logo on the small of his back.
And anyway, it’s still good to get wet.
Bob gets home in time to cook the family breakfast. Bacon and eggs every Saturday morning. A rare treat now he’s on that cholesterol diet.
Then it’s yard work: trees to trim, a fence to build, holes to dig. Daughter’s soccer practise comes next, dropping Kaden at the trampoline park on the way. Then grocery shopping with the wife. A quick visit to the in-laws. Pick up the kids on the way home. Get dinner on the BBQ before the sun goes down.
There was something else, too… something he had to do. What was it?
Put the Christmas lights up.
How the fuck did that happen so quickly? Days meld into weeks into years this side of 40.
Bob gets the lights up. Sees dinner is cleared. Wife will put away the dishes. The kids can be left to their own devices.
Finally, as the sun sets, he slumps into his favourite chair, switching on some Foxtel to numb out the day. There’s a re-run of the WSL ‘CT summer slam at Cabarita. Callinan v O’Leary. He watches on as the two powerful goofy footers deconstruct the shifty beach break peaks. They’re loose, limbre. Virile. Could’ve been him, with the right training.
“Kaden,” he yells over his shoulder, “come and watch some good surfing. Come and watch what your dad used to be.”
Bob goes to the fridge, cracks a beer instead. Then melts back into his chair.
Bob wanders outside into the heavy evening air, third beer in hand. Or was it his fourth? What’s it matter anyway?
A sudden eruption of light in his peripheral vision. Even over the neighbours’ second-story antennas he can see the storm approaching. Deep, dark clouds rolling in over the pancaked landscape of his sub-sub division.
Lightning flashes but it’s so far away he can’t yet hear the thunder. He imagines all that fantastic power being muted by the simple tyranny of time and distance. Screaming in silence.
He knows the feeling.
Bob drains another beer as he stands on the back patio. His eyes wander from the storm to the kitchen window.
He sees his wife, finishing up the last of the dishes. For a second they lock eyes, and he senses a distance between them that even he didn’t think possible. But like lightning, it’s gone as quickly as he could register it. So quick he wonders if it even happened.
The Christmas lights flicker on.
Bob finds himself in the garage. His one refuge. His safe space.
He pulls the Rusty shooter out from his truck and places it on the workbench.
The thing sure did bring him some joy back in the day. Three trips to Indo. That one crazy session at Little Groyne in ‘94.
He surveys its sleek, classy lines. The hard rails, the tapered rocker. Hiding a gentle yet pronounced nose lift. There’s still a beautiful board there, underneath the years of abuse. If only it could get out.
He looks around the garage. Beside his dusty old dumbbells and ratty pair of runners is his workout box. It’s covered in all of the iconic logos from the ‘90s, RC, Quik, Billabong, Volcom, Gotcha etc. For some reason he’s drawn to it. A Pavlovian response to those brands that were so formative in his youth.
Bob opens the box. Next to a pair of gym socks and an old bottle of Brut he finds a small black package, about the size of a tissue box. He peers down close to read it.
Hurley After Workout Wipes.
The wife must have snuck them in without him noticing. A secret gift. Her one attempt at affection. At least she tries.
He slides apart the seal, unsure of what will come out. A small white tissue pokes through the opening.
It smells of mango, and vanilla. Feminine.
He takes the moist tissue and runs it down the rail of his board. The alcohol in it clears the decade’s worth of grime from the board’s surface with ease. He pulls out more of the soft white wipes, and sets to his newfound task with vigour.
He dreams of deep caverns and backdoor pits as he wipes the board clean.
It doesn’t take him long to finish the job. He then quickly, feverishly, strips back the wax, exposing the white deck hidden underneath. Like a tan line, he thinks. Like his wife’s tan lines. He remembers when they were younger, how she would give herself to him every night.
The board glistens seductively under the soft garage light. The symmetrical curves. The pronounced hip. The polished, recessed plugs.
He cracks another beer. Drains it too. Rain starts to fall on the garage’s tin roof.
I’ve treated this thing like shit, thinks Bob. Let life get between us. But here it is, as faithful and ready as the day I first picked it up from the shop.
He holds the board under his arm, squeezes it tight. It might be the beers talking but he swears he feels it vibrate back in response. Signifying its pleasure.
Wild thoughts run through his mind. He presses the shooter’s hard body against his.
He could rip a hole in it, he thinks. Curl up inside it and live there forever.
My one true love. My universal constant.
Is it really so weird to want a board like this? Could it be forgiven if he… if they…?
Outside the rain begins to pour, reverberating so loudly on the roof that it’s all he can hear. And the board is all that he can see.
Bob lies down with it next to him, his eyes level with the Billabong logo. He slides the box of Hurley wipes down between his legs, positioning it between himself and the board.
Well, he says as the rain and thunder continue to pound. Only a surfer knows the feeling.
Bob whispers this to the board over, and over.
And for those few moments, brief yet timeless, Bob, entwined with his board and wipes, experiences a sensation few will ever share.
That few ever could share.
Only a surfer knows the feeling.
A shock of thunder wakes Bob from his sleep.
“You know Ronnie, call me crazy, but I reckon the goofy footers are at a distinct advantage on the backhand out here today.”
“And I reckon you’d be right, Deadly.”
He looks around the room. He’s still in his chair. The Caba comp plays on the TV, Blakey brothers on the call. A warm, half drunken beer is nestled in his band.
His wife sits on the lounge next to him, reading a book.
“You must have been having a good dream,” she says. “Writhing around like a teenager.”
Bob blinks once, twice to make sure he’s actually awake. He can still taste mango in his mouth.
“Must have,’ he says.
Bob turns to face his wife.
“Say, honey. I’ve had a think about a couple of things I might like for Christmas.”