"Eat my dust, kids!"
For my thirty-seventh birthday I was afforded a three-day window to chase a short but powerful south swell up the NSW east coast.
As promoted across all major forecasting sites. It was noteworthy only in its abruptness. A teepee rise and fall of the buoys that for most spots peaked under darkness. An isobaric hard on that would disappear before it could do much good.
Fitting present for a now middle-aged man. Tracking the surge was delicate. It was a south-south-west swell. Not the holy eastern-infused angle that flushes our every nook and cranny. Four-to-five metres at its peak. V directional. V Windy. Choosing the wrong spot could mean getting a wind-blown mess, or missing out completely.
At one point early on I sat on the headland at B___ H___,* shrill wind in my side, Rorschach clouds zipping overhead, watching swell lines bend out towards the horizon.
Against my will. The ocean being a cunt, on my birthday.
But there was enough to work with.
It was a well-worn path I was travelling. Plus I had the time. I was able to wait. This was a solo trip. Slicing through a narrow geographical window surrounded by covid lockdowns. Greater Sydney to the south. Queensland border to the north.
I had: Four boards. Bag of warm clothes. Sleeping bag. Esky. Negative covid test in the back pocket, just to be sure.
Family left to fend for themselves at home. Two thirds of the country’s population in lockdown. And me, further abusing my one real vice in a life of already immense privilege. Only in times of crisis can we truly be gluttonous etc.
Maybe I’m the one being the cunt, I thought as the swell marched back out to sea. To my family. To society. A lotta turmoil out there currently. Here I am worrying about waves. Shouldn’t I be doing something more worthwhile?
But I guess that’s what this thing is all about.
The swell would eventually angle back. It always does.
On day one I left before dawn. Almost all of the major towns between home and the Gold Coast have been bypassed by new, flat, featureless highway. Dotted only with roadkill and twin servo/fast food outlets. Replicas of replicas. Boring as shit. But travel time is way down. We live in a world of convenience. I was at my first spot before breakfast.
B____. East facing, but can still handle a southerly wind. Not too far from home. At the southern extremity of my hit list, so early in line to get the swell. Despite the greyish skies the water was an obscene blue. Shimmering.
I was too early. The waves were only a foot, two max. Nobody out. Cold. But this was my time off. Here to fuck, as they say. It still had some shape. I suited up anyway and headed out.
I admit. I’m no Wayne Lynch. I don’t like crowds. but I also don’t wanna surf alone. The water was still unseasonably warm. Activity everywhere. Big, dumb, lumbering humpbacks were blowing their tops out to the horizon, telegraphing their position to prospective diners. More than I’ve ever seen in a season. Drop pins for a feast. There’d even been a proper fatality in recent months a few beaches north. (not to mention that time I almost killed myself surfing solo). I was skittish.
As soon as I paddled out things ramped up. The swell hit. The wind refracted around the headland, more to the south. The tide dropped. The take off spot shifted out another thirty metres.
One other guy paddled out to my right, closer into the protection of the headland. Shadows slid across the surface. Fast moving clouds. Patches of weed. Or could it be…? My feet tucked up further under the board. A few quick lefts into the corner before the swell shut down the channel. Four waves and that was enough. Better than nothing. I left the other guy to it.
I stopped in at the local eatery for coffee and a smoothie. Lots of masks. Stern faces, furrowed brows, motioning to QR codes.
“Did ya bloody sign in?”
Maybe it wasn’t the right time to be on the road.
I was at pains to point out I hadn’t come from shut-down Sydney. I’m no Covid dog. A regional paisan, just like them. My car, sans hubcaps with gaffa-taped window, hopefully added to the vibe. But I could tell from their looks they saw right through me.
“Look at this pathetic old guy. Chasing surf in the middle of a pandemic. Idiot. Superspreader. Cunt.”
I checked in at a few more spots along the way. The swell was either too directional, or just not there yet at all. Bypassed T___ , scene of the recent fatality, altogether.
A quick Facetime into home. The grom’s sick. How long was I gonna be? I can’t answer that, baby. It’s up to the swell.
Next stop. S___ P___. A long, open angled point that could have been more. Cruelled by its own bathymetry. Outer bombies break up the swell and suck out the size. But there’s a lot of headland for it to wrap into. By the time it hits the inner shelf, lines do reappear.
Despite being dead flat only a dozen or so kms south, the swell angle had finally shifted. Windswept runners pushed down the inside section. It was looking like a poor, poor man’s Lennox. 40 to 50m of workable wall on a good one. A lot of down time between. Many wraps, much cut back.
Of most note: one all mighty blow up from a local, directed over my head to a fulla sitting just behind me.
WHAT ARE YOU DOING DROPPING IN ON ME YOU CUNT?
For a second I thought he was talking to me
YEAH, YOU, he continued, looking directly ahead, as I engaged a subtle subsurface eggbeater to steer out of the firing line.
I’LL FUCKEN DECK YOU, YA CUNT. I’LL BREAK YOU AND YOUR FUCKING BOARD AND RAM IT DOWN YOUR FUCKING THROAT.
To be fair, old mate in question had been getting a lot of waves.
But the tone, the volume, the exquisite imagery, the overall display. It was a relic from a lost time. Worth the trip alone.
The angry local went in. Old mate held his ground, smiled and paddled back up the inside. The session continued.
I guess being a cunt is a subjective thing.
I surfed until dark.
I got up to A___ first thing next morning. My primary target. Greeted at the iconic look out by blue skies and four to six foot of swell rounding the headland.
The waves were there, yes. Angle not great. It wasn’t incredible. But it’s still a good wave, even when it’s not.
Coffee brown water. Turbid. Plus, a smell in the air like fresh-wrapped bait.
Mysterious aquatic disturbances only a few metres out from line up. I’d been buzzed by a white surfing out here solo once before. Always a lot of activity. But on this day there were 20 or so others spread across the bowl. Many of them looked taster than me. I should be ok.
Wave-wise, it wasn’t quite doing it. Sets hitting too wide. Lacking a little oomph.
But, I made the most of it on the bonzer twin. Here to fuck etc. A few diamonds in the runners hugging the rock. The ones that grow and wrap back to you as they round the corner. A good time on the rail. No need for pumps or transitions between turns.
Still, a wave that stacks up even on an average day, for an average surfer.
Among the crowd were a few influencers in the truest sense, picking some good lines.
One swarthy WSL commentator looking fresh on an old single fin. But also a lot more mediocre talent than usual. Granted it was user friendly. But way more crab stances and 7S fishes than you’d expect.
One guy on a Firewire, fit looking, vaguely intermediate, was making the most of the A___ run around and jump off, which can have you back into pole position after every wave. Engaging in some very cunt like behaviour.
But he looked to be having a good time.
At least there’s always S_____
I spent the rest of the day gorging on inside runners. Got my fill. Checked in. The grom still hadn’t improved. It was time to head home.
Another quick couple of surfs followed on the drive back south the next day. The S pulse disappeared. Weak undercurrent E trade all that was left. I still made it home by early afternoon, a few hours before deadline. A swell well and truly milked.
And now, looking back, it was the perfect strike mission.
I’ve since joined the rest of the state in lockdown. Ten-click travel limit. No end in sight. I might be a cunt, but at least I have good timing.
*With respect to Ben Marcus for the idea of poorly hiding information