Surfing: Going where land-lubbers fear to go, into the Ocean, Sea, occasionally a river, usually on top of a fibreglass and foam flotation device called a surfboard. Aim is to paddle onto the wave, push yourself up from prone position to stand and ride the board along the face of the wave.
Years: So far 45 years and absolutely no desire to stop.
Shark sightings: Zero, but have been in the presence of Sea Lions, Seals, Dolphins, Sea Turtles, various fish, Sting Ray, close proximity whales, various Jellyfish and one unknown large moving underwater cylindrical shape that I smashed into when suffering a wipeout in Tasmania at the time and place of the photo above. That one was a bit unnerving!
Surfing terms: Sick! (meaning very good), Closeout, Bomb, Air drop, Drop in (just don’t), Glass, howling Offshore, Onshore, slop, cut back, floater, alley oop (never achieved by me), barelled, rail game, Kook (not nice) and of course – Wipeout! Many more to find out for those so inclined.
Injuries: There is a bit of ‘OUCH’ and blood factor with these. Accumulated various deep cuts and slices to calves, feet and hands from surfboard fins with about 20 stitches over the years. Funny thing is you never really feel the slice, just a bit of a bump. Another surfboard nose into the forehead that resulted in 12 stitches (don’t drop in!). Severely torn left foot ligaments with 6 months out of the water and a few months of cricket affected as well. This left foot injury compounded to affect the left Glute muscle (long story), which still causes grief sometimes till this day some 15 years later. Cracked C4 and C5 vertebrae resulting in 3/4 upper body neck brace for four months (was lucky). Various skin scrapes (usually feet/ankles) from rocks and barnacles, Sea Urchin spines in sole of foot. Sunburn, once badly at Alexandria Headlands in Queensland. Not much really!
Fun Rating: Despairingly from -5/10 to ecstatically 15/10 dependent on many factors. It are those 15/10 times that keeps me going!
Part 1 SEARCHING for SOMETHING
It was a sporting chance in 1975 that led to the Ocean and surfing. Newly found Hobart Tasmania Rugby playing mates did this (at the time fringe) weirdo activity of going surfing. Thursdays at Elizabeth Matriculation College was sporty day of choice. The Rugby mates were surfers and encouraged me to come along and I did. Clifton Beach, Park Beach if offshore and Carlton River if the sea breeze was in.
As a child, the Ocean was a mixture of pleasure catching bountiful fish, fear and nervous excitement through getting smashed about by waves at the beach. Generally, spent my time at waters edge and was uncomfortable with waves breaking over me. Was not a particularly good swimmer and subconscious fear would have me shivering uncontrollably after about 5 minutes of water play time.
Mum in her wonderful wisdom sent me to a gentle swim instructor at Glenorchy Pool, who after a few short lessons managed to convince me I wasn’t going to drown every time I went under water. She taught me how to float properly and be in control. The uncontrollable shivering disappeared forever and shortly after a confident water ‘ baby’ emerged late at about age 10. From then on whenever near the Ocean, I was out there doing kid version body surfing, dragging the inflatable lilo out for some stupid times. Many times staying in the water too long and almost ending up in hospital with sunburn blistering.
At home watching the news on the still black and white TV in the 1960’s, the ABC news announcer would state, ” yesterday there was yet another death of a surfer at the infamous Banzai Pipeline in Hawaii. This makes 2 deaths so far this year……..”.The news was always accompanied by the same grainy newsreel footage of this horror mountain like wave that spat out the most enormous amounts of white spray whenever it detonated on the reef below.
I was both alarmed and intrigued that people could take on such danger. This sucked me in and every night watching the news I hoped for more deathly news on the Banzai Pipeline. Why are 8 year old kids so much into death and gore? This surfing thing stuck in the head, always coming back, never to fade completely and continuing to probe into the conscious state to finally be unleashed in 1975.
A battle it was. Started surfing in Autumn just before onset of a Tasmanian winter. Certainly not the coldest water and air on Earth, but must be in the ‘lowest’ 10. Winter coincided with the best surf conditions though. So called Mates rallied around for something to wear – yes it was made of rubber, but just. A short legged wetsuit that was bereft of sleeves with a highly unreliable zip. They rustled up a ‘Spoon’ surfboard and not one of them told me that it was impossible to stand up on , let alone paddle it! They conveniently never told me that I seriously needed flippers to help propel it along and to only get up to the knees. Not one! I still grimace thinking about they fun they had at my expense. Cruel indeed and some are still close friends to this day. I am truly a forgiving person.
Early tribulations consisted of walking into the now freezing water, jumping on top of the Spoon, that 3/4 sank when I laid on it. Getting no further than the broken wave whitewash and ending back on the beach before now semi frozen brain could even register. Meanwhile, wetsuit zip had worked its way down causing the body to freeze almost as much as the brain. 20 minutes was it, and back to the car I trudged defeated, everything frozen!
Under normal circumstances it would take about two minutes to change from wet rubber to dry clothes. Agonisingly, something so simple took much longer. Fingers were so cold that I couldn’t do up the buttons on the shirt. Legs still partially wet, jeans wouldn’t cooperatively slide up over the legs. I learnt quickly that for Winter, loose fitting T shirts, Windcheaters, Mum’s wonderfully knitted floppy jumpers, beanie and loose track pants were the quick change clothes of choice with the thickest best woolen socks money could buy.
Meanwhile out the back, the boys were ripping up the waves, hollering, calling each other into waves and generally having a good time! This endurance trial lasted about two months. Frustrated but undaunted, savings had crept up via a couple of part time cleaning jobs. After this time of what can only be described as the ultimate in pathetic human misery I managed to buy the first proper wetsuit and a second hand real surfboard.
Finally managed to get past the white water out to where the real surfers were, didn’t freeze to almost death in 20 minutes. So many things to learn, from correct position to lay on the board to paddle. Too far forward and the board would nose dive, too far back and just couldn’t get onto the waves.
Being Winter, I learnt all too quickly the meaning of ‘Icecream’ headaches, resulting from having a wave breaking over the head with instant head ‘bang a bang’ from the blood vessels in the head contracting rapidly due to the cold water! Always a battle to paddle, not fall or slide off the board, not to accidentally run into other surfers and once back on land to change into dry clothes from now full chilled condition including teeth uncontrollably chattering. Yes, urine does warm the hands and fingers. You didn’t ask? Should have stayed as secret cold water Surfers business? Yep!
A long 6 months later and finally success on the beach breaks of Marion Bay in waist high waves. I stood and stayed standing for the first time ever going left along a wave. Much hooting and hollering by the mates! The boys reckoned the grin on the face didn’t dissipate for days. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that I repeatedly described in excruciating detail every long moment of that six seconds of surf bliss, when you and the Ocean move as one. Success!! Not overnight, not with luck, but sheer hard work of a different kind versus the Ocean, myself, the weather and straight up incompetence of being a late beginner.
Surfers have to travel in Tasmania. So many nooks, bays and headlands facing all sorts of directions. Swell direction, tides and winds massively influence the quality of surf. What is onshore and slop in one location, could be offshore and sweet just around the corner. Sometimes the entire day could be spent searching, only to end up at home again later with nary a drop of salty water on the head. There is always somewhere a bit better than the first location checked (the surfers lament), but by the time you get there, the wind has changed direction or the tide has dropped to present mush. Back to the first spot that was okay early and now too late. That too has been blown out by the wind!
It is not a case of just rocking up to a beach and expecting waves every time. Much fuel, time and enthusiasm can be wasted. Much research is carried out on swell direction, tides and winds. Days are spent in advance of trips working all this out and sometimes the forecast swell just never turns up or is a few more degrees to the West and misses the Coast completely. We pray to the Surf God Huey on a regular basis and become pretty good weather forecasters as well.
Late November 1980, and the first Mainland Australia trip up the East Coast from Sydney to Noosa Heads in Queensland. We put the Car on the Cargo ship from Hobart to Sydney, flew up, picked it up and drove North, picking up some cute beach break waves and a smashed windscreen on the way – Foster in particular served up juicy beachbreak waves. At Noosa, Tea-Tree point beckoned the first day. Paddled out and revelled in the absolute freedom of just wearing boardshorts for the first time ever! 5 Years of wetsuit world until now. It was luscious, warm, smooth like velvet over the body. 8.00am, Sun was out, Ocean was sparkling with shoulder high waves wrapping into the Bay. So free!
I was just floating out there drinking in these euphoric sensations and made the cardinal Surfer sin of not consistently looking out to sea for set waves, only to be abruptly snapped out of this bliss by a six wave set, that unceremoniously dumped me back among the shoreline rocks, with bleeding from multiple barnacle cuts to arms, legs, lower back, shoulders and hands! I hadn’t even paddled into a wave! Where was my wonderful protective layer of wetsuit now? In the Car. Wakey wakey Chris. Back up to the car, had some methylated spirits applied and back out. Stinging like crazy, still bleeding a bit, but I wasn’t going to miss out. I lasted about 40 minutes, caught 4 waves until the barnacle wounds got the better of me. (note: went to Chemist and loaded up on Bettadine, slapped it on and managed to get in two more days of diminishing surf. Couple of others out there started calling me “Old Yella” after the Bettadine colour! )
That initial Bliss of boardshort heaven was never forgotten. Nothing else existed but the warm Ocean, easy waves, light offshore winds, sky and the backdrop of the National Park (and the impending set of Doom!). The mind just couldn’t drink in enough and any other thoughts were emptied. Truly meditation from the Oceanic Ashram! Surfing from then on, was a search for more of this meditative Ocean bliss.
This is a sport where practice makes perfect. People that do it regularly, sometimes almost daily, not only are they seriously fit, sometimes staying out in the water for 6-8 hours as opposed to my 2 hours, they develop a natural rhythm with the waves and the Ocean. Every move becomes instinct driven and beautiful flow is achieved along the wave. Rarely do they blow take offs or waste waves.
Surfing life has always been the mix of weekends, maybe an early before work or after work surf, sprinkled with various holidays always somewhere near the Coast. Surfing life in Tasmania, was relegated to weekends and the rare times the Hobart “Points” pumped when I was too ‘unwell’ to do anything else but go surfing. It is extremely difficult to develop consistent performance with the once or twice a week at best surfing. Surfing fitness is just not there. There are no real opportunities to practice moves or to get in tune with the Ocean rhythms.
One weekend, the takeoffs are perfect, early to feet, bottom turn in full control, easy turns. Go back to the very same wave the following weekend and the body is slow to get up, takeoffs and bottom turns blown, wave completely misread and get bogged down. No flow and no rhythm. Just not enough time spent. Inconsistent became my middle name for many years, never to improve and many times surfing felt like it was going backwards. Much frustration. What happened to that feeling of Bliss? Almost ready to chop the board up, but could never quite bring myself to do it. Starting thinking that due to advancing age (all of age 36 – so old!), that a long-board (Malibu) would be the way to go, but that felt way too much like early retirement!
A two week mid winter trip to northern NSW and Collangatta Qld changed perceptions. A new board was bought, bit of a Mini Malibu hybrid but, still a short board. Paddling into waves became easier and had a consistent run of surf for the entire two weeks. Nothing big, just good consistent waves, developed some surf fitness and was feeling pretty good! The feeling of Ashram bliss permeated the senses. Snapper Rocks at Coolangatta was the last surf on the morning I flew out. Feeling tuned up and confident I headed out the back to join about 50 new found surf ‘friends’.
Paddling into the first wave, no one inside me and was about to takeoff when I was deviously cut off by a guy that looked as old as the Sea itself, could swear he was growing barnacles on his face. Where did he come from? No idea. He was on a short board, super late takeoff, ducked into a neat little barrel section, really chucked the spray out on a vicious cut back. A short while later he paddled back out where I was still sitting stunned by this performance. Gave me a wink and said “when you gotta go, you gotta go”. promptly whirled around, took off and ripped another wave apart before I could blink!
During those times after when progress stalled and mind diverted to where is the Axe for some chop chop to the stick (surfboard), I cast back to Barnacle Man short board riding. If he could ride short boards and be as old as Methuselah, then I could too. Any and all thoughts of giving up or semi-retiring to a long board vanished. He stayed as the benchmark forever.
Part 2 SOMETHING FOUND to follow…..