The Blue Bus (my 9’4” hire board) is heavy in my arm. A session is over and my lower back aches and I shuffle rather than stride. It’s mid-morning on Gonubie Beach – the sky is clear but it’s not too hot. Through screwed up eyes I make out a familiar shape: sun-bleached red, blue and yellow wedges. I go a little closer to be sure, things at a distance are blurred without glasses. Then I see the two little ones darting and I know it’s the umbrella that Mom and Dad used when we were kids, the umbrella that Sue and Greg (my sister and brother-in-law) now use.
I put the board down, Jess and Megs dart into the shade and then scurry off again. Then they are back.
‘You wanna try surfing?’ I ask them. The thought has just occurred to me now. And I’m glad I’ve said it. Jess skips giddily.
‘Okay, let me just get out of this wetsuit and we’ll go…’
We’re side by side, wading in to where the waves reform into half-footers. The Blue Bus floats on the water, I’m pushing it along. I’m struck by how small and delicate Jess’s nine-year-old body is compared to it. It’s only waist high for me but the wavelets rise up to Jess’s chin. Sometimes they’re even higher.
‘Okay, jump on, Jess,’ I say once I’ve pointed the Bus to the shore. I see some white water coming, I push the board along, hoping the wave will pick it up. The Bus goes for a while but then, before long, slews sideways and twists. Jess falls off.
‘Sorry, Jess, I picked a bad wave…’
‘It’s fine, let’s try again…’
So she’s on again, this time the wave carries her a little further but she falls as she tries to get up. It’s the same on the next wave. I’m thinking this might end up like my first surf session – lots of water in the nose and ears and no waves caught.
This time I don’t push her along with the first wave, I wait. Then I see one forming – it’s a small echo of what you would see out back, a miniature A-frame. As it starts to lip I push the board along and the wave catches it good and true.
‘Get up Jess, get up!’ I shout. And without thought or effort she stands, right foot forward goofey-style. Now that she’s up she doesn’t look in any danger of falling. I look on with some jealousy at the ease with which she rides. She puts her right arm forward and holds her sun hat on with her left.
‘Whoohoo Jess, go on…’
A couple on the beach have interrupted their walk to watch her, they’re cheering her on. A warming-up surfer with long, sun-bleached hair whoops her on too.
On she goes – twenty five or thirty yards – until at last it is too shallow and the board scrapes along the ocean floor and she topples over. Greg, who was waiting in the shallow water, catches the leashless, rudderless Bus. Jess is up and ecstatic and charging back out towards me for another go.