Posted by: smithdavid | October 1, 2017

The Day Before I Leave

 

Clean as! says the text from Greg, my brother-in-law. He, my sister and nieces have driven down for a walk along the Boardwalk and maybe later a drink at Gonubie Point where often we lean against the bumper of his bakkie and watch the waves pitch. On a good day there’ll be a few out negotiating the steep take-off and fast right and I’ll wonder how they make it look so effortless. On the best days, of which we’ve seen one, a pod of dolphins (thirty or so on the occasion we were there) will duck and dive around the surfers, wearing expressions which can be nothing other than grins.

 

I’m at home (five minutes up the road), arms still aching from a three hour surf this morning during which the ocean produced one clean three-footer after another. Either I go now for one last surf (I return to the UK tomorrow) or wait until the morning. Tomorrow my energy will be replenished, my head cleared of the haze from my long morning session. But it’s clean now – I pull my 3/2 off the line, strap Christine (my 8ft minimal) to the roof of the hire car.

 

I roll into the sand swept car park, turn into the only available space facing the sea. Once out the car I climb the lower rail of the balustrade to get a better view. In the bay the sea appears smooth and viscous, like liquid mercury, as the lines of swell pulse shoreward. A crew of five or six surfers, three or four SUPpers wait in the usual beachie position – between the two weather vanes on the rocks to the left, just to the right of the lifeguard house. Being a late starter (36 when I rode my first wave), I prefer not to compete for waves as often I end up following the wisdom of the crowd rather than trusting my own judgement and not making waves as a result. Also, there is much thrashing of arms in the line up when small waves come but not much riding. On my right, near the rock pool, the same lines of swell move inevitably towards the sand. I jog to the Boardwalk to be sure – the waves are small but catchable, every now and again a bigger one comes. Back at the car I pull the 3/2 the right way round one last time, take the board from the roof.

Wading in I wait for a break in the sets, start paddling – Christine glides (she’s so much easier to paddle than the 6’4” that I’ve been torturing myself with for most of my two weeks in Gonubie); I’m out back with minimal effort. I’ve just sat up when a wave begins cresting. I turn and paddle, feel the surge as the wave comes and then I’m up, accelerating down the face. I trim this way and that to keep momentum. It’s a long ride because Christine is so buoyant, I’m in the shallows when I finally jump off. Perhaps I’ve ridden too far but it’s an easy paddle out. I sit up, let the next wave go, stretch my arms a little. Across the bay the sun reflects off the twenty or so windows of a guest house and casts an orange echo onto the smooth water. I let two or three waves go and then paddle for one. The wave doesn’t take immediately but despite my tired arms I make the three or four extra strokes to pop-up and off I go again.

 

When I get out back again I sense that someone is watching and look shorewards. On a lookout point of the Boardwalk stand a group that appears to be my family, though without glasses (my eyes are good for seeing a wave coming, everything farther that gets blurry) and in the fading light, I can’t be sure. But I have a strong sense that it’s them and I think how they’ve been witness to my surf journey – countless nose dives and missed waves and awkward crouches once up and endless endeavour and truncated rides because of my obstinance with the short board. As I watch the next wave come I know exactly when to start paddling and how to make those one or two extra strokes so that I’m up on the clean – I never for a moment think I won’t catch the wave. And now I’m riding the shoulder, weightless, clear water rushing towards me and then past.


The dusk has settled in further by the time I paddle out again – I look towards the main line-up, there are only a couple left (the SUPpers have left) and they’re not really getting waves. I feel a guilty satisfaction (ordinarily I will others to get waves) but today seems like vindication for all the time I’ve put into surfing. And the next time I surf I’ll probably get pounded so I enjoy the moment. I take another wave or two, it gets darker still. When I look back to the Boardwalk the group have gone. But they were my family, I’m sure, and they’ve seen enough. I take an ABF (absolute bloody final) wave (my third or fourth ABF) – this one chunkier, bigger, the ride faster. The water bulges on my right, smoother than before and bristling with more energy. I ride all the way in, jump off just before Christine’s fins hit the sand. Then, not looking back, I take the leash off and walk back through the dense dusk to the hire car.

 

 

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Posted by: smithdavid | February 21, 2016

Shortboard

We’re lying on cushions that Len has thrown onto the timber porch in Muizenburg, sipping beers. Halo, Len’s ten year old daughter, reclines so that that her head rests on her father’s chest. We’ve just go back from a surf and all the talk of ‘drops’ and ‘shoulders’ and ‘rights with reforming sections’ must be bemusing to her. It certainly is to Hatije, my girlfriend -who is lying beside me. Hatije does not understand my obsession with surfing (how could she possibly?) but tolerates it gracefully. Halo’s attention is on their dog and I know Hatije has zoned out – but Len and I can’t help ourselves.
‘Man – I’ve got to show you this board,’ he says, jolting up. Halo scampers. He rushes off to the garage and comes back with a board just a little longer than he, grinning. ‘My first shortboard.’ He takes the sock off the board – it has a classic sharp nose, pin tail, an over-generous covering of wax on the yellow deck.
I look on with some envy – not at the board itself but at the fact that Len rides shortboards with such ease and, sometimes, even grace. We met at school in Pretoria and were both late getting into surfing – mid-thirties. We’re early forties now and while, to some degree, I accept the natural decline of my body, I can’t quite accept the fact that I’m doomed to ride mini-mals, hybrids and longboards just because I’m an ageing late starter.

muizenberg

Muizenburg

‘You’re in this thing [surfing] now,’ Len says, ‘you’ve got to get on one of these.’ He pushes the board towards me.
I take hold of it – the fact that I can lift it with one hand makes me smile as I think of the time I lugged my 9’4” super-mal up a ridiculously steep hill to the camp site in St. Ives, Cornwall after a long surf. ‘Feels good…’ I say, holding the board at arms’ length, turning it around so I can read the specifications on the back – 6’4”X21”X2¾”. It’s way less buoyant than my shortest board, a 7’3” superfish. I recall my only attempt to ride a shortboard – a 6’6” rental from Zuma Jay in Bude, Cornwall. It was a dark winter day of wild swell – when I started paddling out the board felt unsteady; when I tried to catch a wave the nose wobbled all over the place. I was soon back in the car park, getting the 7’3”.
‘Take it for the rest of your time here,’ Len says. ‘See how you go…’
‘You sure?’
‘Take it,’ Hatije says, now animated. ‘You’ve nothing to lose.’
Len nods. I start pulling the sock over the board – to me, socks epitomise short boards and even the process of covering the board gives me a thrill. Though in the struggle to get it on I bash the nose into the tin roof of the porch.
Len laughs. ‘It’s like putting a wetsuit on for the first time.’

‘Aren’t you the surfer?’ Nicola, girlfriend of E.V. at whose flat we are staying in Camps Bay, says when I bring the board. I try not to grin too much – it feels a little dishonest carrying this board around when I haven’t ridden it yet.
E.V. wants to see the board. He turns it this way and that, studies the deck. He nods his bronzed face slowly. ‘Ja, Dawie – that’s a lekker board,’ he says. ‘You taken her out yet?’
Each time I surf over the next few days I find excuses not to use the shortboard. At Betty’s Bay I didn’t bring the board with, at Woodbridge Island I figured (somewhat ridiculously) that the break is more for longboards. It’s like I won’t be able to withstand the blow to my psyche if I can’t ride the board – maybe then I’ll have to admit I’m getting older.

glen beach

Camps Bay

But when I go to meet Len at Muizenburg again I know which board I have to take. I suit up in the car park and walk to our meeting point outside Lifestyle Surf Shop, the yellow board slung easily under my arm.
‘You tried it yet?’ Len says.
I shake my head. ‘Today’s the day.’
In the water there must be a hundred surfers spread out along the beach break. As we wade in near the corner, I’m thinking that I’ll come back this way in a couple of hours having not caught a single wave. But when we’re in waist high I jump onto the board and it doesn’t feel nearly as unstable as the 6’6” in Bude. I paddle a few strokes and while it doesn’t have the easy glide of the 8’ hire board I’ve used thus far on the trip, it certainly doesn’t drag as much as I expected.
The first real test is the duck dive. Len gives me a few tips. I imagine I’m going to get dragged back the way I always do with longer boards. But the first wave comes and I push the nose down and it cuts into the water. Then I push my right foot onto the deck grip and the board rushes to the surface and I’m through the wave and ready to continue paddling. A fluke, I think. Beginner’s luck. The next rush of whitewater comes and it’s the same result.
The last time we were here the back line was far, far out and I never made it – I got battered by whitewater and settled for cleanish re-formed waves or catching whitewater and trying to find a section that cleaned up. Len ducked through the white stuff and caught some good waves farther out. This, in a way, is a metaphor for where my surfing is in general – much improved but not out in the deep water, tapping into the full energy potential of waves. Today the swell is much smaller and we’re out back already.
‘That one looks okay,’ Len says of the second bump of swell that comes our way. I turn the board (surprised at how easy it is) and paddle hard, noticing how my feet actually contribute when I kick – unlike on longer boards. The wave lifts the tail of the board and I make a last few strokes and then feel way the board surges. Without thinking I spring up and ride down the small face of the wave. Only now do I realize that I’m riding a short board – my surfing goal (besides getting barrelled, of course). The water rushes beneath me and I move a little this way and that – the board follows sharply. Perhaps if there was more time to think the moment would become too big and I’d fall. But I ride for some distance before the wave runs out of energy. As soon as I jump off the wave I start paddling back out – I want more.
‘You seem quite comfortable on that board,’ Len says when I get out back again.
This time when I grin there are no associated feelings of dishonesty or deception. Yes, I feel comfortable on a shortboard.

Posted by: smithdavid | November 29, 2015

Falasarna

The theory behind coming to Crete is that it’s a warm place (even in September), with a warm, calm, Mediterranean Sea. Perfect for snorkelling, not surfing. I’ve made peace with the fact that the only ocean time I’ll have is a swim like the one I did this morning at Kolymbari Beach – starting at the point where the restaurants end and the pensioners wade in, going past the Avra Hotel deck chairs and on to where the power lines start; then turning around and swimming back, the only excitement having to swim around stray waders.

So I’m expecting more of the same as we walk from the car park down to Falasarna Beach in the 28 DegC, five pm sun. But as we near the beige sand I see a familiar motion out in the sea – arms stroking the water, a slight raising of the chest and then the spring up. I keep watching to make sure – the guy rides for a while and then turns and rides backwards, then twists again.

‘They’re surfing,’ I say.

image

Falasarna Beach

Hatije looks on, possibly not quite as ecstatic as I am. This is her Mediterranean holiday – surfing was not in the script. But she finds a quiet corner of the beach to go and snorkel and leaves me to go and hunt for a board.

I walk past the rows of deck chairs and umbrellas, speeding up a little as I get closer to the surf zone. The waves look very small and don’t seem to have much power but there are a couple out there – one of them the guy I saw riding backwards earlier.

I come at last to a moveable beach hut of timber slats – there are foamy boards and SUPs stacked around it but no-one to help me. I walk around, hoping I’ve missed something. When I get back to where I started from, the guy who was surfing backwards has come out of the sea.

‘I’m Kostas,’ he says, ‘you want a board?’

He explains how things work in Crete (where you cannot hire surf boards) – I need to buy the board from him for €200 and then sell it back to him in an hour’s time for €180. I only need to pay him €20 now.

‘What’s the longest board you have?’ I ask, looking at the tiny, but clean, waves.

image

Sunset at Falasarna

Soon I’ve got an 8’ neon green foamy board and am paddling out (though you can hardly call it a paddle as it only take a few strokes to get out ‘back’). I try to recall the last time I was in water warm enough to go out in a rash vest and boardies – must’ve been one of those hot days in Gonubie last December.

A line of swell approaches, I turn and paddle – the board takes just enough and I pop-up and am riding a wave in Crete, something I thought impossible an hour ago. It’s probably the slowest, shortest ride I’ve ever had. But it’s still a ride.

Again I paddle out, again a slow, short ride. I do this for an hour and when I go back in, instead of telling myself that it wasn’t a proper surf and it doesn’t count, I smile at the fact that I found a wave at all.

Posted by: smithdavid | March 15, 2015

Riding Again

Phoenix’s engine splutters but doesn’t take when I turn the key. I pull the choke out, give her another go. After a couple more tinny turns, her engine ignites and I pump the accelerator a little to be sure and then push the choke back, a small increment at a time. Shoving her into reverse, I let the clutch out slowly and she starts rolling out the garage.

She hasn’t been driven much since I last used her, two months ago. But soon she’s bouncing along 7th Street and it’s like her 40 year-old Isuzu engine will never die. Sticking out the back of her canopy, held fast by a piece of rope tied to her door, is Christine, my 8-foot custom. Soon we shudder down Gonubie Main Street – three of us, riding again.

the gonubie rip

the gonubie rip

First thing I do when I get to the beach is wax Christine – I drag the soft wax along her deck, leaving rolls of wax on the sides. Then I pull the stick back, making a criss-cross pattern.

At the water’s edge I do some stretches, trying a few of the yoga poses I learnt in December. The sweat runs down my forehead already – it’s supposed to get to 32 Celsius today.

When I begin paddling out, I can feel that my arms do not have the strength of my last surf – the two months in London have leached my power. But the river-mouth rip is strong here and I’m carried along, rushing past the rocks that mark the edge of the bay. Soon I’m in line with the second windsock – a landmark for the sandbank that pushes swell up, forcing it to break. I sit on Christine and wait.

On the second or third wave, I turn and paddle. I feel the pull on Christine, make a few more strokes and pop-up. The wave pulls me along, there is on great drop as it breaks and soon it staggers on towards the beach, leaving me stalled behind it. I jump off the board, disappointed that the ride was so short but happy that I got up so quickly.

There are a couple of guys on SUPs and a surfer in the line-up. The SUP guys are farther out – catching the waves early. The surfer keeps paddling back towards the rocks, trying to negate the effect of the cross current. I start paddling too, but soon my arms are tired and a couple of waves break right on me. It seems like half an hour that I spend trying to get back out to the line-up. And now, for the first time in this session, the thoughts start whirling. I compare this session to the last few I had here, think about how impossible it is to maintain my surf fitness in London, how you can’t be a serious surfer if you don’t live beside the sea.

the first beacon

the first windsock

But then a wave comes and without thinking about what I have to do to catch it, I turn and paddle. The back of Christine lifts as the wave reaches me and I make a last few powerful strokes and then I’m up, riding. When I feel the wave’s power beginning to ebb, I trim back towards the shore, gather some pace. Eventually, when I’m past the first windsock, I jump off.

I take the rip back out and soon there is another wave with an equally long ride. I think about my body remembering what is has to do if I just stop worrying and comparing and give it a chance. Then I paddle back out and catch another wave.

Posted by: smithdavid | June 8, 2014

Warmth

The sky is blue at Incheydoney, despite the fact that it’s late, late November. Down on the west side of the beach – the location of a great session on my last visit over a year ago – the lines of swell that pulse in from deeper water are pitching and breaking. It’s hard to judge the size of the waves at this distance (five hundred yards or so) but they don’t appear very big at all.

 

‘I’ll give you the longest board I have,’ Colm from the Incheydoney Surf School says, as if he’s read my mind. He nods at the hoodie in my hand, which I’ve had suspended for a few seconds while I decide whether to take it with or not. ‘You may as well take that with – don’t want to come out early ‘cause you’re cold,’ he says.

 

Carrying the ten foot board to the waterline is like carrying a SUP – very heavy under one arm but too big to get both around it. Eventually I rest it on my head, keep it steady with both arms – progress is quicker this way.

bright day in cork...

bright day in cork…

 

A small stream of chilly water washes through my wetsuit as I wade in. It’s crisp, but not ice-cream headache cold. The point where the waves are breaking is just deeper than waist high. I spring onto the board, make a few strokes to take me just past the breaking point.

 

When the first waves comes, I wrench the ten-footer around and begin paddling. The thrust from the wave that I expected to feel on this super-long board never sparks. Instead the board glides along at a pace just faster than if it were under my paddle-power alone. I can sense that it will go no faster so I pop-up, thinking that once I’m up, things will be easier. But it’s too slow and I can’t balance. I tumble, cursing, into the chilly water. Surely on a board this size, you should be able to surf a ripple, I think.

small waves at inchydoney...

small waves at inchydoney…

 

Three guys that I saw up at the Surf School are in the water now, also trying to make something of the small swell.

 

‘Where you from?’ I ask.

 

‘Brazil…’ one of them says.

 

‘Bit warmer there…’ I say. They grin, try and catch a half-foot wave.

 

I paddle a little farther out, sit on the board. The swell lines are pulsing harmlessly by me – either not breaking at all or breaking a few feet shy of the shore. Finally a bigger set comes through. I cannot resist taking the first wave – the board accelerates more than before, though it’s still not moving particularly fast. I pop-up and this time I stay up, feeling the weak drive of the wave. But soon the energy is gone and I have to jump off. It’s two months deeper into winter compared to my last visit, yet still the swell is less severe.

 

The most able surfer of the Brazilians is also struggling to maintain form on a wave and even though I know I shouldn’t compare, this cheers me up.

 

There are a few more insipid waves; I get a few slow, ungraceful rides. And though my legs chill quickly when they dangle in the water as I sit on the board, there is warmth within my chest.

Posted by: smithdavid | May 11, 2014

At home

 

The sky is gray at Saunton and the cross-shore wind is lifting buds of white foam from the breaking waves, releasing it into the dull ether. I’m paddling out on Matilda (my 7’3” Superfish) and when I crank my neck up I see that a line of swell is pulsing towards me. There is an urge to turn her, let this first wave carry me and feel that sensation of floating – even if it is for just a short time.

 

But in my mind is impression of Emmet riding comfortably on a right, the wave carrying him a hundred yards or more across the bay. If I want to ride like this, I have to start taking waves from farther out, I know.

 

lines of swell as saunton...

lines of swell as saunton…

 

So I take a few more stokes – the oncoming wave lifts us (Matilda and I), tilts us slightly skywards and then we rock over and I resume paddling. Another wave comes and I feel the twitch that compels me to go for the wave. But again I think of the rewards for making it farther out and rock over this wave too.

 

My breath shortens and I suck hard, measure my strokes. Now I recall details from my runs around Hyde Park: having to tread carefully in the orange street light to avoid where tree roots have lifted the paving; the clock on the Harvey Nichols façade in Knightsbridge; starting to breathe in rhythm with my steps and feeling that I can keep going indefinitely. I try and find rhythm now with my strokes. Eventually there is one last swell to rise over and I’m out there where it’s quieter, less frantic.

 

I sit up on Matilda, put my hands in my armpits to warm them; let my breath even out. It’s gone quiet – the water is not glassy like it would be on a windless day but it’s not particularly choppy either. To my right, far up above, are the cliffs on which the road to Croyde is carved. The shoreline seems a great distance away but instead of feeling alone and adrift I feel serene, at home somehow.

saunton...

 

There is a splash in the water and a fish jumps out, across Matilda – within touching distance. It disappears into the water again and once my surprise has faded I feel myself smiling.

 

I let the first wave of a new set go. It lifts me gently up and sets me down. I leave the second too – the effort to get this far out has brought patience, it seems.

 

I see the fourth line rising behind the third – it’s bigger and will have more shape, I reckon. When I turn to paddle there seems to be fluidity in my movement. I wait until the wave is a few yards away and then start paddling – my arms have power after the rest. Matilda begins moving with the wave and my left leg bursts forward; I’m standing before I’ve had time to think.

 

I surge down the face of the wave, everything is blurred and magnificent. Matilda keeps thrusting along – I lean this way and that and she moves with me. I ride for fifty yards and still there is a sense of momentum, direction. I don’t want this feeling to end. And in this moment it feels as if it won’t.

Posted by: smithdavid | May 3, 2014

Last Day at Rossnowlagh

Last Day at Rossnowlagh

Posted by: smithdavid | April 27, 2014

Not Sorry

Our waitress in The Thatch told us at breakfast this morning that because of the wind, the only place that would be working later is Putsborough.

We’re parked up on the road that leads to Putsborough now, looking down at the bay. I’m trying to count how many surfers are in – there are mini line-ups of ten to twenty heading all the way up towards Woolacombe. It must be close to a hundred, I reckon.

 

‘I’m gonna give it a miss,’ says Emmet, ‘one big session a day is enough for me…’

 

‘I’m with Emmet,’ says Claire.

 

‘Think I’ll give it a try,’ I say, thinking of how I’ve never been a able to resist a session.

 

‘I’m up for it,’ says Sophie, no doubt thinking of the wave she caught earlier, wishing to feel the sensation of weightlessness again.

almost dark at putsborough...

busy at putsborough…

 

When we walk down to the beach the tide is all the way in and we have to wait for a break in the sets of waves so that we can pick our way through the rocks. It’s easier for me – I’m bigger, more used to the sea and Matilda is light to carry. Sophie gets caught halfway and a surfer returning to the car park helps her get the 8’6” board to the right side of the crossing point.

 

We carry the boards together now – Sophie has the noses, I have the tails. Our pace quickens when we get near a spot that we can take off from.

 

We begin wading out – waves are reforming close to the beach. They’re the right size and power for Sophie; the only problem is they’re very close to shore and the ride will end just after she’s got up. Also, there is a strong cross current.

 

‘You gonna be okay?’ I ask Sophie.

 

‘Of course!’ she says, smiling.

 

I try and help her catch a few waves but things are as difficult as I thought they would be.

 

‘You go on out, I’ll keep trying here,’ Sophie says.

 

I paddle out past the first section of reforming waves; sit on Matilda for a while. But I get pushed back into the break zone. I try and take a wave but my arms are tired and it takes a long time to get up. When I am up, I see that the water is shallow and I’m almost ashore.

 

‘I’m going in,’ says Sophie when I go to meet her, ‘I’m finished.’

 

I paddle back out, certain that there will be one good wave. When I get past the first break zone I sit up again. Farther out is one of the mini line-ups that I saw from above. Emmet’s words from this morning resound – you’ve got to go farther out if you want to get them clean. I feel however that I don’t have the reserves of energy and I try and catch a few half waves.

But all I get is dumped and a few half rides. I even get dumped when I try and belly ride a wave back in.

almost dark at putsborough...

almost dark at putsborough…

 

It’s almost dark as I walk up a narrow path back to the nearly deserted car park. I’m worn out but not sorry that I went in.

 

Posted by: smithdavid | March 23, 2014

Lightness of Body

I’m in waist deep at Saunnton and feel out of sorts – there is no board beside me; Matilda is still on the beach, a hundred yards back.

There is good reason for the absence – this is my first attempt to teach others to surf. Claire and Sophie have both hired wetsuits and boards from their B&B and are now beside me, paddling for foamies.

Earlier, Emmet and I showed them how to pop-up on the shore. Recalling how difficult it was for me to learn to get up, it would’ve probably been better to get them to practice pop-ups for an hour before going near the sea. But they had that giddy, seaside excitement and there was no way we could deny them a run in the water.

saunton

saunton

A wave forms twenty yards away and Claire gets on the board. As it approaches I line Claire’s board up and when the wave reaches us I push it hard so that it is taken by the white foam. As Claire and the board rush away, her leash snags on the scar on my left hand – there is numbness and then sharp pain. It’s a schoolboy error, a mistake I recall a friend of Andre’s make when he helped with a lesson in Nahoon.

Claire tries to stand but the board wobbles beneath her and she is never well enough set after that to make another attempt.

I leave my hand submerged for a while; let the cold soothe it.

We try another wave for Claire and again it is difficult for her to get stable.

‘I was on a bigger board in easier conditions my first time – and I didn’t get up at all…’ I say when she comes back, grimacing. I remember showing her how to pop-up in a car-park in London when we first discussed her joining our surf trip. She had an elegance about her movements, her body is flexible. It must be difficult for her now not to be able to move that way. But she keeps going, trying wave after wave. I manage to get my hand caught in her leash again at one stage.

one comes back from the sea...

one comes back from the sea…

Emmet has paddled all the way out back and now I see him glide by; he’s got a long, long ride off a wave.

‘You mind if I go out there for a while?’ I say to Claire. She smiles, nods. She’s probably seen the longing in my eyes as I watch the waves forming farther out.

When I have Matilda and begin paddling out, I look up and see Sophie riding a wave, standing. She throws her arms up in a V, whoops into the air. I smile and resume paddling, anxious to feel the weightlessness of riding a wave myself.

There is not a long wait when I’m out. A line of swell rises not far away; I turn and begin paddling. I feel that familiar thrust as the board catches. I spring up, making no mistake and soon I see the blur of water on either side, feel the lightness of body, spirit.

Posted by: smithdavid | March 16, 2014

Reluctance

There is a table beside a window in a nook in The Thatch; it’s still bright enough outside for the space to seem large. I sit down and although we’re out of the main thoroughfare, I can still see who is entering and leaving the bar.

When Emmet returns from the bar he puts a pint of Guinness down for himself, passes a pint of Coke to me. Despite the ache in my body from this morning’s surf and my drowsiness in this warmth, I still harbour thoughts of another session this evening. It seems, to me, a waste to be beside the sea and not use every possible opportunity to surf.

‘Got a few nice ones this morning,’ Emmet says, lounging back on the padded bench, drawing on his pint. Emmet is more the one-long-surf-a-day type than the as-many-as-you-can-fit-in. And he’s right about this morning, I can still picture his crouched stance on the handful of long, languid right hand waves that he caught.

I see Claire’s long brown curls now; her eyes dart around the space. When I stand she sees me and comes over. Sophie, her friend, has also come down for the weekend; she also wants to try surfing. They sit down, order teas.

a line-up of five or six...

a line-up of five or six…

It would be easy now to stay here for the evening, start again tomorrow. But Claire and Sophie want to go to the beach and that feeling of restlessness within me is resonating once more. Emmet, perhaps wisely, opts for a nap; the three of us pile into the estate.

There is plenty of space to park on the Esplanade in Woolacombe. Claire takes the camera as I start suiting up.

The light is already fading as I jog down the concrete path with Matilda under my arm. I don’t stretch and begin paddling out immediately. There is a point, twenty yards or so away, where the waves are jacking up. I look up and see that farther out, perhaps another fifty yards on, there is a line-up of five or six. One of them paddles for a wave, pops up. He carves a few curves on the face and then jumps off. I know that I should paddle out to this line; the rewards will be there if I do. But instead I go to the closer place; rationalising that I’m tired and should take the easier option; at least I’m in. Something within me is dissatisfied though; something wants me to go to that less certain place.

a short ride...

a short ride…

I paddle for one of the re-forming waves, Matilda catches and I pop up. But soon she stalls and I have to jump off. I fluff the next wave: a hand slips off Matilda and when I try and recover I see that the shore is only twenty feet away and there will be no time to ride.

I try one or two more – the vanity in me is hoping that Claire will catch a shot of me standing and graceful on a wave. But there are only half rides and eventually it is too dark and I have to return to shore.

It is, however, still with a sense of reluctance that I leave the ocean.

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