Posted by: smithdavid | February 26, 2012

Waves viewed from the shore are larger than they appear – Part 1 (Oct ’10)

'...mean-as-angry-drunk monsters.'

‘Look at ‘em!’ says Emmet, ‘look at ‘em; I’ve never seen it as big before.’ We’re coasting down Buenos Ayres Drive, Strandhill, co. Sligo. Those are real waves, I think. Red-meat-eating, gun-bearing, 3-litre-engine-driving, mean-as-angry-drunk monsters. Those are the type of waves we get in South Africa all the time. Not the flat lake I saw on my last visit to Strandhill, where Emmet’s board didn’t even make it off the roof rack.

These are the kind of waves I should be learning on, I think, satisfied with my South African childhood. I was body-surfing waves like this when I was fourteen.

Emmet is restless in his seat – the angry rhythm down below resonates, reinforced by the fact that he can’t surf this weekend. His ankle is banjaxed in a meaningless, one-off football game. The waste of it!

Now we’re in the Strandhill Surf School, confirming the lesson for tomorrow. Paul Buchanan, proprietor, does not disappoint as quintessential surfer: blonde, sun-bleached hair; lean sinewy build; flip-flops despite the cold. ‘We may have to take you out to Ross’s Point tomorrow – may be too big here…’ he says, Kiwi drawl drawling, as he first looks to the forecast on his laptop and then out over the counter-top. Too big – you’ve got to be kidding!

‘We weren’t so good in the last World-Cup, were we?’ Paul says later, genuinely unsure as we talk rugby. A run-of-the-mill Kiwi would have told you exactly where he was when Wayne Barnes allowed that forward pass that ended the ’07 dream. Paul has other things on his mind. Like whether or not to make the 40 minute paddle out to the great sandbar-break beyond the bay in the morning.

And now we’re standing on promenade, hands in pockets (as will soon be custom) looking out to the ocean. To our right, Yeats’s Ben Bulben (Ireland’s Table Mountain) broods in the dusk. To our left – the car park and an assortment of camper vans and cars: wetsuits hanging from some, boards strapped to others. We are standing looking at the mesmerizing ocean and one wave thunders in after the next. But something is amiss.

‘Why is no-one in?’ I ask.

‘They must’ve tried and it’s too rough, they wouldn’t miss out on this otherwise…’ says Emmet, eyes narrowed on the horizon.

Phhahh!! Too rough –what kind of surfers are these? My beginner’s mind says silently. Thank goodness silently. I think I see a half-cocked, knowing smile flicker on Emmet’s face, as if he heard my thoughts. His eyes remain trained on the incoming tide.

Later, in The Strand Bar, we meet Barbara, a friend Emmet has met before on East Coast Surf Club trips.

‘Were you in?’ she asks him. A pained expression passes over his face. No words are required, she understands. ‘Don’t worry, it was wild out there today, nobody could really surf…I was out back for a while, for lessons…but man was it rough…’ Again I’m questioning – surely you could have stayed out there, surely someone could have surfed? Again I say nothing – for this I am truly thankful later.

Outside in the cool night, a hundred yards away, waves crash into the shore – one, two, three waves, then countless more.  Their eternal roar, just audible inside, patiently beckons. There is no rush. Tomorrow they will tell me, tomorrow I will see.


  1. Dear Dave, A work of art! But poor Emmet sounds like he has never made it on a surfboard. Hope the bar was full of delicious people?

    • took me a while to figure out who desert rose is…oh emmet knows his way around a board alright – you’ll have to follow to find out…talk soon…dave

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