Posted by: smithdavid | April 8, 2012

A long December and there’s reason to believe…

This beach is different: there’s a hundred yard stretch of sand between lush dunes and the receding current; sunbathers lie beneath umbrellas or sizzle in the hot rays; small children edge towards the water and then scream in delight when it laps at their feet. This  is Nahoon, South Africa at Christmas.

I’m standing – hands on hips, top half of wetsuit hanging from my waist – as I listen to Andre. I can feel the sun baking my forehead and shoulders despite all the cream.

'This beach is different...'

First he tells me about the beach: watch for the rip at the river mouth but if it does take you wait for it to fade and then catch a wave back in; the famous break is down the far end at the reef but we won’t go there today; if you’re surfing alone at your level, make sure you’re beside the lifeguard flags so that they can get you if you get in trouble.

He has me stretching before I even attempt a beach pop-up. ‘I think the running made them worse,’ I say in embarrassment as I reach for my toes in the hamstring stretch.

‘We all struggle once we get to a certain age…’ he says generously.

Now he has me on my belly on the hot sand. He watches as I try to spring up. ‘You know, because you’re not a kid, it’s gonna be very difficult to learn this…’ So he shows me a four step movement for getting up on a board. Even this is difficult with my inflexible muscles and tendons. I think of it with chagrin – one of the steps involves kneeling – an unforgiveable sin in surfing I thought. But Andre must know – he’s been doing this almost as long as he’s been walking. And he’s been walking longer than I have.

In the breaking waves he does all the hard work for me: turns the board, sets me square on it, pushes me on so that the waves will take me. All I have to do is pop-up. But it’s the usual routine: half up on one, and then off again. Racing to the shore on another but never feeling stable enough to get up.

Then something happens – I’m on a wave and I remember his words – it’s all about getting steady on the board first. So I pull my knees up onto the board. Then sweep my left knee forward. My right foot goes back and I raise my bum while still holding the board. And then I’m standing! It only lasts a second or two but I feel the weightlessness and cyclic motion. My body screams with joy. The roar of the waves is loud but still I hear Andre cheering me on.

Not me giving it air at Nahoon. But maybe one day...

‘How do you know which waves to catch?’ I ask later. He laughs – it’s like asking how do you know if God really exists.

‘It’s not clean today, so it’s difficult…it’ll take you a while to judge them…’ By the way he says it I know the ‘while’ could be many years. ‘Right – ten more and then we’ll go in…’

I almost stand on some; I hash others. But there is at last some progress. There’ll be another lesson tomorrow – I’ll have to be up early. Surfing has imposed a new regime on beach holidays: no more waking late, making the beach by noon, sitting fully covered to avoid burns, cursing the sand and sun-cream, wondering what all the fuss is about. There is a sense of purpose at sunrise now. And a sense of weary achievement at sunset.


  1. Loving the Weekly Posts uncle SmithDavid.

    Did you see this Article?

  2. cheers mike. not sure about this uncle lark – i’m only a couple of years older than you….

  3. Dave, I now see waves as vehicles to another world… What magic happens under them?

    • the magic cannot really be explained. as with most things, it has to be felt…

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