Posted by: smithdavid | April 15, 2012

Deep, Deep in December

EV hands me a plastic shopping bag. ‘Put it on your foot before you put your wetsuit on…it’ll make it easier…’ My foot, now covered in one of Pick ‘n Pay’s finest, slides easily through the leathery leg of the Purple Turtle. EV hides the keys somewhere behind the front tyre and then we jog over the dunes and onto Betty’s Bay beach. In the distance the sea rises and falls, rises and falls.

‘You need to get up as soon as possible,’ says EV as he stretches and then watches as I do a few sand pop-ups. After one or two more he’s getting edgy. ‘Kom Ou Perd, the sea is waiting…’ he shouts into the breeze as he runs into the surf, throwing his sharp-nosed short board before him, diving onto it and paddling.

I’m slower, the battered hire 8’6″ is heavy and I’m not paddle fit like EV. Quickly he is out back, head up, looking out over the bay for what is to come. I set myself up closer to shore – it’s all I can manage for now. Playing through my mind is the disheartening days before at Nahoon.

Pringle Bay, beside Betty's - beautiful...

The day after my lesson with Andre I hired a board from the lifeguards. It was a 7’6″ – I toiled in the shallow white-wash, tired arms unable to spring me, drunken legs unable to hold me if I did get up. Yet again and again and again I tried. I imagined them guffawing on the lifeguard stand – ‘look at that old dude who thinks he’s a teenager.’  The following day it was an 8’6″ – this time the lifeguards’ refusing payment, chuckling, telling me I’m too far back on the board.

Again much effort, little reward. Except that on one wave I stood for a few seconds. I wondered why I bothered when I returned the board. But later there was the satisfied exhaustion.

The dunes at Betty's...

Near the beach at Betty’s I see a small swell rise. ‘Go on, take this one!’ yells SJ beside me. I turn and paddle, the board takes. I pull my knees up and then I’m standing. The wave is innocuous and soon peters out but for once I feel set. ‘Whoohoo,’ screams SJ, ‘well done!’ It’s a small victory but it is a victory. I take a few more babies and my confidence swells a little.

Emboldened, I paddle out to EV, bracing myself as the heavier waves hit.  At last I’m out back, sitting beside EV, concentrating hard to balance, scanning the near horizon. A swell moves slowly towards us, I think I should go to it or something – EV stays calm. The swell lifts us gently, sets us back and then thunders to the shore. It’s ferocity is frightening. Another one comes.

‘This one! Paddle, paddle, paddle!’ yells EV. He has also turned. The wave picks us up, thrusts us. Suddenly it’s really steep, I’m staring into an abyss, a split second of terror. Then I’m catapulted down, down, down. Into the wash, tumbling around – which way is up?

Finally my head breaks the surface – I suck my lungs full. EV is a few yards closer to shore, also sucking hard. But he’s also roaring with laughter, right from the diaphragm. ‘Ja Ou Perd, that’s what the sea will do…’

SJ paddles up to me – she wants to swap EV’s 6’7″ that she is using for my hire-board. She’s just getting back into surfing after a long lay-off. But the last dumping has made me wary and I selfishly cling to the safety of the 8’6″.

Eventually I go in. ‘Bit patchy…’ EV says when he comes in half-an-hour later. ‘More is nog n’ dag…(tomorrow is another day)’ he says as he towels off.

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