Posted by: smithdavid | May 27, 2012

To a point that is safe

We’re in the Strandhill Surf Lodge car park. It’s nine o’clock but still it doesn’t feel as if the sun has properly risen. I take my thick jumper off and feel the bite of the cold. To one side an Aussie surf instructor is cursing and pouring  just boiled water into his booties. He didn’t bargain on this when he signed up. Steam spirals slowly upwards from his boots.

We look into the boot apprehensively – a night in the car at zero degrees has not left our wetsuits dry and warm. My feet are numb when I take my shoes off. My hands do not cooperate as I pull the freezing, wet neoprene of my suit the right way around.

I feel a sharp sting when I pull my suit on but it doesn’t last long. Soon the heat from my body is trapped within my second skin. My feet remain numb though.

sometimes you wish you were looking on…

We ask at the surf school shed where we can buy a pair of gloves for Emmet. ‘The closest place is Sligo but they might not be open…here, take these – they’ve a hole in them but they’re better than nothing…’

Now we’re jogging down the road, boards under arms. On any other Sunday before I started surfing I would still be in bed, feeling a disquieting lack of purpose. Now I feel an elemental anticipation – my senses await the onslaught of nature.

The beach is different to Rossnowlagh – there are ominous signs prohibiting swimming and it’s covered in ocean-smoothed rocks and boulders. Our launch into the wash hints at what might come: my feet slip on the rocks, waves batter against me as I try make it out back.

Emmet begins to paddle – he makes some headway and then is smashed back towards me. I wait for a lull in the sets so as to paddle but none comes. Eventually I grow tired of springing up over waves and paddle out.

But the first wave knocks me off my board. Then there is another and another. My neck strains as I try to look through the hole in my hoodie, my face is the only part of me not covered in neoprene.

Another wave hits and I gasp for air.  I take a few more strokes and then see a five-footer rising before me, moving mercilessly to me, ready to break on me. ‘Dive under the wave if you really need to…’ Emmet told me before. So I do and I feel the wrench of my leash on my ankle. When I look back another black figure has eyes glaring at me. ‘Watch what you’re doing with that f*cking board!’ he says. It’s my first experience of surf rage. ‘We’ll settle this on land!’ I think to say. But I just draw a breath and concentrate on survival.

one comes from the icy line-up

Eventually I get out back. I clamber to sit on my board, I need to rest. The line-up is packed – twenty or so waiting in the icy water. A few swells come through, lift me up and leave me down before forming waves and then thundering to the shore. I breathe in hard.

Then a swell line peaks a little further out, forms and pummels into me. When I get back on my board I find I’m in the impact zone once more. The fight to survive resumes. What enjoyment is there in this? I should be thinking. But all my awareness is given to the task of bringing my insignificant body to a point in the vast, angry ocean that is safe.



  1. I like the description of what it feels like to fight your way to the lineup. The sheer force of the waves. The trace of fear. This is a great evocation of that part of surfing.

    • thanks tom. nothing like trying to get out back in freezing cold, venonous waves. would still rather be there than just about anywhere. dave

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