Posted by: smithdavid | November 18, 2012

Picture It

We’re winding down Ou Kaapse Weg, through the Tokai Forest. On one side you can see the mass of Chapman’s Peak, on the other the sparse greenery of the Table Mountain National Park.

Len is driving. The yellow biscuit and his board are strapped to the roof. This is only the second time I’ve seen him in fifteen years. We lost touch and I only found him because his then wife set up a Facebook profile for him a couple of years ago. Len decommissioned the profile soon after. I got his email address just in time and mailed. His reply, probably the longest delay in response in the history of email (by his own admission), came 6 months later.

muizenburg from len’s balcony

‘We were so sincere,’ he says, laughing when we recall the garage concert for our garage band which took place in his parent’s house in Erasmus Rand, Pretoria 22 years ago.

‘Remember how the speaker fell out the amp?’ he adds. I don’t but the leopard-skin-print amp is hard to forget. I do remember the girl for whom we’d staged the whole event kissing some other guy while there instead of me. It was pretty traumatic, I think – one is so ill-equipped for life’s cruelties at 16.

Len finds it curious that we both now dedicate so much time to writing. I’m not surprised – I recall him passing so many books on to me back then – Bellow, Updike, Steinbeck, Salinger. For me the curious thing is that we’ve both, by entirely different paths, been drawn to surfing. One ocean, many breaks, I guess.

Now we’re heading into the water – it’s Long Beach, Kommetjie. Len left the car unlocked – ‘cars like mine don’t often get broken into…’

We have to paddle through seaweed to get out. There’re about 20 other surfers in and things are just starting to fire in terms of waves. I’m nervous – Kommetjie has a reputation for fast waves and aggressive locals.

We loiter on the edge of the line-up, hoping to pick off one that the others have missed. Len strokes into a wave and is up. You can tell by his easy stance that he has surfed some. I sit on the biscuit and assess my options. I go for one or two but I’m just not in the right zone.

Len paddles back. ‘This one!’ he says in a little while. I begin making tired strokes, the session on the long board in Muizenburg has sapped my energy.

hout bay

Everything is happening quickly. I notice something in the periphery but ignore it. I want this wave. Just as I get set I hear something and then feel a hard knock on my calf. The wave dumps me – when I surface I’m a few feet from the surfer who was on it.

‘Sorry man, didn’t see you…’

‘It’s simple, you look left, you look right, you see someone, you back out…’ he hisses.

‘Sorry…’ I say again. If you really want to make something of this, go ahead, I think with singular conviction. But he paddles away, saying no more.

The session is difficult, I want to catch at least one wave to prove to Len that I’m no spoofer.

We talk for a while about surf literature. He sent me William Finnegan’s epic New Yorker article Playing Doc’s Games a while back, we’re both in awe.

When he calls time on the session, I’m relieved.

‘I can picture you living here,’ he says as we walk back towards the car, the rugged mountains of Hout Bay and beyond behind us. ‘Maybe using this as a base and then travelling and writing…’

I can picture it too.


  1. Dave,

    What we can picture, can be. At the same time, what we have can be great as it is.

    One of the consistent messages I get from your writing is your full engagement with your life and the waves. To be happy or sad, confident or unsure, is okay. Just no regrets, I say. That’s the main thing.

    Maybe you will end up back in South Africa some day, making your own harsh remarks to the tourist surfers who show up on your break. Or maybe not. But if you stay present and ready in your moments, it truly is all good.

    Thoughtful post.


    • couldn’t agree more tom. at the moment, london is great. i would really like to be surfing every day, but for now, things are fine the way they are. thanks, as always, for reading with such care. dave

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