He waddled backwards into the water, a clumsy land creature hampered by his fins. The shore break was vicious this morning, the waves jacking high, stirring up gouts of sand when they broke. When he was knee deep he turned and shallow-dived, embracing the bottom, revelling in the elemental power, then kicked hard towards deep water, eyes closed against the slurry.
A couple more strokes and he was clear. In his element now, he swam hard, feeling the rip pluck him seawards. A set loomed. Big. Very big. The first wave broke and he dived deep, eyes open. The world darkened and he heard and felt the thunder. When the wave passed he kicked upwards, pummelled by leftover turbulence. Submit. Pointless to fight. He waited for the maelstrom to set him free and broke to the surface.
The foam hissed as it settled. Another wave loomed into view. He sucked air and dived again, deeper this time, into the other world. Suspended weed. A stingray on the sand. Momentary darkness again. A feeling of bliss swept over him. He wanted to linger, but the set was not done yet. He reluctantly returned to the surface, faced another wall of foam and dived again.
Three more waves and then came the lull, as he knew it would. He swam hard, floating up the face of a couple of monsters, punching through the lip and then he was clear.
Treading water, he looked back at the shore. It was good to be out here away from it all: the job he hated, the boss who didn’t understand. He’d threatened him the last time he missed work. “I don’t care if the surf was up. Next time you’re out.”
Well, he was early. He’d slept fitfully, kept awake by the rumble of the surf, and as soon as night began to fade he’d headed to the beach. The sun had just risen, flooding the sea with gold. He’d have a few quick waves and still be in time for work.
He waited for a while picking the spot, lining up his marks. It was one of those perfect days, a once-in-a-season day. The waves, clean and powerful, marched in with mechanical regularity, peeling off to the left for a hundred yards before smashing down hard on the sandbank.
Out to sea he saw one approaching, its feathering top illuminated by the low sun. He felt the wave lift. Kicked hard, thrust one arm forward and looked down the long, green ramp. Christ it was fast. He arched his back and flung his trailing arm high. The spray from the offshore wind blinded him. He was surfing by feel alone. His vision cleared for a moment, enough for him to see the face hollowing, preparing to disintegrate on the bank. He put his head down and dived. The wave plucked at him momentarily, reluctant to let him go, then he was behind it. Safe. He let out a whoop of sheer joy and headed back to sea.
He had no watch. In any case time was irrelevant on a day like this. He caught wave after wave, lost in the present. He had no idea how long he’d been in the water when he noticed a pod of dolphins loping across the sea towards him like puppies wanting to play.
Another set. He took off and two dolphins took off with him. He’d often seen them surfing and envied their perfect mastery of their element. How wonderful it would be to be a dolphin. No worries about paying rent. No girlfriend to complicate life. No boss to please. Just him and the waves.
When he swam back to the take off spot the dolphins were waiting. They milled about so closely he could touch them. Surely they were welcoming him.
He shared another half dozen waves then, obeying some hidden signal, the dolphins turned and headed out to sea.
“Hey, wait. Don’t go. We haven’t finished yet.”
They were drawing further and further away.
“No. No. Not yet.”
He glanced shorewards. The beach seemed hardly real. This was
real. He hesitated, swam a few strokes out to sea. The dolphins were still in sight, their dorsal fins rising and falling, rising and falling, drawing further and further away.
He paused and looked back once more. The beach was a vague yellow ribbon. The surf club a tiny cube. It was calm out here. The swell undulated seductively. The water was deep blue. Peace. Still he hesitated. Gazed out to sea again, once more to the shore. Then he struck out again, stroking steadily towards the horizon.
He did not look back.
John, bodysurfing Avalon Beach
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