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A Salty Return to Surfing

At this point, it had been close to 2 and a half years since the last time I had surfed. When I think back to my last surf before my extended break, I really can’t remember it. Maybe if I had known it would have been the last, I surely would have taken more time to embed the images of Gwithian at its finest, forever stored in my memory.

The dream to leave the UK and to live in Canada meant I had to give up one of the few things I have a pure love-hate relationship with. The waves in Canada are nil to non-existent. There is Tofino which is classed as one of the best spots in North America. From Vancouver, you’re looking at roughly a 6-hour drive including a ferry ride. I have a passion for surfing, but the dream of surfing even weekly while living in Vancouver didn’t exist.

I seriously don’t class myself as a surfer. Sure, I surf and find great pleasure in doing so, but I like to think I’m only a surfer when I’m in the water. That bullshit ‘lifestyle’ that extends out of the water is not only dire, but it’s also a sleazy way to make yourself seem more interesting. If you were to ask, I’ll tell you I surf.

After deciding to move to Australia in January, surfing again seemed an achievable goal. Although the closest/worthy beach break is an hour away, I felt it would be justified. The endless lines, perfect sunshine, and that feeling of being reunited with something meaningful to my life. The possibilities were endless. No doubt I would be out of shape to surf, so I cheated the system and bought a hybrid shortboard, just for that little extra confidence boost. Usually, I ride anything around the 5’ 8” – 5’ 10” mark, thanks to “Jackson” and his lies on FB Marketplace, I was forced to buy a 6’0 Vessel Zephyr advertised at 5’10.

Equipped with a board with more volume than necessary to keep my flat ass afloat. I eventually bite the bullet and head to the coast to try to reconnect with a former part of myself. The nerves are high, the anticipation greater, and deluded reality oversees the real picture. In my mind, I’m expecting those clean lines, crystal clear waters, and the sunshine slowly cooking me into Mr Crabs. In reality it's grey skies, high winds and waves so messy that it turns the ocean into a constant strain of whitewash.

Two and a half years of waiting had led to this?

There was no turning back at this stage and headed out and see what I could find. Jumping back on the board again felt like a reconnection with an old friend, one that was short-lived as I am having to duck dive through endless amounts of foam. I got a few waves, nothing worth shouting about. There was no out back in sight, so I had to catch the trickles of piss that slowly brought me back to the shore. For the first time in a few months, a storm suddenly makes its appearance and empties its tropical load all over the coast. After 10 minutes of poor to no visibility, I cut my losses and head in. Disappointed, I remind myself there is always next time.

I scan the surf charts and score on the realisation that there may be some swell worth checking out the following weekend. Saturday rolls around and the sun was shining in all its glory. I leave early to beat traffic and make the hour drive back up the coast hoping to rekindle that ever-lasting dream. I get to the beach, jump out of the car and check out the break. It’s beautiful, crisp and clean. Fuck Australia, this is happening. Like an excited kid at Christmas, I suit up, chuck some wax on the board and paddle out.

I catch a few waves and I’m infatuated with surfing again, it’s the paradise and flow I needed to make me realise I am exactly where I should be. After a few waves, I sit on my board, take a deep breath and remember why I love to surf; the euphoria and state of awareness loads me up and leaves me buzzing. An opportunity arrives for me to take a hard left, I paddle. I’m up and on the wave and charging down the line. After a top turn, I hear a distant scream coming from in front, I’m literally about to ride over someone. A figure waves and screams in front of me as I take a leap of faith and hurl myself over the screaming being and plant headfirst into the water.

I dive back up and the individual is screaming at me in a foreign language. The true English in me arises and I instantly apologise, even though I in no way touched this person. He still screams at me in a foreign language and checking his suit and board for any “damage” I may have caused from flying through the air above him. There was none. His face is still red as he finally spurts in English, “Watch where you’re fucking going!” before hitting his forehead with his palm. I chuckle to myself at this stage and hold back on reminding him that technically he should have been paddling towards the broken wash and not straight back out if someone is on the wave. He was a lot bigger than me, most people are.

If you think that would ruin the surf, it didn’t. I continue to surf but at a distance from my new acquaintance in the surfing community. I see my new friend telling every surfer he can about our encounter. He’s grabbing his suit as if to show damage and throwing his right hand up and over himself, I assume I am his right hand. 20 minutes later, I call it quits and head in, stoked on my somewhat successful surf.

I am getting changed in the parking lot and laugh to myself as I think ‘imagine if that guy gets out of the water also, wouldn’t that be awkward?’ Things rarely go my way, if anything it's usually the things I don’t want to happen that come true. This was one of those moments. A burly figure comes up and over the path, surfboard in hand, and eyes just locked on me. To add more insult to injury, he is literally parked opposite me. As I’m just about changed, my new friend puts on his towel robe, gets his suit off and just stands, robed up, arms crossed just dead eyeing me. He isn’t over our encounter earlier.

I continue to sit in the trunk of my car and eat some post-surf food, the eyes still locked on me eating a rice cake. I don’t consider myself confrontational, but fuck, are you still this sour? This story ends with me eventually leaving and as I stare in my rear mirror, those eyes are still watching, just to make sure I am going for good. I’ve had only a few run-ins while out in the water, but this guy, he has to be the worst run-in I have experienced. Although I was not punched, I know when someone wants an excuse/reaction to knock my teeth out.

An accurate drawing

A salty return to surfing. After a short break away, surfing has already taught me a few things. The expectation vs the reality is a complex subject. Patience is a virtue in scoring good waves, don’t paddle out in sheer desperation in terrible conditions. Surfing is hostile, people are hostile, and will follow you out into the car park just to prove a point. Accidents are no longer a possibility, instead, any “accidents” should be treated as purely intentional and met with rage. I’m no fool in knowing this won’t happen every time I go for a surf, but for fuck sakes, what a reunion!

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