Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Looking at the west coast from the east

As I told you, I’ve just moved across the sea to a new home in a new country. In many ways, it’s not such a huge change; English is widely spoken, we have a similar recent colonial history set against a significantly longer past, and the north island has a lot of environmental similarities to my own home country. But there’s a lot that is different as well. For example, I know so little of the Maori history, people and culture, the cold is something new to my way of life and thinking, I don’t know where to get anything (what shops sell what?), and the coastal places on this wild west coast are very different to the powdery white sand and the clear, warm water, of the sub-topics I grew up. Here the sand is black, the water a chalky green, there are a lot fewer people (the beach I run on is often empty), and the beaches are buffered by looming hills and cliffs. It is incredibly beautiful and I’m blown away, but it’s still not in my heart. Not yet anyway.


So right now, I’m giving myself time to fall in love with this place, to know it for myself, to find out what it means to me. It’s made easier by the sweeping views I have from my little home on a hill, which I’m spending many happy hours taking in - views across the harbour mouth, across the golden hills and out to sea. I’m not sure how surfing fits in to that yet, and for some reason, I haven't been ready to find out. I can’t explain this, not even to myself. But I’m not asking too many questions of it either. In a way, it’s like I’ve written before about how I think that surfing might be a beautiful trap, so I’m taking this as a bit of respite from the demands that having surfing as an important part of your identity and your life can bring.

The summer just gone, there was no respite, but nor was I looking for any. I surfed more than I’ve ever surfed before. I surfed hours every day, waking at dawn to rush to the sea, and later in the day counting the minutes til I could go back. And when I got there, I would rush, run and skip along the sand and over the rocks to the water, paddling as quickly as I could out to the breaking waves. When I wasn’t in the sea I was thinking about going back. Catching up with friends, working, eating, sleeping, these were the in-between moments that framed my life down at the beach. It was wonderfully all consuming. I don’t regret a minute of it, but I knew at the time that it was not a real life. It was a temporary return to adolescence, experienced with all the knowledge and privileges of being a 36 year-old woman.

This summer just gone, surfing was key to how I lived in my town and my community. I didn’t surf new places or anything – I surfed the same break almost every day all summer - but I met new people, made new friends. People think that living in a small town, you must know everyone, but it’s not like that at all. Byron is my place in a way that is deep and beyond my ability to explain, but there is still so much that I don’t know about it, and there are so many stories that I haven’t heard. This summer, I learned a few more. I got to know Ed better. Ed’s from Taranaki and he is a real stand-out in the lineup, both for his surfing and his ferocity. He surfs with a level of control, commitment and determination that you rarely see in such a degree. In a similar way, he defends his waves and the people that surf them. The ones he likes anyway. I got to know Roisin (Row-sheeeeen), who is such a joy to be in the water with and who I would tease by pretending I saw turtles when there were none. I met Bernie and Jye, teenagers whose surfing is well beyond anything I will ever achieve. They are the loveliest and most stoked young guys, whose excitement levels in the water matched my own, and that is really saying something. I got to know Nathan better. I met Nath on the beach in Newcastle, back in 2012. He kept my number and when he moved to Byron he got in touch and we started hanging out. Isn’t that awesome! I got to know Laura who was always, always in the water before me. She would be at the beach before dawn, walking up the bush path to the lighthouse before the sun got up, so she was ready to paddle out as the light warmed the sky. I also spent a lot more time with the morning crew, who I have known by face and name for years, but who - through the hours I spent there and at the monthly Sunday morning mal club round – I came to know with even more affection. And that is a far from exhaustive list.


And the beach. Well, I knew it better than I ever have before or, perhaps ever will again. I knew it the way you can only know a place by being there every day. I knew where the rocks were, what the tides meant, what animals were commonly around. I knew the rhythms of the water, winds and tides as well as I knew the rhythms of the people who would routinely arrive at various times of day. As you would have picked up if you read any of the few posts I wrote, my heart was more full than it has been in a long time.

But now I’ve left that behind. Not abandoned, not discarded, not with regret. But I’ve left it because it wasn’t sustainable for me right now. There are other things to do and explore. And I’m lucky because my new home is incredible and far from a difficult landing! One of my dearest friends lives here, and a couple I already knew from Byron live here too. In fact, Kylie took me for my first surf the other week. But like I said, it’s not mine and to go from being in a place that is in the very fabric of your body and sense of self – a place that lives deep in your bones - to a place where you don’t yet belong is a shift. Not a shift that is awful, but a shift.

My approach is to be here in a way that is entirely open to its beauty and its community. To know it in a way that avoids comparison. (And believe me, comparisons between Byron and this place would be easy!) For now, surfing has not been a part of that. Mostly I’ve been running on the beach below my house, getting to know the line of the coast from there. Getting to know the colours and the way the beach-breaks look. Starting to smile and wave at people I pass on the sand. But I think I’m ready to learn to surf here now. I’m ready to know this place from the water, not only the sand. Today I bought a wetsuit appropriate for this cold water, a task I’d been avoiding, but one made easier by the lovely guy working in the store who understood my aversion to rubber. Hailing from the Gold Coast, he assured me it took him a while to get used to it. He told me that it took a while to settle into this place for him as well. That he started out by spending time alone with the place itself, getting to know the coast before he got to know any of the people. It wasn’t until I got home that I realised this is what I’ve been doing too. Getting to know the place before I get to know the people. But that is already changing.


P.S. Thanks for the writing encouragement x

9 comments:

  1. A lovely piece of writing. As Tom Waits said, "i never knew the east coast until I moved to the west".

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  2. Hi Bec, Mahalo for sharing your adventures and thoughts, you have a wonderful way with words, and you are blessed with a beautiful, new place! Warmest Aloha, Cher and Steve xoxo

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  3. Awesome stuff, Bec! It was so great to catch up with you in our hometown before your departure, and I hope to get the chance for you to show me around your new home some time soon :-)

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  4. The birds are different over there 'bec, and the small coastal flowers,when you find them, will stop you in your sandy tracks. pete

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  5. Agreed. You have a gift for writing feelings into paper.
    Question: is Mount Taranaki in the second pic? I've been in a very, very similar spot and I took a very similar photo. I'm curious :)

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  6. Don't know, it could be Scotland, have you dug a hole in that sand yet?

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  7. Ciaran - Still getting used to the sun rising out of the hills!

    Cher - So very beautiful x

    Ollie - So great to see you too! Now... come over!!

    Pete - The birds are a delight and I'll keep an eye out for the flowers.

    F - Nope, it's Karioi. Taranaki is down the road :)

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  8. Anonymous10:34 PM

    Still leeching off the Australian taxpayer no doubt?

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  9. Haha, Anonymous. No doubt at all. Especially since when in Australia I, at the very least, use public healthcare and roads. Oh! And I still have a HECS debt to repay - which I'll happily continue doing. But I don't own 'investment properties' or have kids, and I'm not Gina Rinehart or Rupert Murdoch, so my leeching is still pretty minor league. Thanks for dropping by so productively though :)

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