On the weekend, I ventured down the coast to meet up with my friend, Kevyn. I've been here for 5 months now, and it seemed as though it might be time to check out places other than my own little corner of Aotearoa. Kevyn lives a little further south, but we wanted to go surfing together, so she kindly split the difference and we met in Takanaki.
The drive down is a few hours and a half, so by the time I arrived the wind had picked up and was starting to ruffle the sea. But we grabbed a coffee and Kevyn showed me her favourite spots and we found ourselves a left that was consistent, smooth and had a bit of size. Oh, and no-one on it! The few guys who'd been out there were making their way back in across the rocks, so we had the chance to ask about it... Fun, they told us. Kind of full, but with a longboard, no problems. We had parked beside the weekend campsite of these guys, who'd been cruising there for a few days. As they peeled off wetsuits, we pulled ours on and made our way across the ever-present rocks and boulders to the waves.
Coming to live in New Zealand presented me with a four surfing challenges: colder, bigger, lefts and rocks. I wasn't spewing about any of them, but I knew they were going to be things to negotiate as I learned to surf in these waves. So far I've found myself loving the lefts, not bothered by the cold, and stoked on the bigger waves. But the rocks remain a challenge and I know that I am held back by my disinclination to deal with them. I think I'm mostly opposed to the lack of grace and elegance that is possible in negotiating them as you get in and out of the water. To be fair, stumbling back and forth across scratchy, weed covered rocks while carrying a longboard is far from ideal, but I know that the rocks are less likely to give in than I am. Instead, you have to gingerly pick your way through the rocks which the wash rushes around you - pushing you forward and pulling you off balance. I know I'll get there with it, but until I have to, well, I've been avoiding it. But not this day. This day rocks were all that were offered - rocks are far as the shoreline could be seen! Rocks to the water, rocks back to the soil and grass, and the receding tide was little help. So I had to suck it up.
And I did.
I made my way down. The scratchy surface gave them grip, which is a blessing, but they seem to tumble so far into the sea, which is an extra ugh when you have a massive fin sticking out from your board. So your board goes upside down, upside down and I scrambled and curled my toes and watched the sets and looked ahead and felt my way as best I could. And I got out with dry hair, which was surprising.
But the surprise was short lived. Kevyn was shouting instructions at me about the wave - how it breaks, where to take off. I kind of heard, I kind of didn't - I was too intent on watching the horizon and not getting caught on the inside and washed back into those acres of bloody rocks! A couple went through, but then, very quickly a wave was coming through - solid with a nice shoulder and formed so I was just in the right spot. With Kevyn shouting encouragement, I paddled into it...
The drop was much steeper than I'd expected, and as I got to my feet I felt the water disappear from under me and for a moment expected to kook it. But no! I managed to hold the take off and then had a long, clean, speeding wave to play with. An oh, it was great. I sought out the edges as far as I was able - finding the top, the bottom, the pocket, the shoulder (as much as my limited skills would allow). It was the best of times and against my better judgement, I surfed it in as far as was really sensible given the rocky realities of the coastline. But how do you give a wave like that up before you have to?
As I paddled back out - stoked! - a massive broken set meant I had to ditch my board and dive. It's so rare I have to cast my board aside to get past a wave, that I can actually count the ties on one hand. But this one was solid! After the first wave, I retrieved my board and paddled hard to see if I could make it through the second one. You've got to try, right? I didn't come close to making it though, and ditched my board a second time, diving down into the water. As the wave passed over me I noticed that I never felt the pull of the wave against my board and knew that my leash had snapped. I could barely be annoyed. I've had the leash for ages and it's stretched well beyond it's original nine foot length. I bobbed about diving under the waves and then peering rock-ward to see where my poor, unfortunate board washed up. As I started the swim in, I realised I'd not being paying enough attention to actually inhaling and found myself out of breath and feeling a sense of rising panic. I just couldn't get much air into my lungs. My breaths were so shallow. Kevyn shouted across to ask if I was okay and I said that I thought so, but I doubt it was terribly convincing. It was one of those moments when you know you'll be okay, but you also suddenly remember how small and fragile you can be. I was never in real trouble - I'm a strong swimmer and have grown up by the sea - but as I focused on getting air into my lungs between waves, I remember thinking to myself, 'Oh, so this is how people drown'.
Of course, I made it in, and as I scrambled over the weedy rocks towards my board I expected the worst. I'd seen it rise up and crash down a few times, so I was braced for dings. I grabbed it up and started making my way across the acres of rocks that were spread in front of me, back to the car. I dabbled in the idea of paddling back out with no leash, and then thought of asking the guys back near our car if I could borrow one from then. But then I thought about surfing a longboard using a shortboard leash and decided I was done. My one wave was enough.
I parked myself on the rocks to check the damage and to get the leftover length of leggie out of my way for the walk back. I ran my hands across the board again and again, but all I could find was one crack in the glass on one of the rails! Amazing! Nice work, Gary.
I looked back out to Kevyn, paddling amongst the swell. I didn't expect her to come in, of course. Surfing is a bit brutal like that - someone has a shit time but their mates keep surfing - but that is something I love about it too. I love that others know that I can take care of myself and that if I need them I'll make it damn clear. No-one bothers to baby you, because they know you wouldn't be there if you couldn't be.
As I gingerly crept back across the rocks and pebbles and dirt, I arrived back to an enthusiastic set of boys who admired my wave and offered me a leash. When I turned it down, they shifted the offer to a beer and a place sitting by their fire, which I did accept. Surfing in NZ has its challenges, but it surely has its kindnesses too.
P.S. As I drove home that afternoon, I saw the craziest clouds! I've never seen these ones before - can anyone shed any light one what they're called and what they suggest?