Into the snakepit

I was sitting peacefully on my own in the sea a couple of days ago (on a surfboard obviously – I didn’t go for a wander along the beach and think ‘Oh – that looks like a nice damp spot for a moment of quiet non-upright semi-immersed introspection’) when somebody paddled out and sat next to me.

I prepared myself for the usual half nod and uncomforable silence that stands for “I am a surf-man and I will take my rightful place in this hierarchy of two!”. I was met however with a broad smile and a cheery greeting. We exchanged names, lifestyle choices and then discussed our personal decision to surf a smaller quieter peak than join the plethera of surf practioners at other ‘better’ waves.

“People have forgotten why they surf….” Was a phrase that stuck in my mind; “…everybody gets so …angry!”

He was right. In people’s desperation to catch a perfect wave and get that hit, that high, that moment of joy they become competitive, pushy and just downright nasty. Perfectly reasonable people when on dry land put on 3mm of neoprene suit, lie on a fibre-glass plank and become veritable – well – planks.

There are of course exceptions: I’m sure spiritual surf guru David Rastovich doesn’t burst his Buddhaful bubble, put on his best snarly face and start dropping in on the locals. He has inner peace. Tons of it…


Yesterday I followed the same tack but after an hour or so it became apparent the lesser peaks just didn’t have anything to offer. They were flaccid and weak. They were suffering from an embarrassing case of surfile disfunction. So I paddled across and joined the twenty or so contenders at the ‘main peak’.

The usual cross section of combatants: a few longboarders catching all the set waves from 20 feet further out than everybody else (I think their names were all ‘Larry’). A lone, slightly rotund bodyboarder quietly sneaking all the best inside waves. A fair spattering of well-behaved mini-mal riders and shortboarders (mostly locals) and a crew of pimply youth (my guess would be postpubescent ‘city-folk’) expressing their pent up #angst through the medium of surf. And of course the requesite group of learners wondering what the hell they were doing there in the first place and what did happen to their erstwhile ‘instructor’?

It was quite a daunting line up, a small take off area that was jacking up to a good head high wave going both left and right. Each time I started paddling there was either a longboarder already on it, a shortboarder snaking me or somebody dropping in down the line. I started paddling away, nervously remembering yesterday’s conversation. Maybe it was time to find a smaller peak somewhere else…


Then a switch went off in my head: ‘why should I have to leave? I’ve been surfing here for 15 years – I have as much right as anyone to be here…’

I turned and paddled purposefully back to the peak, sat just outside the longboarders and waited for a set wave to come through. My elegantly balding head held high and proud, with my broad (quite tired) shoulders back – I probably looked like a magnificent stallion on the brow of a great mountain. A wave appeared on the horizon, I paddled towards it making my intentions clear: ‘This was MY wave. I own this wave and I will ride it as I see fit!’

I turned, dropping my chest down onto my board. Digging my hands deep into the cool Atlantic water I paddled hard and fast. I was feeling that intoxicating connection to nature as the wave reached me, lifting the back of the board. I started to plane, the board locked in, two more digs with these great big man-hands of mine. And then I took off, feet to the deck – a perfect stance. The wave lining up in front of me ready to take me to surf heaven…

Life can be hard sometimes and so can surfing. Three people had dropped in on me: two #angst ridden youths and a tumbling novice on a foamy. I made it round the first two and then had to kick out before bailing into a rotating mass of polyurethane and ignorance. I caught some white water back to the beach and started the lonely walk to the van.

There’s no clear message from this story. If it is indeed a story at all. As Dave Rastovich would say: “Live simply, so others can simply live.”

Yup. Here’s a picture of a rainbow…


I didn’t surf today. Still not decided about yesterday…

1 comment

  1. At last . . . . . . . a reflective scribble from Portugal’s very own import, the Paulo Coelho of surfing! It’s been far too long, since the last time this man mountain produced his written wittering! May it not be so long next time! Oh to have been one of those gratefully accepted long boarders named ‘Larry’! Hmm!

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