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A thrashing at Porridge

April 24, 2011

We surfed Porridge on Easter Friday. First time I’ve had it good there, despite living in Invers for ages. Shows how little we get out. It is a family trip. Harrison complains that he doesn’t want to walk through the paddocks to the beach; he wants to go to the beach near where we parked the car. He crys so I put him on my shoulders, trudging up the paddocks, over/through 4 gates, in my gumboots and surfboard over my shoulder. Partner has Syliva -looking happy –  in the backpack, plus wetsuits, kids shovel and rack, snacks and surfboard over his shoulder. It is a good warm up, though perhaps contributes to my sore shoulder.

We can hear the waves thundering as we come over the hill and I feel butterflies in my stomach. We know it is big. Parter goes out first and I play with Harrison and Sylvia. There are logs to crawl on, stones to gather and lots to explore. I try not to get too transfixed with watching the surf. The sets seem fairly continuous. The 6ft sets are breaking across the bay so the dozen or so surfers all get them on the head and then spend the next three waves paddling their guts out. I sort of don’t want to go out. I sort of do. I know I’m in for a thrashing no matter what, partly cos I’m not surfing-fit and I’m still sussing out my new board.

My partner gets a wave in and I start changing into my wetsuit. Best not to think about it. He gives me advice on where to sit out the back – not by the main bunch but further out so I won’t get the set waves taking me out. I get out without getting my hair wet, feeling smug. Doesn’t last. First wave I get, it jacks up and up, and I’m up but then skid off the front of my board. Not enough wax on my board, duh. Second wave isn’t much better but I haven’t felt the wrath of the big sets yet. I see a big wave coming and paddle hard. Damn, I’m not going to make it – gets me on the head and I’m tumbling round and around in the whitewash. Come up gasping. Oh shit, another one is coming and a longboarder who hasn’t made the wave straight at me – I totally bail on this wave. My board almost ends up on a guy behind me. Another wave breaks on top of me. Feels like my chest as been folded in two. When I’m back on my board paddling one arm feels a little numb. Must have wrenched something. I paddle hard to get back out into the channel and away from the impact zone. Greg tells me later I’m pushed a good 70metres. He was walking up the hill with the kids and watches the set wipe everyone out and sees me flailing around.

Now, I’ve been wondering this. How do you talk about surfing without sounding like a complete twat or a total know-it-all? If I’m trying to describe the experience from my point of view it either sounds like I’m an over-the-top blow-hard or that I’m a complete beginner bumbling around. How do I situate myself and the fine line between my perceptions and a wider experience? And am I writing for the general reader – the non-surfer who has no understanding of surfing terms and doesn’t know about the nuanced ways of being pasted by a wave? Or am I writing for a surfer without having to spell out taken-for-granted but generally unarticulated experiences. I think probably the former. I guess it all depends on the context of my story too.

I paddle back into the line-up. Say hi to a few locals. Try and regain composure, catch my breath. Watch carefully where I’m sitting in relation to where the set waves will arrive. I get a couple more waves. Much better though still standing too far forward on my board. One guy says to me, ‘how was that? Looked alright’. I mumble something about being a bit slow on it. He says, ‘wobbly was it?’ Fatal mistake showing weakness. Though others are getting chucked off bumpy waves as well. Tell myself not to overreact. He says, ‘there’s not enough west in the swell, it’s a bit all over the place’. I nod, having no idea what this place works best in.

I see a wave coming towards me, the peak about to break. I turn and paddle hard. I catch it and ride it -they’re all left-handers –  riding up and down the wave, feeling the board starting to cooperate beneath me. The waves speeds up in a section and I turn back down it, riding all the way into the channel, near the rocks to pull myself on to. I’m happy with that. I want to stay longer but it’s time to go.

I feel elated and exhausted afterwards. My neck and shoulder muscles still hurt – feels like whiplash from getting slammed in the set waves. But I want to go surfing again.

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