It is covered in spiderwebs. I have had it for two months and it has only been wet when the garage roof leaked onto it
For months, I have been harping on about learning to surf. I have always loved the water, and when I moved to what I lovingly refer to as “this Godforsaken country,” learning to surf was one of my primary motivators. The fact that when I arrived here I headed straight for Victorian dairy farming land, where very few people surf and the weather is crap, demonstrates exactly how much research or consideration I gave this entire trip.
I harped on about surfing so much that for Christmas both my wife and my parents bought me surfing lessons. My wife also rustles up a large, preppy-yellow surfboard. I proudly took a picture with it, propped it up in the garage, and didn’t touch it again. That has been the end of the chapter for my surfboard for the last two months. When the rain comes through the leak in the roof, it wets the spiderwebs that have set up residence around the fins.
The push to get the board into action came last week. With the end of the school term approaching in April, my wife and I sat down and decided that Now Is The Time to take off and do what only retired people, a.k.a. grey nomads, and backpackers, a.k.a. those damn visa holders, do in this country: a big loop. The journey will be 15,000kms, if the van makes it, and will take nine months, covering the entire coast of Australia. We will need to slim down our luggage and streamline our living. We will have to redistribute and renovate almost everything inside our four square feet of living space in our short-wheel-base Toyota Hiace. I immediately grow overly attached to my unwieldy, eight-foot-long, sunshine-coloured board. It has a place in our slimmed-down lives, I argue. Let me prove it.
My first move to action is to attach the surfboard to the roof. Our particular brand of roof racks is, in fact, a single bed with the legs cut off, and looks as such. We refer to it as the penthouse suite, and the surfboard slides in perfectly under the metal foot-board and onto the springs. Of course, once it is attached, it doesn’t get any more use that before — only wetter when it rains. But it’s available now. It’s part of our travels. We can use it any time we so wish.
And so this week we find ourselves out in nearby Ulladulla one sunny afternoon with few plans. I have had my surfing lesson. I have braved the water with a professional, and I stood up! It wasn’t so hard. Now is the time to show my wife my skills, skills which he has paid for me to acquire.
Another woman with several surfboards in her boot is already in the car park when we arrive at the beach. To be honest, if it wasn’t for her we probably would have forgotten the surfboard, high up on the roof of the van, and just lounged on the beach as usual. The glinting white underside of the board has become something of a permanent feature sailing around above our heads.
The woman surveys the water, and clearly finds it to taste, as she starts putting on her wetsuit. After a bit of to-ing and fro-ing — this is going to mainly be an exercise in not looking like complete fools, and we both know it — we extract the board from the roof and begin the long trundle down the stairs to Rennies Beach. We find our friends and tee them up: we are going to go surfing.
“Have you got wetsuits?” asks one friend, squinting up at our eager faces in the sun.
He looks confused. “Well, people usually go in over there,” he says, indicating a bare stretch of choppy water.
There is no one else in the sea. The woman from the car park has disappeared. A large cloud is heading over the headlands in our direction. It is time to make it happen, and most likely drown trying. All along the coast, including the day before at an adjacent beach, the remains of a woman’s body have been washing up. For some reason, this doesn’t strike us as a problem.
The waves are what are probably counted as small, but strong. We only have the one board between us, and getting it out over the white water appears to be an issue. My board is also far more tippy than the board I used in my lesson, so much so that a third of the times I jump onto it, I slide straight off the other side. I feel like one of those poor, panicked seals in nature documentaries trying to remain on a melting iceberg while a big hungry orca rocks it from side to side.
“How many times did you stand up in your lesson, did you say?” my wife shouts to me as I surface between waves.
“Like, every time but one that I caught a wave!” I say, “Like, seven times!”
He seems doubtful. I catch three waves over about twenty minutes, falling off before I stand up, before turning the board over to him.
“The board was less rocky in my lessons,” I tell him, between gasps.
He climbs on and begins paddling sideways. “It is a bit tippy, isn’t it!” is the first thing he shouts over the waves. “We’ve got to get over there!” he says, pointing. “That’s where the good waves are.” For someone who has not even taken a lesson, and has always claimed to be unable to surf, he seems remarkably confident.
He paddles against the tide while I swim at a distance, aware that only one wave will have to hit him just right for me to get conked over the head with either the board or his tumbling body. After some time, and after he stops paddling, gets off and walks the board over, we arrive in the “good” zone. He stands and looks around.
“It seems like the good surf has moved again,” he says, getting bashed by another wave. Two other surfers enter the waves much further down the beach, where we first got in. They are both wearing wetsuits.
We are in the water for over an hour, during which time the sun goes in. We each get on a wave five times, always falling off before standing. I completely miss my wife’s best attempt. The most remarkable thing about the whole experience is that we don’t get hurt, or bump into any dead body parts.
We turn back to the beach. I’ll just glide in on this next wave, I think, and then it breaks at just the right time and I’m soaring along on the white water. I crouch and push, and for a third of a second, I am upright, arms splayed like a starfish, shrieking with joy.
When we finally return to the beach, our friends are huddled together and wearing jumpers. “Kat, you stood up!” one of them says.
“Yes!” I bellow. “Did you see it?” I am overjoyed.
“We are your witnesses,” they agree solemnly, nodding. Four separate people; no one can dispute this!
Outside of the water is colder than in it. We say our goodbyes, pick up our sunshine-coloured board between us and head back up the beach. As we approach the bottom of the stairs, a tanned man with long, sunbleached hair is jogging down, carrying a tiny, shiny surfboard. Please don’t speak to us, I think. We are but idiots.
“How’s the water?!” he asks enthusiastically. There’s a momentary pause. Don’t say it, I think.
“Not too cold!” says my wife, cheerfully. I give the man the shakas. For a split second, as he passes us, I see on his face a look of genuine befuddlement as he trots on towards the water. Then we escape up the stairs, to home, dinner, and a well-deserved sleep.