2015: The year of reconciliation with the clubbies?
It was a couple of days after Christmas and the beach I was surfing – one of the most popular in Australia – was ridiculously crowded.
Strangely though, the shoulder-high peak I had chosen was almost civilised, with just a handful of mixed all-sorts sharing the glassy offerings ahead of the lunch-time onshore.
I chatted to a few mates, nodded welcomes to a few well-mannered strangers and thoroughly enjoyed my six or eight waves and figured I’d call it a session.
The last one lined up beautifully and I cruised across the inside section to the channel to link up with the right and do a gentle old guy reo into shore. Let’s say I caressed the lip rather than smacked it, and there, below me and the foam, was a floater. Not a turd but a young man on a log, looking a little concerned as I kicked my board away and landed on top of him.
A very heavy object cracked across my shin with full force and I was seeing stars as I floated to the surface. The other surfer seemed to be unhurt and full of unnecessary apologies (I figured since I hadn’t seen him until I was on top of him, I was at least as much, and probably more to blame).
I looked down at my left leg and was shocked to find a deep crease across the shin. Surely it was a break. I floated into the shallows and gingerly put some weight on the leg. Yowza! It didn’t bend.
I was nevertheless shaken and a little wobbly on my feet as I picked up my board. Within seconds two patrolling clubbies had jumped out of their buggy up the beach and rushed to my aid. They sat me down in the shade of their vehicle while they dressed the wound and iced the fast-swelling leg.
I told them I was recovering from a heart attack (several months prior) and that I needed to sit tight until my heart rate was normal again. For these young volunteers this was one of the busiest days of the year, with just enough swell to cause havoc up and down the beach. They needed a lame old surf dog patient who should have known better like they needed a hole in the head, and yet nothing was too much trouble.
And when I was finally feeling okay, they drove me to my car in the car park, made sure I was comfortable behind the wheel, shook my hand and wished me the best for the holidays.
I know from previous experience of surfers needing help – myself and others that I’ve helped – that this was not an isolated incident. Volunteer life savers do actually save lives, but mostly they give up their time ensuring that people involved in the most mundane of accidents come to as little harm as possible.
There’s no glory in that, no kudos, and often not even a thanks.
As I drove home the other day I felt just a little ashamed at every time I’ve blown up at the clubbies for dumping the swimming flags across the end section at First Point, or for getting antsy with some kid who takes the power of the uniform a little too seriously.
As a breed, we surfers are often too quick to judge the clubbies. Sure, the reverse sometimes applies too, but the next time you get hurt in the surf at a patrolled beach, it’s worth remembering that it will be one of them, not one of us, who will be there to help you.
Australia is one of the last bastions of surf separatism – where surfers and surf life savers often inhabit completely different universes. The barriers need to come down, and I’m pleased to say that co-operative efforts are now happening at my home beach, Noosa.
On Sydney’s northern beaches this has been happening for decades, and I’m looking forward to hearing what two of the most prominent surfers in that movement, Nick Carroll and Midget Farrelly, have to say about it in a panel discussion at next weekend’s “Talk Story” sessions as part of the Duke’s Day centenary at Freshwater Surf Club.
There’s a lot of interesting stuff happening at Talk Story, put together by Jack McCoy and John Ogden. Check out the full program at dukesday.com. //PHIL JARRATT