The Outsider: On the Seventh Day
"Life is at the roots, embedded in simplicity, asserting itself uniquely" - Henry Miller.
Sunday in Tahiti. The bass note of the church bell is ringing out, making a sweet symphony with the silvery peals of cock crow. The ladies are wearing fresh dresses and hats with flowers in their hair. The men are sweating gently in long trousers and shirt collars. They are walking slowly like living paintings towards the church where a sleepy dog sits in the dirt and lazily scratches at fleas. The faintest zephyr of cool offshore breeze is waving the palm fronds as it descends from the high mountain valleys.
I am walking down the end of the road to go surfing at Teahupoo. The sky is blue, the lagoon a thousand more hues of blue. Families are gathering after church, under shady trees, with coolers full of food and beer. I am thinking of those Tahiti-haters, those slaves of Western consumerism, who would walk past these scenes and remain unmoved. Those who's souls are frying in the cheap lard of circuitry and advertising until there is nothing but a little grease mark left on a saggy T-shirt. You can take your default faith in the power of constant growth and a deficient system and bury it next to that dead dog rotting in a ditch. It's not worth the dizzy, drunken blowfly spinning in slow constellations around the carcass. I repudiate you, Tahiti-haters. You are the yolk of a rotten egg. You stink.
The surf is perfect - sheet glass and hollow. Overhead to double overhead. The lip cracks like AK-47 fire when it hits the flats. Those who think that Teahupoo is a point and shoot wave, some kind of machine that can be easily read and dialled in like a photocopier are sorely mistaken. A million different kinds of waves hit the reef. Some peak up the top of the reef and run with the kind of perfect tapering wall that would seduce the average surfer into believing he can do this. 'I can do this,' is what he thinks. 'Let me at it'. Others wedge and bend and hit slightly further down, exploding on take-off and ridden by only the best tube-riders. 'Fuck', thinks the recreational surfer, 'I want no fucking part of that'. Some come in square on the west bowl, terrifyingly heavy and wedgey and defying the mind to believe they are not a close-out. They are not a close-out. CJ will show you how they are ridden, taking off impossibly deep and late under the hook and somehow engaging the rail deep in the tube, emerging with the spit. The wave moves so fast down the reef that manoeuvring in the tube is necessary, adjustments to stay above the exploding shock wave, trusting in the inside rail as the foam ball picks up the fins and a kind of weightless and directionless feeling comes into the board. A tube-ride at Teahupoo is utterly, utterly thrilling. Better than any kind of artificial high. When you emerge from the tube and see those mountains rising lustily from an antediluvian landscape and the smoke rising from the valleys a swooning sense of unreality comes over you. Is this me? Am I asleep and dreaming or is this what is now real?
Many pros will face that sense of unreality in the coming days - they will have to make split second decisions about what kind of reality they are ready to embrace and live with the consequences. This contest will make and break men like none we have seen for ten years. Since Andy and Bruce put on a clinic in the kinds of waves that scared the living souls out of mortal men and ensured they would never be a threat again.
Bobby should be here. I was thinking that paddling into the lagoon, high as a kite on tube stoke. With my nose in the gin clear water I was watching a moorish idol swan around a coral head. He said he was a fighter and he went out with a whimper. Was he scared? Of losing? "Fucking scary," that's what I overheard Mick Fanning say in the line-up when referring to big Chopes. Everyone is scared. "It's like hearing ghost stories as a kid," said Gabe Kling. There's a nervous tension starting to infiltrate the landscape, interpenetrating with the polynesian torpor in a way that is completely unique. Butterflies, night sweats, sudden and unexplained rushes of adrenalin, surges of cold fear that drain the blood and leave the muscles paralysed.
I saw CJ yesterday and asked him about the Tahiti-haters. "Who are they CJ?"
"Man, there's no Tahiti haters. That's a beat-up. We hardly ever get to ride perfect waves and live this life. Everywhere we go is crowded with humans. This place is paradise."
I think he is being diplomatic. I will find these Tahiti-haters yet.
They could've run Round 2 yesterday but the feeling from Kieren Perrow, the surfers rep, is to wait for real waves. Josh Kerr too wants to wait for solid surf. There is bravado and rope-a-doping on dry land, because in the water there's no shelter from the gaze of millions. Slater called it the most intimidating moment in surfing, "When you're out there and it's ten foot and you have priority and there's a thousand people screaming in the channel and a million watching online it's a naked moment. There's no hiding from it".
I walked home from the families playing in the small surf at the mouth of the river which has carved out the Havae Pass. Men are drinking and playing betanque, throwing the metal balls in the dirt under the shade of palm trees. There's no sign of the posse of streetfighters I ran into last year. Hale and hearty men who enjoyed a drink and a spot of head cracking, punching port holes in someone or even, if the mood took them, a fight with a broken bottle. They have the scars to prove it.
Despite my fondness for these men I am keen to walk the two miles home before the darkness descends from the mountains. There are pitbulls in many yards and they are waking; ready to defend their territory against intruders. I cross the road to avoid a few who growl and bare their fangs. I can't help a little fist pump claim as I reach the safety of Ginette's and Papa's house. I won't be the only one feeling joyful relief in the days ahead.
Another lay day on this perfect Tahitian Monday. Time to go looking for Bruce.