Things left unsaid
There’s not many better places to enjoy a well-earned afternoon beer than watching the sun make it’s way to the horizon from a vantage point overlooking the bay near my house. There’s often a few fun little rollers for crew to enjoy on the low tide, as was the case recently as I sat and relished the cold bubbles on my tongue and tried to think about anything except house renovations on a 40 degree day.
At first it was a giggle when a preteen boy lost his leash-less foamie on a small bit of whitewash and the board careened through his mates who proceeded to put on a great show of feigning terror and injury arising from the wayward board. Then I was struck with a memory which seems to keep recurring from time to time.
The memory takes place a couple of years ago on a small surf day at a mellow point break. The waves were not too crowded and there was a happy vibe in the air. This particular wave is popular with longboards and this day was no exception. Amongst the throng was a group of perhaps a dozen young crew who appeared to be together. Guys and girls hooting each other and having a fat time sharing waves.
I’d just caught a wave and straddled my board to paddle back out when one of the girls rode towards me. Trying to avoid ruining her wave, I paddled towards the foam and away from her path down the line. She slipped and fell just as she was about to pass me but luckily there was no collision. We exchanged a quick smile and she mounted her board and turned to paddle out directly in front of me. She got over the next wave no problems but the wave after was slightly bigger and had already broken so approached as a line of whitewash about thigh high. Somehow - probably through experience - I predicted that she wouldn’t try to duckdive and so I preemptively rolled off my board and dived just in time to see her do the same without any regard for me whatsoever.
The whitewash passed and I rose carefully to the surface with my hands guarding my way. Our boards were tangled and her heavy longboard was pummeling my own fish. She was still smiling yet I was fuming. It was all I could do to not tell her in no uncertain fashion what a selfish idiot I thought she was, but quickly realised that this could easily devolve into an unpleasant scenario in front of a crowd with myself cast as the angry, middle-aged Frankenstein bullying the sweet and innocent young surfer girl.
I’ve seen this happen before and have no desire to ever be subject to the very vocal derision of the happy-go-lucky hipsters if they morph into a righteous mob when they feel one of their number has been slightled - justly or not.
Instead I swore under my breath, swallowed my frustration like a lead ball and headed to the safety of the beach. Blaming myself for being fool enough to think I could safely navigate the notorious hazards of the point in the first place.
On the way home I started to see the positives. Mainly the fact that I’d only suffered a few dings to an old board and my body had escaped unscathed. Then I started to get angry again as I realised that this had been only because I’d had the foresight and ability to avoid injury by my own powers. If it wasn’t for my fortune and experience the outcome could have been very different indeed.
This is not the first time I’d been in this situation and it probably won’t be the last. There’s always going to be someone too selfish or lazy or reckless to take responsibility for their board but to this day I still wish I’d said something to the girl in question. Nothing angry, just something to convey the seriousness of what she’d done and hopefully make her aware enough to not try the same stunt again.
This is what I wished I said:
"Mind if I have a word about what just happened back there? Yeah, I’m OK. A couple of dings but the old girl has seen better days anyway.
"Are you aware of how badly that could’ve ended? Your board looks like it works nicely and you surf it quite well but it becomes nothing but a big, heavy weapon when you abandon it to luck and fate by throwing it behind you without looking when there’s energy from the ocean about to throw it into someone’s face.
"Firstly, thanks for wearing a legrope as not too many other longboarders show this courtesy to their fellow surfers. Unfortunately, a leg rope is no protection if there are other surfers within range and when you add an eight foot board to a seven foot leggie attached to a few feet of leg you’ve still got a decent scope for carnage if you abandon your board for convenience.
"That’s the thing. You didn’t have to risk my safety. If you can’t duckdive you could just sit up on the board and hold on which would only see you pushed back a couple of feet by such meagre whitewash. Or you could’ve turned and caught the wave and proned at an angle so that I’d never been in jeopardy. You had plenty of time to do so. Then it would’ve been a simple matter of paddling out around the break. Sure it might’ve taken a couple of minutes and a bit of energy but it would have ensured I didn’t get my skull caved in by your wayward log.
"You basically risked my life because you were lazy. Yes, because you were lazy.
"Of course claiming that my life was in peril may sound overly dramatic but that doesn’t mean it’s not true. A young bloke who lived up the end of my street when I was growing up copped a bloke’s loose board to the head, went home, went to bed and never woke up again. He died when he was twelve because someone didn’t take responsibility for their board in the surf.
"It’s not just kids in danger either. A few years ago at one of Australia’s best lefthanders there was a German tourist who was the partner of a respected surfer. She was only a beginner surfer but she was fearless and everyone was stoked to see her having a go at this difficult wave even though she didn’t have much success. Unfortunately she had the same bad habit as yourself and she’d routinely bail her board without checking behind her when she’d get caught inside. One time she did this and a fella was streaking through a tube only to have her loose board spear him in the face and put him out of action for weeks. The bloke was lucky that his misfortune only extended to ending his dream season of surfing and an extensive scar across his already rough head.
"This happened again at the same spot when another beginner surfer did the same thing except the victim that time required being flown to hospital and his poor wife having to pack up their camp and drive their caravan and family hundreds of kilometres to be by his side .
"The list of people losing eyes, suffering massive head trauma, and other life-altering injuries due to recklessly discarded boards is long and unpleasant.
"The surf is a dangerous place to be. Unavoidable accidents can happen at any time. Everyone loses their board at some point in the game irrespective of ability and experience and every surfer in the history of surfing has at some point bailed their board to escape a heavy situation. The difference in culpability and potential harm is whether you check behind you first. This is beyond common courtesy. It’s an unspoken duty of care to your fellow surfers and if you’re not willing to live by this duty then you’ve got no right to share a lineup with others.
"If you can’t duckdive your board then stick to waves where it's avoidable. Paddle around the break or learn to turn turtle. Catch a wave to shore and jump off the rocks or catch the rip out the back. Worst comes to worst and you’ve no options then at least check first before you relinquish control over your board.
"So please, pretty please, in future just take that split second to check that your board isn’t going to brain the hapless individual who just happens to find themselves shoreward from yourself, and please tell your mates and anyone who you think needs to be told what I’ve just told you.
"That’ll make the lineup a safer place for everyone and save me looking like a neck-bolted Frankenstein when I finally lose control of myself and start braying at people in the lineup over their poor behaviour.
// VINCENT VEGA