Confessions Of A Pointbreak Surfer
With J-Bay imminent and a juicy forecast on tap, there's a nice tingle in the loins.
The extra frisson in the viewing comes about from a single fact. By default and design, I'm now almost purely a pointbreak surfer.
It didn't start that way. I grew up on a swell-shadowed island, with a steady diet of two second beachbreak rides breaking on the shore.
The fascination began when the island's hottest surfer returned from a trip to the pointbreaks of the Northern Rivers. He may as well have been Marco Polo returning from a trip to the Orient.
It wasn't the tales that I remember. It was the scars. He was covered head to toe with lines of scabbed up cuts, like he'd been set upon by tigers.
Apparently, this pointbreak surfing carried with it the threat of being cut to ribbons on entry and exit. The danger factor made it compelling.
Our island pointbreak protege is long departed from this world. He committed suicide as a young man - an event that still haunts my peer group. We'd thought he was an invincible god, capable of anything. A vanguard that could set out from our small island and conquer the world, including the famous and dangerous pointbreaks which we only saw in magazines.
As soon as I could, after a long period of vagabonding around the world's oceans, I moved to the place that had so captured my imagination through the vicarious adventures of my boyhood hero.
Pointbreaks are fine things; rare things. The finest and rarest things in surfing. As such, coveted and in high demand. The crowds that flock seeking the rarest gift: an unencumbered screamer through the length of the point deterred me for years. My diet was varied, and I went long stretches head-butting beachies to avoid the crowds.
The crowds remained the same but events stepped in to change my views. My kids took up surfing. Peelers on the points are so much more fun than closeouts for kids. I got used to ducking and weaving in crowds to pick up runners that slipped through the cracks, often ending sessions with surprisingly high wave counts.
The white shark had an even bigger impact. When Tadashi Nakahara got his legs bitten off on a glorious Monday morning in February 2015, on the type of lovely little beachbreak day where you wouldn't have a care in the world, something began to change. My pals who tried to resuscitate him all suffered severe traumas - as did those at further attacks. Most spent long periods out of the water, many needed long-lasting psychological support.
Like others, I stopped seeing my fellow surfers as competitors that needed to be overcome to get a wave and instead saw them as potential rescuers, or rescuees. The vibe changed, in my view, and became more collegiate. I became happier to sit with the crew and take a ticket. As time went on, that ticket - a set wave at the point - became more valuable than a million closeouts.
There's no secret to the buzz. The bank and the swell function as one unit. The rope is stretched taut, then whipped. The flow is the thing as you ride the whipped energy down the line. Minimalism becomes the end goal as you build effortless speed on speed. Periods of absolute stillness, ala Tom Curren in Free Scrubber, frame full-blooded turns.
Bill Finnegan in his memoir Barbarian Days describes the “first order” problem of the long term, longitudinal study of a break, of getting it wired, of truly understanding it as the “basic occupation of surfers at their local break”.
For sand bottom points which rely on this not-completely understood and idiosyncratic flow of precious sand the study is a daily one. Tides, swell directions, local and oceanic currents, seasonal regimes of wind all act in concert to deliver the payload. Months sometime pass in a kind of stasis. Sometimes when the bank is food, sometimes when it's gutted. Then, all of a sudden, a new slug of sand appears and the break is transformed. Or the bank gets a haircut, shifts wide, or goes deep in spots. Seasons of stable banks and good swells become memorable, such as in 2007 and 2020.
That year, 2020, with the COVID restrictions on movement, sealed my fate. With interstate, international, and even travel to the neighbouring towns restricted, the option to only surf the local wave - the point - became entrenched.
In all good conscience, I couldn't recommend it. At least as a way to improve your surfing. Despite pointbreak surfers making it look better than anyone else, and I'll submit Tom Curren, Steph Gilmore and Ethan Ewing as my evidence, your surfing becomes one-dimensional.
I forced myself to surf a beachbreak the other day. It was not an elegant affair. Stuck on the bank for the paddle out, thirty duckdives later, I had to reposition to have another go at getting out the back. Two shitty closeouts in thirty minutes; a very poor return on investment. A couple of wobbly lefts. It felt like a brutal comedown and my ability to duck and weave and generate speed was impoverished. Close to non-existent. In short, surfing nothing but points has made my beachbreak surfing an embarrassment. It's hard to know when I'll give it another go, but it won't be anytime soon.
I know, I've cut off my nose to spite my face - just like Pa always said I would. Abandoned to my pointbreak fate with a diminishing resistance.
The sharp sting of a barnacle slice across the arch of the foot seems a clean pain that makes me feel alive. The rocks are solid. They tell an ancient story. Scampering up those rocks in the gathering dark after a late surf that lingered into the moon-rise I see my boyhood hero in my minds eye, in the full flower of his youth, streaking across a moon-lit wall.
Free as a bird, and immortal.