Steve Shearer pays homage to his favourite time of the day.
The morning session.
The early, the dawny, even the Gentleman's Hour. It's pivotal to Australian surfing, especially the East Coast. As the building block of a surfing life it's so solid you can build a life around it. I'd go as far as to say it's almost crucial. Those surfers who can't embrace the morning session tend to become non-surfers, with notable exceptions which we'll get to in a minute.
The morning session offers the most elegant solution to one of the most pressing issues facing a surfer past adolescence: How does one live a surfing life without being a complete fuck-up? Holding down a job, a marriage, a family, running a business etc etc. They're all possible if the option of the early is on the table.
It's both cure and prophylactic for being jaded. “No eternal reward,” said Jim Morrison, “will forgive us now for wasting the dawn”. No dawn is ever wasted when you launch seawards into it.
Big Pharma invests billions into drugs to reduce the anxiety of everyday life. Nothing comes close as a so-called anxiolytic - for the surfer at least - than pegging an early to the mast. You can go about your day confident you got the best of it. A claim that is true 99% of the time on the East Coast.
Another claim that is true: Those who shred, get up for the early. It functions as an inbuilt auto-pilot, course correcting wayward lifestyles before they become destructive. You can't get up for the early if you've been on the grog. Sleep, diet, and exercise find their expression and their reason for existence in a fine dawny.
The exceptions to the rule are few but noteworthy. Kelly Slater is a notorious night-owl, preferring to stay up late schooling trolls on the internet. His disinterest and subdued performances for the early are legendary. Those of his ilk find more joy in Indonesia and Hawaii, where tradewinds produce better surf for the lates.
I'm a winter dawny freak. Like the schooling sea-mullet, when the first westerly after ANZAC Day hits, my soul stirs and some unseen force propels me to action. I find myself up in the dark with the coffee on, the boards loaded in the Camry the night before, lusting after that liminal period that joins night with day.
La Niña has provided some vintage sessions. Late winter last year. A moon just off the full and a strong southeast groundswell. The bank was thrumming, waves cracking like dry ice in the dark. I rocked-off in the blackness, just the faintest smudge of purple orange on the horizon and immediately scooped up handfuls of neon blue phosphorescence, which then trailed behind me. I wasn't the first out. Never am. There's always someone, usually two or three, who go darker.
I didn't make it out to see who it was anyhow. Got to the corner and a wide set pushed in square. I could see the wall straining against the bank in the moonlight. It was a wave surfed by feel more than sight: racing a streak of moonlight that constantly sucked into a metallic cylinder, smooth as polished steel. When I kicked out past the hut, I let out a “fark!”
Who could appreciate that ride? Not even a fellow dawn patroller walking the track offered a hoot.
Paddling back slowly, I did receive some belated recognition. A sudden loud exhalation made me gasp: "What the fark..?!"
Baby humpback rolled on its side as it drew amidships, and gave me an eyeful - a big sorrowful eye reflecting the moonlight - with its white tummy looking so ribbed and hydrodynamic.
Not every day you get reco from Baby Leviathan.
A bigger exhalation, loud as a foghorn, as Mama humpback disgorged her spray, showering me in a pungent fishy/squiddy/prawny mist of whale spit. I took it as an even greater accolade. Now Mama gave me the eye. I could tell we were profoundly cool with each other. Two mammals engaged in life's deepest purpose.
Mama rose again, so her low back was out of the water then with one tail beat, was gone. The bow wave rocked me as I went over a swell and an insane thought entered my head. With a little more luck, that humpback bow wave could give you a chip shot into a set wave.
Mystery of mysteries, magic, wonder. Communion with nature to the nth degree.
What the hell are you supposed to do with all that peak experience? That joy? That mind expanding euphoria?
Absolutely goddamn nothing is what. No-one gives a shit. Put it in your psychological back pocket and sit on it. Get home, feed the chooks, get the kids off to school and go about your day. Ride the slowly descending waves of endorphins throughout the day.
That's what the dawny does. It offers a little split in the fabric of the work-a-day world, where something that can't be bought, sold and commodified is there for the experiencing.
There's always a new day, there's always another dawny. Is there a better, more hopeful slogan for a surfer?
I say no.
The morning session reigns supreme.
// STEVE SHEARER
(All photos by Craig Brokensha)