A Sea For Yourself
There’s a back beach near home that never seems to get quite right. Whatever factors of geology and geometry need to align to meld together sand movement, swell directions, and wind protection to form a nice beach break, it’s missing a few.
While it should serve as springtime haven from the northerlies, its beach is separated from the adjacent headland by a fifty-odd metre stretch of low, craggy sandstone rock beds and a small rocky lagoon which makes it susceptible to the 9 o’clock nor'east chop. The sand formations offer almost exclusively two variations: straight outer banks which drop off into a gutter, or a deep hole that detonates into an unfriendly and shapeless shorebreak.
It’s just kind of there, the kind of place you only check as a last resort when you’re absolutely desperate for a paddle.
Then, one day, it was good. Like really good. An every-dog-has-its-day kinda day. As good-as-it’s-gunna-get kinda good. And I had it all to myself.
Now, surfing alone on a Northern NSW back beach isn’t the dreamy scenario it once was, thanks to the increased presence of the Great White Biteys over the last decade. There’s plenty of checking your 6 and hard staring at random ocean swirls and sea floor shadows. On this day, familiarity and the lack of any fatal attack scenarios so far this year at least allowed the opportunity to be aware, but not alarmed.
Still, surfing alone in good conditions is the absolute apogee of the surf experience, is it not?
So, it was with an elevated sense of loathing that I watched two wetsuited figures as they dared amble up the beach towards my peak.
Yer, my peak, I was here first. I’d planted my metaphorical flag, declared Terra Nullius on this twenty-odd metre odd strip of oceanic estate.
I knew what was going to happen next. We’ve all been here, on both sides of the scenario. They’d paddle out to where I was sitting which was clearly the best peak on the beach. Depending on personality type, there’d be an exchange of pleasantries - “How’s it going? Looks fun! Been out long?” - before they'd begin taking waves, or they’d simply use their superior numbers to freeze me out and aggressively colonise the peak, resigning me to the position of fringe-dweller, picking up the scraps as they pillaged their newly-won wealth.
I turned back to the horizon and waited, a jubilant mood already turning sour as I tryed to ignore their imminent arrival, to ignore the looming transition that occurs as soon as there's another surfer in the lineup. The tactical moves, the social games that we all play when we compete with others for the finite resource of the best waves.
But they never arrived.
Instead, I heard some quiet chatter from two peaks over. Chancing a glancing look, I spy two twin towers of salty grey hair sitting stoically on their boards. Despite their seemingly advancing age, their Flash Bomb wetsuits and well worn shortboards with modern curves, marked the duo as competent and knowledgeable riders, confirmed later after watching them from afar navigate a few tricky take offs. One offers a distant friendly wave and a nod.
For the next half an hour or so we observe an unspoken gentleman's agreement to sit away from each other. They're happy to surf a slightly inferior peak to allow us all to get waves with minimal fuss and make the most of the conditions. No pissing contests, no hassling, no unwanted competition, just the chance to enjoy good waves and savour the experience. Old school principles all but seemingly forgotten in much of the modern surfing experience.
Strolling up the beach after I'd had my fill, the sky mirrored the ocean in radiant blue as the unexpected all day spring offshore kept on keeping on. Split peaks kept on splitting. I watch my two distant companions paddle their way over towards the now vacant peak to get their share.
Whoever you are out there, I say thanks for your patience, and I hope you scored.
// DAN DOBBIN
(Photos Craig Brokensha)