The Boy II

Dan Dobbin picture
Dan Dobbin (dandob)
Swellnet Dispatch

The man sits on the hill, sits where he always sits. Eyes watching, evaluating.

There's a lazy, lumpy swell rolling through, a little too north of east to be too inviting. A day when you can take it or leave it. Today he's leaving it.

The boy, however, well the boy is not leaving it. The boy is loving it.

The lumpy swells throw up onto the shallow shelf. The man would call the swell fun-sized, but it's enough of a step up for the boy to be revelling in the challenge.

Challenges come in many ways for the boy these days, and it would be disingenuous to call him a boy anymore. He now carries the loping, stretched-out frame of the early stage teenage male. All long limbs and upsized extremities he's still clumsily getting used to. He's navigating the emotional and hormonal early pubescent tangle, now spiced with the tumultuous waters of the digital age, dominated by social media and the relentless pressure to conform to ever-shifting notions of masculinity.

In the water the boy doesn't feel these challenges, forgets about these challenges, but in the waters there's different challenges too. He's getting better every surf, making those super-charged leaps in ability that only seem to occur in your early teenage years. He's hungry for waves, sniffing around line-ups, hoovering up any wave that comes his way, but line-ups can be difficult places these days. They can be complex tangles of ever-evolving social graces. Say what you will about the bad old days, but where you stood was clearly defined. Grommets at the bottom, gorillas at the top, and you worked your way up the rungs from there. Things are a little more blurry.

The crowd is not a challenge that the boy has to worry about today. He's alone, him and the ocean, mano a oceano, unfettered freedom but also nowhere to hide when the bomb of the day begins its run in from the outer shelf.

From his perch, the man watches as the wave swells and grows as it nears the inside shelf. At first the boy can't see it as the set approaches, but as it looms into his view the man sees the urgency in the boy's actions. The head dipped down, the limbs twisting and digging the water hard, the feet kicking, not panicked actions but determined actions, navigating himself to that precise intersection of bottom friction and gravitational pull where you want to be when you want to catch a wave.

"Go," mutters the man to himself quietly on the headland. "Go!"

The boy twists and points his boards nose towards the shore. He drops his chest lower, he kicks his feet and begins to glide as the swell grabs him.

Then, he pushes himself away from the board, arms extended, inside knee on the tail…reefing the board 90 degrees and off the back of the wave.

He's baulked. He's dogged it. He's fuckin' pussied out. The boy's shoulders slump and he slaps the water in frustration. He catches a few more smaller waves, but his heart's no longer in it. He bellies in and walks up the hill towards the man, head down and forlorn.

"How'd you go mate, got some good ones hey?" the man asked gently.

"Yer," answers the boy quietly. 

A pause hangs between them, both waiting to see who'll broach the elephant first.

"I shoulda went that big one," offers the boy finally. There's no tone of anger or regret in the words. It's a quiet request for comfort. 

"Siddown," says the man. The boy slumps down next to the man. Shoulder to shoulder they stare straight ahead, back out to sea, back over the waves.

"What stopped you?" prompts the man.

"I was scared. How come everyone else just charges but I'm still scared?"

"Who's everyone?"

"Everyone. Everyone on YouTube, on videos, heaps of people."

"They're scared."

"They don't look like it."

"Well, it's a balance. At some point, you'll want to go the wave more than you'll be scared. Being brave isn't being reckless. Bravery is being shit scared, but doing it anyway."

"Next time I'll go," says the boy more confidently.

 "When you're ready you'll go," says the man.



stanfrance's picture
stanfrance's picture
stanfrance Thursday, 26 Oct 2023 at 4:06pm

Nice, you must have kids Dan!

Sprout's picture
Sprout's picture
Sprout Thursday, 26 Oct 2023 at 4:36pm

Love your stories Dan.

Rabbits68's picture
Rabbits68's picture
Rabbits68 Thursday, 26 Oct 2023 at 5:04pm

That was awesome Dan. Thanks.

andy-mac's picture
andy-mac's picture
andy-mac Thursday, 26 Oct 2023 at 5:10pm

Unreal mate. Great story with minimal words. Love it!

zenagain's picture
zenagain's picture
zenagain Thursday, 26 Oct 2023 at 5:42pm

Loved it!

I miss being a boy.

conrico's picture
conrico's picture
conrico Thursday, 26 Oct 2023 at 6:53pm

sex change?

zenagain's picture
zenagain's picture
zenagain Thursday, 26 Oct 2023 at 7:20pm

Ha ha!


basesix's picture
basesix's picture
basesix Thursday, 26 Oct 2023 at 7:12pm

It was moving, hey zen? I wonder how much of it was missing being that boy testing his mettle; wishing we had had a man we looked up to saying 'go!' under his breath while we surfed; or relating to those tender moments from a father's perspective.. all three for my money.

zenagain's picture
zenagain's picture
zenagain Thursday, 26 Oct 2023 at 7:21pm

All of the above too Base.

gnomen's picture
gnomen's picture
gnomen Thursday, 26 Oct 2023 at 7:52pm

Only a surfer could truly understand the the torment this situation can/could cause. Its a fine line between what feels right and what feels not doable? This situation can be scaled up or down, age and size wise. Every surfer has been there, you have days when its not an issue, you just PADDLE in. Then there's times when you hesitate, pull back and realise that you shoulda gone. Great writing, captured the moment beautifully.

OldGroveller's picture
OldGroveller's picture
OldGroveller Friday, 27 Oct 2023 at 7:49am

Great read Dan, brought back so many memories, I too was that young fella..........still am to some degree. I now have my boy living with me full time after being 3,000ks away for two years, and surfing has been integral in the reconnection for us both. He exhibits all of the same traits, and it was only last week that this same experience unfolded for us both. "Bravery is being shit scared, but doing it anyway." Perfectly summed up and a phrase that is applicable to so many situations our kids face in their day to day life. Thanks for such an insightful piece.

dandob's picture
dandob's picture
dandob Friday, 27 Oct 2023 at 8:09am

"Bravery is being shit scared, but doing it anyway", yer I stole that from a description I read once of a WW2 Lancaster bomber pilot. Guy was absolutely terrified of flying and dying, a superstitious and stressed out mess between missions, but never shirked his duty when the time came.

OldGroveller's picture
OldGroveller's picture
OldGroveller Friday, 27 Oct 2023 at 8:52am

Yep Bravery comes in many forms, none more so than that scenario.

garyg1412's picture
garyg1412's picture
garyg1412 Friday, 27 Oct 2023 at 9:22am

Great read. Nothing better than reminiscing about when we were young and bullet proof.

Dowey's picture
Dowey's picture
Dowey Friday, 27 Oct 2023 at 9:30am

Far out Dan, you have made me cry again.
Sitting here watching the rain for the first time for months and think I have more tears on my face than raindrops outside.
Great read and another great memory from a similar situation, Thanks.

GONAD_MAN's picture
GONAD_MAN's picture
GONAD_MAN Friday, 27 Oct 2023 at 10:18am

I was that boy also, until i heard the classic lines of " You never know, if you don't go. Changed my Surfing Ten fold. Great Read.

PKsswellnet's picture
PKsswellnet's picture
PKsswellnet Friday, 27 Oct 2023 at 10:50am

Thanks Dan, mano a oceano, gold.

Russhsa's picture
Russhsa's picture
Russhsa Friday, 27 Oct 2023 at 11:42am

"Well, it's a balance. At some point, you'll want to go the wave more than you'll be scared. Being brave isn't being reckless. Bravery is being shit scared, but doing it anyway."
Defo quote of the week

suchas's picture
suchas's picture
suchas Friday, 27 Oct 2023 at 11:47am

Twiggy's take on it-

foam69's picture
foam69's picture
foam69 Sunday, 29 Oct 2023 at 9:24am

Brought a tear to my eyes,miss the bad old days.

mattlock's picture
mattlock's picture
mattlock Sunday, 29 Oct 2023 at 10:20am

Excellent vignette Dan.
Will use your bravery line with my boy [he is 7] at the skate park this arvo.
He has pretty good skills on his bmx but can be a little over cautious. Loves his bikes, we just got back from a trail ride.

batfink's picture
batfink's picture
batfink Sunday, 29 Oct 2023 at 4:20pm

Nice work Dan.

That hesitation, it has to fought every surf in waves of consequence, and the consequence is relative. As you get older it gets smaller and smaller.

I didn’t really take surfing on till I was 30, but had years of experience in waves behind me. It was probably 10 years of really pushing myself, then 15 years of just trying to maintain it under the pressure of few surfing opportunities, young family, full-time job.

Now that I have time and opportunity I don’t take it so often. I’ve become one of those older surfers that looks at the crowds and the waves and often finds an excuse not to bother. On the upside, I’m getting fit again, swimming laps and reducing the alcohol intake. I have goals.

But crowds, nah. I have options for uncrowded and sometimes solo surfs, so Sydney crowds don’t do it for me. That’s why god invented body surfing and the lifesavers flags, so I can get my water time.

truebluebasher's picture
truebluebasher's picture
truebluebasher Sunday, 26 Nov 2023 at 9:21pm

Agree with crew...good read Dan & yes it does ring true as we all gotta face that Big Test.

Hodad will lend that when we all see a Grom on a lucky streak he swears he mean't for that to happen.
When a Pro factors in everything but can't win a trick...all pat his back for never ending run of bad luck!

Huey's lesson...Go for it!
Keep trying new things to ride more of yer own dumb luck...Wot? "That...ya bloody arsey Grom!"
Keep doing all the right things better to reward yerself a lucky break..."Bummer! Keep at it Champ!"

Here's exactly how that plays out in real life...swear every word is true!

1978 Grom tbb walked about 2km from home to The Point (Long way back then...)
Long, as in most lived closer to the surf back then...say wot!
On weekends often just rock up in boardies with Board...likely after 9 WWOS Smirnoff

So yeah Sat...around midday but tbb nearly died of fright...huge it was...but offshore & sunny.

Headland was pretty full with many watchin...then all eyes on tbb...(Buzzards lusting for a sacrifice).
tbb got up to the top of the point & nope...not one person out in the line-up....that's terrifying for a Grom!
Like just how big is this...coz it's just plain weird that no one was out the back...what gives...Waited!
Sets were breaking on shark nets & Looked down at the cove...was a washin' machine...fark! Scary!

Thought the only option was the point but it was a wash over with sets & high risk hobble between.
Still...everyone expected tbb to paddle off the point...& got swashed and smashed.
Flooded to the feet of the Vultures lining the grassy bank drop off...worst case Grom Crisis scenario!
Copped a pretty good hiding + blood ...sore ankle as you'd expect...all stoned & pissin' themselves!

While tbb was recovering in the rock break ....was quickly getting pulled out on a reverse rip...No! No!
Pretty rare for the Point but tbb was shit scared & thought that's a bridge too far...nervous as all fuck...
Plucky Grom feathers started lifting the tail up...what if...was half way turning back now! Do it!

Head down & to ace a real sweet long out without a wave touching tbb...Huey come good!
Long lull & big reverse sweep gets explained in a bit...

Only it was still a long wide paddle to the Head of the sets on the Shark Nets.
After all that ...there was no way tbb was settlin' for a lethal Vert runner...settin' sail for the Holy Grail!
When tbb drew level with The Point...sat up proud & waved large to the stoner wannabes!
Rip was gone & it wasn't a huge sweep running out the back...coz it was gettin' real deep out so far!

Just as tbb met the wave at the Shark nets...they were Huge but rolling in like billowing clouds.
Can't say if Nets have changed over the years or worked loose only it was a long way out lookin' back.
Look back at the Point thru huge offshore spray that hurt when showered from up high...not used to it!
That was most surreal for a Goldie Grom...never forget those delayed Rainbow showers pelting down.
Strange as when the biggest wave rose up tbb was willing as it wasn't vert & no rocks out near nets!
Only knew if tbb made the take off it was a cruise...Go for it...never counted on the chatter...Whoah!
Grom tbb still had long hair & watched other big wave rider's hair flyin' back...feeling it....Yee-www!
Longest bottom turn ever...Gromz never think about such...just learn on the job...Dream face to fade...

Wanted another but lulls were getting longer as another 2 surfers joined in...that was a relief!
Another half runner but then it became clear tbb had perfectly timed the last big face as it backed off.
That being why tbb got a lucky break & easy paddle out as Huey was parting the seas for a Grom.

Still took a good while for another link wave to avoid the vert drop on the inside freight trains.
Today was not a day for Epic Hero Barrels...
tbb is explaining the obvious...needing to ramp the take off or drop dead & die as it steam rolls ya!
Had to wait for a runner to make the inside drop & ride like a scared Grom does...sure! In the Curl...Hmm!
Then driftin' down for one last runner to race a bouncy foamball reform to shore & sing forevermore!

As said...tbb injured himself getting out...just wanted to do what needed to be done...secret men's work!
Just saying that Huey rewards Gromz that take him on....might lose round one...but he will wave ya thru!
Miles of sheer dumb luck that day...either Grom got lucky maxing out all chances or Huey is a God!
Ok to choose that Huey is a God...All say Aye!
Also true : Grom tbb could never have dreamt of such majesty without riding his luck...supa'70'stoked!

Huey : [factcheck] Blatant mindless Grom stupidity mandates an overdose of sheer dumb luck...Go for it!