The Boy II
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?"
"Everyone. Everyone on YouTube, on videos, heaps of people."
"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.
// DAN DOBBIN