Broken Dreams Mended
I’m not a very good surfer.
I don’t mean that literally, although that too is true.
I mean ideologically. I don’t get all frothy and stoked out much anymore. I’m not running around spewing the gospel of 'ocean potion' as a cure all for all manner of metaphyical ailement. Sure I’ve parroted the, “Yeah, better than not surfing” response when passers by ask how my session was, but a lot of the time I’m lying. A lot of the time, probably most of the time, I find surfing an exercise in frustration. Time, crowds, conditions, winds, swells, banks, aches, pains, routine. Pick your poison.
Spring, well we all know spring is a special kind of fuckery. Dribbly swells. Northerlies. Upwelled cold and grey water. Onshore before 9. Fuck you, spring.
I laid in bed and made all of the excuses this morning, but this was the first morning with a light offshore in a fortnight, and probably for the coming fortnight. Maybe there’ll be a bit of fun to be had somewhere?
Incorrect. Weak, cross-shore, cold, should have stayed in bed.
I start driving along the dirt track towards the highway and home when a message notification in my surfing mates group chat pops up.
“Joel ahead in his semi!!!” accompanied by a link.
Joel is Joel Taylor.
Joel Taylor. Aspiring pro bodyboarder in the early 2000s. Absolute ripper. Surfed every single day (and sometimes at night to not break the streak) for a period of three and a half years during his grommethood.
Then in 2001, Joel broke his spine surfing Pipe on a building swell. Blasted by the shockie, driven feet first into the reef and folded. “The instant pain and the realisation I was paralysed before I reached the surface”.
He didn’t go in the ocean again for twenty years.
He did other things. Fought dark days, partied, enjoyed life, started the successful clothing company Unite, got married, had kids. Kept on living.
Then, after lots of encouragement from friends and family, Joel got back in the water. Began competing in parasurfing. Placed second in the Prone 1 category in 2022, won the Australian title in August of this year.
Right now he’s at Huntington Beach competing in the ISA World Parasurfing championships and absolutely slaying it. Hasn’t dropped a heat, throwing up 8’s and 9’s every heat and has an absolute groundswell of support from the Australian bodyboarding and surfing community behind him.
I started watching the semi-final on my phone. I pulled over and stopped driving. Joel threads a left hand barrel, scores a 9.63 and books his place into the final at the top of the leader board. In second place is another aussie, Kai Colless. I turn around and drive back to the beach.
It’s still weak, onshore, and cold, but now there’s only one guy out. It’s Mark. Mark is in his seventies. A bull shark took a chunk out of his leg twenty years ago and date of birth injuries have slowed him up; hips, back, shoulders and whatnot, but he still surfs as much as he can. For Mark, the day when he won’t be able to surf is closer than not.
I misremember a quote, something along the lines of: “Failure is not where people are trying but falling short, failure is when people are strong but not bothering.”
So, I went for a surf. It was as shit as it looked. The sun didn’t start shining, the waves didn’t start pumping, Dolphins didn’t have magic sex right next to me. It was weak and onshore and cold. I caught two waves and went in, but that wasn’t the point. This morning I surfed because I could, because we can never know when it will be when we can’t.
// DAN DOBBIN
Postscript: Joel Taylor won the world parasurfing championship Sunday morning, Kai Colless came third.