Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Sitting on the inside: stories from a slow learner

I haven’t been writing much lately. The thing is that every time I go to write, it feels like I am simply writing the same story over and over again. I feel like all that each tale achieves is to reveal what a slow learner I am and lets you all see more than you should. Are stories supposed to be that selfish? To be honest I’ve lost perspective on what I have and haven’t said, but this one has been sitting inside my chest for a couple of weeks now, so I suppose I might as well let it out…


A few weeks ago, I went for a surf. It was my first time on a board in over 2 months. Exciting.

I decided to paddle out at my love, The Pass. Conditions were pretty wonderful - the sky was clear and blue, the water was warm, there were peelers galore and it wasn’t too busy. I wasn’t looking for much anyway. I intended to sit wide and get waves further along. I just wanted to catch some waves and spend some time in my body, not my thoughts. I wanted to feel all the things you feel when you’re in the water – the rhythms, the temperatures, the water, the salt, the joy, the calm. I wanted to sit wide so I could focus on these things, and not the hassling for waves that is so common off the rocks.

As I walked down to the water I saw my friend, Jules. I called out and ran over to her, hugging her as we stood knee-deep in the water, rubbing the sunscreen from our hands with wet sand we scooped from beneath the surface. Jules is a dear friend of mine. She loves The Pass even more than I do, and you can guarantee you will find her there on her days off, surfing all day. Her approach to surfing and to life is generous, kind and full of integrity. I have known her since I was a child and she is someone I look up to as a surfer, a woman, and as a human being.

We paddled out together but after a few waves we ended up in different parts of the break. You know how it goes. And anyway, even within that crowd, I needed to surf on my own.

But it went to shit. Even before paddling out I was irritated, confused and frustrated, so those feelings were always going to transfer themselves into my surfing. I’d deluded myself that surfing would provide me escape from my thoughts, but it only served to help me embody them in a whole new way. Nothing was connecting or linking, and I felt like my whole surf was spent underwater, caught on the inside.

It wasn’t the ocean that was letting me down this time. It was me, it was my own fault. I knew that and it made it worse.

I extracted myself from the white-water and paddled over to Jules, who I knew had seen my childish frustration acted out as I paddled into anything that came my way.

It’s okay, Bec. Don’t get frustrated. Just be happy you’re out here. Some days are like that, you know.

Her kind and patient words filled my eyes with tears, which I made my best efforts to blink back.

Oh Bec. No, you’re not okay.

Her hand reached out across the water and grabbed my arm, consoling me.I crumbled at her care,

I thought I could come out here and it would be easy. It should have been easy, there’s no reason it’s not. I thought I could come out here and get away from all the other things, but I can’t - it makes you too vulnerable. Surfing’s where it all comes together, isn’t it?

Jules patted my arm.

Yeah, babe. And you’ve just gotta go with it. You’ve just gotta let it happen.

Historically, ‘letting things happen’ is not the easiest of goals for me to reach for, but it is good advice and I am trying. We lay on our boards and Jules held my arm as we talked about pain and friends and loss and surfing and love, and my tears fell into the ocean. I was in the lineup, in a bikini and t-shirt, crying. I was exposed. It was the worst.

But then I caught my breath. And with Jules’ help, I caught waves. Lots of waves, as it turned out.

Come on Bec, go for this one. Look at it forming up, it’s gonna be nice.

And it was. I let all of those things – all of my frustrations – swirl within me and I went with it, I let it happen.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011


When I was in high-school, there were two jobs in particular that I was attracted to; forensic scientist and marine biologist. I loved biology and did well in my classes, topping my year more than once. Nerd!

For reasons that don't bear explaining, forensic science piqued my interest when I was about 14, which might go some way to explaining my deep and abiding love for CSI across its many cities, with my order of preference being 1. Las Vegas, 2. New York and then 3. Miami (the least loved of the CSI family). Marine biology is a less interesting teenage dream as, let's admit it, all coastal children aim to live and work in the ocean, contributing to its health. Nonetheless, despite the cliche, it was my direction of choice. After finishing school and being accepted into the course, I deferred study to go travelling, where I met a young man who laughed at my dreams of saving the ocean, one turtle at a time,

Don't be ridiculous
, he mocked. You can't do that! You love people and words, not fish. You need to find something else to study.

Thinking over his excellent points, I realised he was right. My romantic dreams were rightly shattered, and I ended up studying Arts instead. And the rest remains to be seen... Despite my fading knowledge, my interest and connections to biological sciences have remained. So imagine my delight at the discovery of this sign at the entrance to the building I have recently relocated to;

Isn't it wonderful! 'Science' in tube-lighting (Although, I think it really says 'Science!', with an exclamation mark). It brings me a thrill, that after so long I find myself, in a small way, back in the realm of my teenage dreams. I feel like an intruder, walking through corridors that have directions to 'Molecular Biology' and others to, well I forget exactly, but something to do with Algae! It gives me an odd thrill to think that I might be mistaken as the kind of person who looks like they might belong down one of those corridors. The buzz does get killed on the odd occasion when I bump into a colleague from my School who, with a look of confusion and concern on their face, demands,

What are YOU doing over here?

If only they knew how different things almost were...


Saturday, March 26, 2011

Function vs fashion

A snippet of conversation at the pub last night;

Me: So have many of the pro crew been surfing down here since the Noosa festival finished?

Joe: Of course! Loads of them. They're all over The Pass. I was talking to Sam about it the other day, and he reckons he's never seen so many people surfing in denim shorts!

Me: Haha!! How do you even surf in denim?

Suzy: Yeah. The other day, one guy was out in denim shorts and a full button-up shirt, done up to the neck. It certainly didn't look very comfortable.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The white, middle-class burden

I came across this film by Dominic Coleman, over at The Surfer's Path,

More Surfing Videos
A comedian and actor by trade, Coleman explains that creating this cringe-making character, wasn’t actually that difficult for him:
“I started surfing about five years ago and as a landlocked, middle-aged weekend warrior I didn’t have to look too far for inspiration for the character of ‘Michael’. My family all appear playing themselves, again they didn’t have to do too much acting! I also pulled in a few favours from friends like Adrian at Fluid Juice and a few Bantham (Sth Devon) locals who all gave up a bit of time to help out.

“The inspiration for the character did actually come from a guy I met at Bantham. His wife and young daughter were lugging his SUP across the car park as he was chatting boards with another sweeper. He had a brand new T5 that he’d converted. I just thought he was a very funny guy and one of the ‘new’ breed of mid-life escapists who’d been drawn to the sea. (Again much like myself I have to add.) Since I had the opportunity, and some money from the film council, I thought I’d like to make a film about something I love. My background, work-wise, is predominantly tv comedy so I just set out trying to find a way to marry the two together.”
But watching this film made me feel a bit sad, actually. I know I'm supposed to ridicule this character, but I find myself feeling really sorry for him and the dissatisfaction he has with his life.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Another postcard (which I received)

It being Friday and all, I thought I'd share a card my friend sent me for christmas. I probably shouldn't love it as much as I do.

Looking at it, it totally reminds me of that perplexing 60s surf film, How To Stuff A Wild Bikini...

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

The Ninth Wave - no girls allowed?

I sat down at a cafe the other day to find a copy of recently released, The Ninth Wave (compiled by Sean Doherty and presented by Surfing World), sitting on the table. The book is a journey through 100 surfing images, using words from the photographer or the subject to tell the tale behind each photograph. It is very pretty, and a lovely idea.

How much do you bet that I don't find a single woman in this book? I asked my friend as I picked it up. She shrugged.

I flicked through every page of this book and unless I missed something (and I may have), there is not a single image of, nor a single photograph or story by a woman. In 100 hundred images. In 2011. In a publication presented by the Australian surfing magazine that is most supportive of women. In Australia, home to the current and four-time women's world shortboarding champ, Steph Gilmore, as well as one of the most significant female competitive surfers ever, Layne Beachley. In a country with an ever-growing female surfing population.

That is not to say that The Ninth Wave isn't lovely or wonderful, and it's certainly not to say that this book is unique in the ways that it ignores women's surfing, but it is to say that it is just not good enough. Sorry, but in 100 images, I really do feel that there was room for a few women (yes, more than one!) as surfers, photographers and writers, because unless publications like this get on-board and start to recognise the historical and cultural gaps they leave by excluding women, 'women's surfing' will remain 'women's surfing': as something separate rather than being included and known simply as 'surfing'.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Breathing Blue

I went home a week or so ago. It had been over 6 weeks since I had been anywhere near the ocean, so I had been waiting, aching, dreaming of the moment when I would be in the water again. And a trip home was long overdue.

I packed the car and headed south but as I drove out of the city, I realised I had forgotten my board. Forgotten! My board! Instead of tied to my roof, it sat on its side in my garage in Paddington – dry and in the way. I could have kicked myself. My other mal has a ding and I’m embarrassed to admit that I’m too unfit to ride the 7’4” in the strong currents that have been running at the points. But there was no going back. I was on the highway and on my way and it would have meant getting stuck in peak-hour traffic, which is always a nightmare. So I sucked it up. I could always borrow a board if I wanted to.

But when I got home, none of that mattered because I didn’t surf. I don’t know why, but I just didn’t feel like it. I felt guilty for not wanting to be straight out there in the waves, but I am so tired and world-weary right now, that surfing seemed too hard. The points were cracking, but surfing there means dealing with rips, crowds and crew - that’s usually fine, but only if you’re feeling up to it - and when I checked the beach behind my house it was wild and breaking way out, with rips and channels etching themselves in the sand. I stood in my swimmers at the bottom of the track, surveying the carnage and pleased I had left the board at home. But the sun was warm and the water looked cool.

A swim will do it, I thought.

I kicked off my sandals into the sea grass, threw my towel and my top into the sand and walked – stripped and pale and vulnerable – into the water.

Calf deep, the current already tugged at my legs trying to suck me out to sea. I laughed at the attempt. This is where I grew up, so I know this game well and have no intention of letting myself get dragged out to sea, floating in the ocean, semi-clad, awaiting rescue by the local surf club. I don’t think so. I stayed in close to shore, waist-deep and sinking myself under the swirling wash. The water was cool and refreshing. Once immersed, I waited for relief from my tiredness and heavy-heart, waited for the salt water to wash it all away...

It didn’t happen.

I came up for air, confused and irritated, sitting with only my eyes and nose above water. The water around me was foamy and green. It was clear, but the surface eddied with bubbles of salt, churned by the waves. With the water swirling and the current dragging my knees along the sand, I felt a wave suck up behind me trying to break on my head. I sank beneath it in time to avoid the impact, but let myself be pulled along in the circling energy below. My hair, my limbs, my skin all tumbled and spun in the waist-deep water – scraped and sandy and limp and broken. I came up with hair in my face, sand on my skin, pulling up my fallen swimmers. Ugh. Not even being dumped in the shore-break could shake me out of this weighty sadness!

I threw myself under a few more waves, then stomped up the beach to my top and my towel, frustrated with this first swim in so long. Why didn’t it make me feel better? Why didn’t I feel cleansed, renewed. Why did I still feel so frantic? I tried to rationalise with myself that it is a little unreasonable to expect to ocean to save me every time.

Come on, Rebecca. Grow up! It’s just one shitty swim. Come again later.

I would come back later, and it would be different, but the ocean has never let me down this way before. It has never left me feeling so bereft, so disappointed, so helpless, so alone. Where else is there to turn if even the salt water can’t comfort me? Where could I turn?

The following days felt better. Time on beach with family and friends made a difference, and made it about more than just me, my headspace and my heart. We shared the beach, the water. Being at the beach with people I love worked wonders, and time in the sun certainly sweetened the previously bitter pill.


Yesterday I sat on a different beach, in a different place and time. I had only been there once previously – for a (now redundant) wedding – so it is not a place that really means anything to me. The sand is yellow and the water is more black than blue, the cliffs and headlands are unfamiliar, and even the waters go under a different name to the warm, white, blue, green, tropical stretches I am so used to. But as I walked the road down the hill and sat on a log in the sand above the water, I felt myself begin to breathe. Slowly, consciously, in and out, in and out. Everything felt right, felt watery, felt oceanic. The friend I sat with broke our silence as we watched an older woman walk to the water on her own and paddle her bodyboard out into the shorebreak,

I wonder if I’ll still be coming to the beach when I’m 70? I hope so.

Everything has its ebb and flow, and I always struggle to accept that, but I know, and I will always know, that I will find a home in sand and salt water.