Bondi Beach, Australia
As the white foam approaches, I know there’s only one thing I can do if I want to avoid the searing pain of salt water in my sinuses. The break is coming too fast for me to flip my cumbersome, yellow longboard so I simply duck, dropping my knees until I feel the rush of the wave curl over my head. It must be over, I think, and in the same second I feel the force of the ocean pulling my body in two different directions. The soft velcro of my leash pulls gently on my right ankle as my precious new Rip Curl surfboard is sent tumbling on a ride of its own. The bum of my board shorts scoops the clean, sandy bottom of the Tasman Sea and I slam my foot against it to get to the surface. A tiny ray of the last remaining sunshine reflects through the water as I break the surface with a gasp for air. Once I’ve confirmed I’m in the clear, I hop back on the waxy surface of my board and begin the grueling paddle back out to the beginning. As the waves pull back, it feels as though I’m hovering on the surface of the water and I see my friend Lise waving to me frantically as she simultaneously checks the sets coming in. Finally I make it out to the group as I watch a blonde-haired, t-shirt clad man glide effortlessly in front of me.
I bet he’s from around here, I think. I bet I’ll be totally crashing his wave if I don’t get out of here. I bet I look like a seal attempting to survive a shark attack flailing this way.
He passes. I float aimlessly just outside the swell. There are just so many people, my mind says, surely I’m the only one stupid enough to head out into this without knowing exactly what to do when that wave gets to me. My board wobbles under my weight as I make myself a sitting duck.
Just don’t fall off. Then they’ll know you don’t belong here.
Wobble, wobble. I lay down and start paddling just as I feel that my abs may not be able to keep me upright.
They didn’t catch me.
A monster comes rolling in, and I breath a sigh of relief that I’m on the outside and all I get is a little bump. Lise disappears behind the wave, and the last I see of her is as she pops up and crouches to drop in alongside the pros.
I can do that.
I paddle to the middle, trying to go behind the others so I don’t end up under some 7 foot piece of fiberglass. Another waves passes underneath me.
I lay on my stomach, facing the beach. I peek behind and see a swell on the horizon.
I bet that will be a good one. And I watch it.
I begin to paddle furiously, stuck in that weird limbo like a seagull flying into the wind. The back of my board thrusts me forward and I paddle as fast as I can, watching hopelessly as the wave passes me by.
Next one, I tell myself.
I turn to paddle out when I see a giant breaking behind me. Shit… this isn’t going to be fun! The voice in my head screams. I flip, managing to keep one arm wrapped around the board. I’m pulled further to shore. I jump back on the board and slowing try to paddle again. As I lift my hands above the surface I can see that my fingers are all shriveled. All this and not even one real try. I look to shore. I could just go in, I think, then I look out to sea, but there are still good sets rolling in, I think. I get halfway before another wave crashes in front of me. My bum scrapes the sand again. I come up and see a swimmer hollering to his surfer mates.
They see me for the fraud I am, my mind accuses. I start my paddle to shore as the sun starts disappearing behind Ben Buckler.
I’ll get one next time, I think.
The truth is that I know that I’ll worry about getting in the way of the locals, I’ll worry about how I look when the second that I lift my body off the board, I go crashing into the surf. My friend will make a jab at me about beginner luck, if I even manage an ounce of a good ride.
The truth is, I’m not afraid of being rocked by the mighty ocean. I’m afraid of being exposed for the surfing fraud I am.