Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Legacy of Stoke

This week a lovely surprise landed in my mailbox — a copy of Legacy of Stoke, a collection of surf tales from around the globe compiled by Joseph Tomarchio that I was invited to be part of. The book is available through Amazon, but in the meantime I thought I'd post my story in full here.

Married to the mob

“I do.”

Those two words, said in front of 300 friends and relatives at the end of an old cricket pitch in country NSW, marked the start of my surfing journey.

Everyone warned me about marrying a surfer. “You'll be a surf widow,” they said. “Get used to sharing him with his boards,” they said. I can't say I really paid much attention; after all, I had plenty of hobbies of my own, like making art, playing music, generally enjoying city life. How different could surfing be? Growing up in an inland city, I always loved the beach — it signalled holidays and a change of pace — but apart from the odd splash in a friendly shore break, my knowledge of the ocean was practically non-existent. To me the beach was more an occasional place of quiet reflection from a respectable distance than somewhere I could go to be fully involved. And as much as I loved the idea, it certainly wasn't somewhere I'd ever consider changing my whole lifestyle to be closer to.

But on that day, almost ten years ago, my perspective was about to be radically changed.

*   *   *

I’m not sure why I chose Lennox Head as our honeymoon destination. Naturally my new husband Joe was stoked, especially as there was a particularly good swell running. I can’t say it did our fledgling marriage any favours though. Until that point I hadn't realised what a big part of his life surfing was, and after a few days of sulking around the house fearing that what people had warned me about was true, I knew it was time for me to at least have a go at this surfing thing and find out why it had such a hold over Joe and others like him. I figured I would either end up embracing it, or (more likely) confirm for sure that it wasn’t for me.

I still remember my very first go-out. We hired a soft board at a local surf shop and decided to take it out at The Pass. The board had a name, “Flanders”, applied to the deck in permanent marker. It was a deceptively friendly monicker because rather take to the waves with aplomb, I struggled to even lie down on the thing, let alone paddle it out. Up until then I’d never even been out in the ocean over my head, so to see white water coming at me (even if it was only a foot high) while trying to navigate this cumbersome chunk of foam was absolutely terrifying. I spent the entire session in tears — cursing Flanders, cursing the break, cursing myself and most of all cursing Joe for ever thinking this was a good idea.

After that session, we decided that maybe Flanders and I should go our separate ways.

Being a naturally competitive (and stubborn) person, I was determined not to give up until I'd satisfactorily proven my hypothesis. Secretly, I also couldn't stand the fact that my husband — and indeed every other board rider in the water — was better at surfing than me.

In his infinite wisdom, Joe suggested we hire a boogie board instead, so I could just get a feel for being in the surf without fearing for my life every time a wave came through. Although reluctant at first (I had standards even back then!) I decided to give it a go. About halfway through my first session on the Boog, I saw a neat little runner approaching. Amazingly there was nobody on it, so I swung around and paddled hell for leather. Even more amazingly, I caught the wave and rode down the green face. I rushed along the peeling wall, beside myself with delight. Another surfer hooted me. I was grinning from ear to ear. Even now, after countless waves at countless breaks, I still remember the thrill of riding that little peeler at The Pass on a rented boogie board. Whenever I reminisce about that moment, I can actually feel the sensation of taking the drop and locking into the curl. The feeling was electric. I was hooked.

From there I figured I'd outgrown the boogie board and it was time to try stand-up surfing again. Rather than become reacquainted with Flanders, Joe took me out on his 9’1 Ray Gleave model McTavish longboard — a faithful old friend we still have today, although it’s in retirement now. On the last day of our honeymoon, right on dark, I caught a tiny ripple at The Pass and stood up for the first time. I was stoked. Even after all the major milestones I’d celebrated over those last few weeks, I honestly felt like standing up in 3 inches of whitewater was the biggest thing I’d achieved in my life so far.

*   *   *

Since that day, my surfing journey has been a slow but enjoyable road. Each session learning a bit more, respecting the ocean more, improving my technique. Becoming better at judging the wind and tides, taking the guesswork out of finding a good break but also being able to find fun in average conditions.

Over the years I’ve developed a pretty well-rounded appreciation of the surfing life. As well as becoming more proficient in the art of wave riding, I’ve devoured everything I can on surf history and culture, which continues to enrich my surfing experience. I've travelled to some of the places I've seen immortalised in surf films and found out what it's really like to go surfing in ‘international waters’. I've had boards shaped by some amazing craftsmen, which have been lugged through airports, lost, run over, dinged, and strapped to cars, vans and tuk tuks. My personal quiver now includes multiple wave-riding craft ranging in size from a 6 inch hand plane to an 11 foot SUP, and we even own a beat-up boogie board. I've been involved in the global surfing community through my art, and have met some of my surfing heroes. We moved from the city we’d established ourselves in to a coastal town, so we could live closer to the beach. We're now raising our family in the sort of place I could only dream of living in as a child.

Ironically, even though my journey began a decade ago it wasn’t really until I became pregnant with my first child that I became what I'd call a “dedicated surfer” — going out almost every day whatever the conditions, pushing myself to progress farther up the learning curve, striving to become a more well-rounded wave rider (although physically, that was a piece of cake). Surfing while pregnant is an interesting thing — apart from steadily getting heavier and more rotund, your hips and legs move into different positions, making it doubly hard to balance. There's a constant fear that you'll fall or be hit by a big wave (or a board) and somehow damage the little person growing inside you. But that fear is, for the most part, outweighed by the overwhelming desire to just keep surfing. Some people might call it irresponsible, but after having both my boys ride tandem with me for almost nine months before I met them, I'm proud I've been able to give them a taste of that inexplicable rush before they were even born. I'm also thankful that I was able to experience the magic of both of them kicking me for the first time while paddling my board back out after a wave — it was almost like they were saying, “wow, that was fun! Let's go again Mum!”

After giving birth, your body feels so unfamiliar that it’s almost like learning all over again. I remember my first surf after my eldest son was born. It was my 30th birthday, and all I wanted was to catch a wave. I went out in fairly ordinary conditions, although still friendly and fun. I was so unused to my new physicality that I only caught one wave in an hour. I was equal parts elated and devastated, but determined to climb back up the curve. The next time I fell pregnant I made it my mission to maintain my surfing fitness and competence, and found I was actually a better surfer after having my second baby than I ever was beforehand.

Most recently, I’ve been able to share in the challenges of combining working, raising children and surfing with other mothers through Surfing Mums, an Aussie association that encourages mums (and dads) to get back in the water after having kids. It's basically the best mother's group ever — we hang out at the beach, taking turns looking after each other's children and going surfing. Our local group meets once a week, and although I surf almost every day anyway, there is something so deliciously indulgent about being in the ocean with friends while still officially on “kid duty”. The best part is the community of parents and children that has formed around a shared love of the ocean, and an ever-expanding crew of grommets to cheer us on.

When I look back over the last ten years, I find it difficult to imagine surfing ever not being a part of my life, and even harder to believe I didn’t cotton on sooner. Surfing and the attitude it naturally imbues has been a big influence on our family relationships, our priorities, our health, wellbeing and happiness. Our kids think it's normal to have two parents who are surf-obsessed, and I'm fine with that. I don't ever want to be the mum sitting on the beach while the rest of my family go surf together. I want to be out there pushing my kids onto waves on whatever craft they choose to ride, sharing in their stoke and passing the legacy on.

Taking a stroll at Scotts Head

The family quiver, December 2014

No comments:

Post a Comment