Ordinary Joys

5 March 2021

Ever since my brother, my sister and I were small, my dad had a vision for us to become surfers. He had a shimmering dream of his three kids gliding down the face of waves out at sea, perfectly executing 360 degree turns with the grace and power of Kelly Slater. He has tried hard to make this vision a reality, taking us on countless holidays to the coast. 

On one trip, which he coined the ‘Surf Safari’, he rattled the walls of our tent at 6 am each day to wake us up in time for the morning swell. He would sit patiently on the beach watching us attempt each wave; or more accurately, each tumble and nosedive.

You would expect this kind of commitment from a parent with kids headed for the Olympics. Yet despite all of his attempts, we remain stubbornly below average at this beautiful, infuriating sport. My siblings say I am the worst of the three of us, and they are right. I cannot count the number of times I have returned to shore, raging at being tossed around like a ragdoll in the ferocious swell of water. 

There was the time I smashed my head on a rock and fumbled my way back to the sand, vision blurred. Another time, I spun around in the water to see a man hurling curse words at the sky, a huge chunk taken out of his board. I quickly realised—as he began to sling his insults towards me—that I was at fault. In the carpark, he approached us in a fury.

 “She shouldn’t be out there if she can’t control her board,” he said. “I’ve been watching her, she’s a complete beginner. 

When Dad informed him that I had been surfing for six years, the man was incredulous. That day, like many others, ended with me in the back seat of the car, hair matted with sand, returning my dad’s smile in the rear-view mirror with a childish scowl.

I could have given up surfing years ago, evaded the spooling strings of disappointing days. Yet, something must have kept me going for all this time. Something beyond my dad’s persistent hope. 

Out at sea, the movement of the water, swelling and swirling around my floating body, sends tiny shivers up my spine. The ocean spray catches the light, creating a mist that glows above each breaking wave.

Out there, the sea and the sky merge together. Sunset spreads her warm colours into the water: peach, red, crimson. Silver schools of fish dart around, and from time to time, a dolphin’s fin appears, dipping above the surface for only a flickering moment.

My worries hover somewhere unreachable, made irrelevant by my meditative focus on the waves—only the waves. 

Most of all, I can gulp down long stretches of unbroken time with my little brother and sister. On the quiet days, we chat out the back of the swell, rocking gently over each wave in perfect synchronisation. On the rough days, we weave our way to each other through the hissing white water, cackling gleefully at the other’s wipe-outs. In a trick of the light, I see us in our first surf classes, pink zinc smeared across our freckled noses; wriggling into our tiny wetsuits on the sand, Joe always the first to zip up and bolt for the water. I see my dad on the shore, pumping his fist into the air each time we wobble up to a standing position.

Maybe one day I will get the hang of surfing. My floundering limbs will metamorphose into strong and streamlined vessels that propel me onto each wave. Perhaps one day Dad will look up to see me flying through a barrel, making his years of cheerleading worth it. But probably not. 

Still, you’ll find me out there, board pointed to where the sky meets the sea, improbably content.

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