For my last week in the Land Down Under, I am taking it easy: staying on the East Coast to learn how to surf. A bit of a mission, as any sport, one must not only develop the correct technique, but also the right muscles to be strong enough to stay in the water for hours on end.
I settled on Port Macquarie after my first lessons in Byron Bay. Even though it is the legendary surf city, I did not like the atmosphere there. And I got started in a quiet family town instead. The instructors are very competent and patient, and have managed to get the basic concepts of surfing across to me. Now it is down to me to practise to get better.
So today I rented one of their boards, and paddled out beyong the break. I still struggle to choose the right wave, and then get enough speed whilst paddling to ride it. Once on the right wave, at the right speed, comes the right timing to “pop-up” on this small piece of foam. In one, swift movement, one moves from lying on their front to standing up and looking cool.
The best part is that it is really fun, and you rarely get hurt. Well actually, after my first surf lesson, one of the girls complained of shoulder pain and had stopped to rest after a few waves only. When I say her face, I offered to take a look at it, so I carefully removed the upper part of her wetsuit, to discover a shoulder that brought back many bad memories.
I quickly checked for dislocation, did not seem like it. Nothing wrong with the actually shoulder joint… The clavicle, however, looked terrible. It all came flooding back to me: the fall I had at football, my world turning upside down on seeing the Xray (and the three fracture line), having my Mum help me dress myself, not being to work and of course the incredible pain I endured for weeks. There it was, right in front of me. On her first wave, she fell badly on the tip of her shoulder onto the hard sand and broke it.
Anyway, I still got onto my board the following day, not afraid of injury for myself, and actually loving this fun “rehabilitation” of my left arm. It is still not as strong as the other one after it was fractured and badly healed two years ago.
I was feeling on top of the world as I was paddling out with both my arms in an elegant and cool manner. Got through the high surf, and sat on my board as surfers do. For company, a tiny blond Dutch girl and the Pacific Ocean.
When watching the waves, something caught my eye. A movement, just a few meters away from me. The water is very murky because of the floodings and excessive precipitation in the area. Perfect Shark Conditions. Many bullsharks (nasty ones) are spotted everyday arounf the beaches that I surf on.
So when I saw a massive fin get out of the water, I got very scared. I kept staring in that direction, to try and see what it was. I told the Dutch girl, and she started scrutinizing the water also.
There it was again: a massive fin, on a giant dark grey body. First rule when you’re on the water: don’t panic. Second Rule: get back to shore safely and securely. Don’t look like you are an injured seal, or a weak baby dolphin.
But I could not stop staring. Somehow my gut told me to keep looking. And there it was. Two other fins. And another. Dolphins. They must be dolphins. Sharks are loner, they never hang out together, and W-O-W they don’t jump out of the water to play in the ways.
Staring out, on my red board, blue sky and sun shining onto my black wetsuit, feeling on top of the world and laughing with the dolphins. I looked until they disappeared again. I paddled to catch the next good wave and went all the way to the beach, with a huge grin on my face. A quick sip of water and a chat with the lifeguard later, I had the confirmation that they were dolphins.
So I went back out, paddling hard to try and see them again. But there was nothing. Slightly disappointed, I focused on the waves, and paddled to get the next big one. As I looked over my shoulder, a huge grey beast with a large dorsal fin was on my wave! This beast was surfing my wave! The surprise actually knocked me off my board and I drank a few cups of sea water as the wave crushed me onto the bottom of the Ocean.
But it was worth it. It was just an arm length away, and it was beutiful. I rode back to the beach on the next wave. I could not stop laughing at the image of the dolphin enjoying the waves.
I laughed with the instructors and the lifeguards, who were disappointed it had not been them on the board. It was incredibly special, and I feel very lucky to have experienced this! As the Australians say it: Surfing is Awesome!