grommiesImage from Aquabumps.

As a grommet my first board was a ‘coolite’. These were foam surfboards. My board had the head of Colonel Sanders, from the fast-food chain Kentucky Fried Chicken, on it. It came cheap with a family meal. In a pair of footy shorts I used to take my board to the beach and slide toward shore. The rough texture of the foam ripped the skin off my belly. The foam was the same stuff used to make coolers [eskys]. The coolite was a good board to learn on because it had no sharp edges.

The first time I stood up wasn’t for long. I don’t remember many details. The wave I do remember as being my first ‘real’ wave was when I stood in the white-water. As the swell and foam traveled through a deep-water gutter the turbulence receded, and the wave formed up again. As it lurched onto the beach the board slid down the face. I dug my toes into the deck and surfed across the unbroken wave, too scared to move in case I stuffed up the ride. It felt like an eternity even though it couldn’t have been more than a few seconds. I smiled for about a week. The clean blue wall stuck in my mind and body.

I surfed whenever I could, but only in the shallows. Experienced surfers would run into the water, launch over the back of a breaking wave and glide. In no time they would be ‘out the back’, beyond the impact zone with its foamy chaos. I would try and get out the back. But lines of white water would pound me into submission and send me back to the shallows. I didn’t know where or how to paddle out yet.

One day I was paddling around near the shore. The white water was peeling evenly. I had begun to see which lines of white water would push me a long way, and was sliding toward the sand, past swimmers, and sometimes over them. After one particular ride I ended up in some fast flowing murky water. I tried to paddle toward shore but continued quickly out to sea. Waves crashed over me, but I held onto the Colonel. Knuckles white.

Then it dawned on me, if I went with the water I’d end up out the back. I began paddling with my scrawny arms. It didn’t take long before I was dumped beyond the breaking waves. I was exhausted. Laying on the board with the sun burning into my back I gathered my breath. It was relaxing floating out there, much calmer than the shallows where every few seconds I was being hammered by more foam. With arms folded underneath my chin I stared at the glistening water. I became lost in its ripples and reflections.

A hand slapped me on the back. ‘You alright?’ said a gruff voice. I looked around and found that I was now floating amongst the other surfers. Stoked! I sat up on my board and mumbled, ‘yeah’. Lumps of swell rolled underneath and my balance didn’t hold. I lay down. ‘Better catch one, hey?’ said the surfer. ‘Hold on’. And with a quick shove I was on a wave hurtling toward shore.

The Colonel and I whizzed over sand, seashells and fish. This new knowledge of how to use the rip to get out the back was priceless. A piece of surfing knowledge that would add to a long road of serendipitous lessons.

Serendipitous lessons, they never end. And that is reassuring.