Short Story: Frothing
Short Story: Frothing
It’s the start of summer in Sydney. The smell of Aerogard wafts up my nostrils followed by a hint of coconut that drifts in on the warm northerly. I’m at Manly beach, North Steyne toilets, where grimy blue paint is peeling off like the skin of an English backpacker to reveal an even grimier shade of pink. A dingy yellow light bulb glows faintly, exposing three showers, each with their own mini-sandpit, amassed from a battalion of near-naked beach warriors. A forgotten bikini bottom lies on the grotty tiles, curled up like a dead sea snake, a welcome mat to the single toilet cubicle.
Pirouetting around the tiles hidden by wet sand, I’m on tiptoes as I pull down my denims. The surf roars, awaiting its prey. I timidly roll up my T-shirt, breathing out long and hard. Then I stick my feet into my black Neoprene battle gear and inch it over my body. The crotch hangs down around my knees. It’s tough work pulling it up millimetre by millimetre. Finally, crotch in place, I’m ready for attack. I step outside to meet Garth, the surf coach. Of course he has sun-bleached hair, tanned skin and a cheeky grin. He points to the waves, mini-explosions of white froth.
“You see that,” he says, turning back to me, “that’s the drug,” and then he sticks his finger to his chest, “and I, I’m the dealer.”
And so my addiction to surfing is born.
It starts off at just one surf a week on the eight-foot blue foamies but it progresses quickly and within six months I’m surfing every day. Up at 5.30am and down to the beach at 7am for my two-hour lesson. My weight drops. I get in to work late. I hang out with new friends, and I swap my stilettos for Havaianas. Everything is “sick”: sick board, sick waves, sick wettie. I paddle out with kooks, brazos and seppos. I know the rules. I know the hierarchy. Shortboarders rule. Bodyboarders are at the bottom. I know who I can and can’t drop in on.
I’m from the glam world of travel PR so I must look the part. I learn wetsuits are done up at the back, leg ropes are never dragged, Sex Wax and Mrs Palmers are the best and are to be applied in circles and crosses on a virgin board.
“You’ll never ride a short board,” says Garth, an ex-pro. Within a month I have my first Sam Egan, six-foot-six triple-fin short board and my goal is to get shorter. I feel I’ve made it when I receive a gift of an epoxy six-foot fish from George, the Sam Egan distributor, for setting up a story for him in the local newspaper. Totally sick, bro.
Every morning I check Coastal Watch and know where the swell’s coming from, the number of seconds between sets and from which compass point the wind’s blowing.
My husband, David, can’t believe the change in me. We met on the tennis court. He was an A-grader, I’d just started.
I moved quickly through the grades and within a year I’m in A grade with him. We fight and fight on the tennis court so we switch to golf. Our relationship sours between holes. Both competitive natured, we can’t revel in the other’s success. It’s either the divorce courts or a change of scene. I book my surf lesson and never look back.
Out here in the ocean it’s another world – a world of nature, of fish, of fins and spouts. There’s a slogan by one of the surf companies: ‘Only a surfer knows the feeling’. It’s spot on. You see your wave coming, a perfect A-frame, and you paddle, you paddle hard, and then you’re up and riding. Down the face you zoom and along this body of water radiating a mystical energy which pulls you along. The wave peters out and you want to do it again and again.
When you begin, it’s enough just to stand up and go straight, but then you want to turn left and right, cut back, do a floater and an air, pull in, rip spray, switch feet and more.
The conditions are always changing: offshore, onshore, low tide, high tide, mid tide, close outs, barrels, point break, reef break, beach break, shoreys. It’s endless.
Garth moves down the coast. “Nick’ll look after ya,”
“Where ya from?” says Nick, a blonder, more handsome version of Garth.
“Pymble,” I reply.
Not for long. I move
my office from what the geographically-challenged- insular-peninsula dwellers would term a ‘Western suburbs Hyde Park’ view to hardcore Manly, a two-minute jog to ‘Playgrounds’ at the south end of ‘Mantown’.
I travel and surf, surf and travel. First up is Ireland. Easkey, a rocky shoreline where surfers swap daywear for battle wear in a carpark next to the remains of the 15th-century Roslee Castle. It’s pumping. At least six foot from the back. Legendary surfer Margo paddles out with air-king Asher Pacey. The other surfers in our group give each other wide-eyed looks. I’m too entranced by the castle to notice. I’ve practised for this.
The rock off, perfected at Freshy on a small day. Now it’s initiation time. I do it. My first rock off on international shores. I paddle out in the channel. I’m almost out the back. I turn around to see no-one from our group is following.
Then I realise. This is big. Professionals and fools only. Margo waves his arm and beckons me over. “C’mon, Gumby. I’ll push you on.” Real surfers get nicknames. There’s Froth, Hawaiian, Seagull and Sponge. I’m christened Gumby by my surf instructor and it sticks. Gumby, the green clay figure or a person incapable of displaying competence. Today I’m both.
Bosko, the surf photographer, is ready to capture what could be the wipe out of the century. I straddle my board, looking seaward at the huge Atlantic carvers. Perhaps I’ve misjudged them. Could they be eight feet, maybe more?
I’ve been surfing six months. It’s my last trip with my mini-mal board named Bill. I’d rather go from hero to zero, and am grateful for the calm channel that allows me a passage back to shore. It’s a rocky landing but a cut to the foot’s nada compared to the force of those rollers. I wash my fear off in the seaweed baths that afternoon. That evening, the Guinness talks. Sure. I’ve surfed Easkey. I’ve rocked off. The number of waves I caught is not mentioned. At least I’ve paddled out.
My confidence grows. The next year I take on Africa with cricket legend Jonty Rhodes. The sun rises. I grab my board and jog through the urban sprawl to the city beach. It’s my perfect size, two feet, yet I’m wary of what lurks under that sheen. I’ve surfed with sharks in Manly – only small ones, my surf instructor Nick assured me – but I’m not so sure about the South African variety. Size does matter here and I have none of the boxing prowess of Mick Fanning. I cross myself and hope for the best. The water’s balmy. The surf is fun. Three hours later I’m laughing off my fear at a café.
I make the pilgrimage. Banzai Pipeline. It’s taken lives. It pumps at 15 feet. I go, determined to take it on. In summer. It’s not even breaking. Turtle Bay for me, four feet and onshore. Hawaiians don’t like blow-ins. I stick to tourist central – Waikiki. It’s fat. It’s fun and it’s easy.
My Hawaiian sojourn finishes in Hanalei Bay, one of the most magical places on this earth. There’s emerald mountains, palm trees, ukuleles, long boards and me. In winter the surf pumps at
up to 10 feet. It’s where Bethany Hamilton lost her arm to a tiger shark. Yet I’m not out on those gnarly reefs. It’s beach breaks all the way for me.
There’s Tahiti, India and the Solomon Islands. I’m so enthusiastic about my new sport, I spread the word with the tenacity of an Indian call centre. Board meetings are
de rigueur and on Friday afternoons my staff has free lessons at Manly Surf School.
When there’s no surf, there are surf movies: Blue Crush, Big Wednesday and the ultimate, Point Break with Patrick Swayze and Keanu Reeves. Point Break teaches me that to be a real surfer I have to jump out of a plane. So I book the jump for my 39th birthday. I force David to come and tell my tandem instructor Ray that my husband can jump first. I’m hoping, if my parachute doesn’t open, I’ll have someone to grab on to on the way down. Ray gives me some sick advice.
“Trust me, it’ll be epic. Just scream and yell as much as you can in the freefall.”
He shouts this at me over the propeller din. I’m attached to him and he’s pulling the cord. Trust was never a strong point with me but I’m channelling Swayze now.
I’ve booked a photographer, too. No-one would ever believe that I, the world’s biggest chicken, would jump out of a plane. My old friends are finding it hard to believe I actually surf. So I need evidence. I tell the photographer about my Point Break fantasy.
With his blond hair and sunburnt nose, he could easily have been in the movie.
David’s up. He throws himself into the arms of fate.
And then, it’s my time.
It feels like suicide as I leap out of the plane. I flip over into a double somersault. I close my eyes but open them quickly. I’m going to enjoy this. The surfing is preparation. If you panic in the surf when you’re getting smashed, you have one second of breath. If you chill out you have far more time. I take a
few quick breaths but then rememberRay’s advice. I scream and scream and scream. The photographer flies over and puts his arm around me. He’s seen the film.
Forty-two seconds later I’m thinking it’s time for the parachute to open. A huge jolt and I’m floating down to the dried-out paddocks of Camden like a junkie coming down from a high. My feet hit the ground. I made it.
Tick. I envisage the next Point Break initiation, robbing a bank in a Ronald Reagan mask, until I see David stomping towards me.
He’s minus one shoe. He tells me he banged his foot as he jumped out. His shoe is probably embedded into some poor dead cow’s skull. Nothing can bring me down from that high. I wait for the proof: the DVD and the photo. I have a pitch that day. Pumped with adrenaline, it’s impossible not to win the new client.
That evening, at my birthday drinks, everyone wants to see the evidence. David won’t show his at first but after the ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’ and ‘you’re-so-braves’, David brings his DVD out. We see his face contort like Jim Carrey in The Mask.
“I thought I was going to die. I couldn’t breathe,” he says.
“Should have learned to surf,” I say.
About our Short Story author:
Nicole Lenoir-Jourdan became an addict to surfing at age 39, ridding herself of morning sleep-ins to ride the waves with the dawn patrol, dolphins, rays and the occasional whale. She moved her PR business from Elizabeth St in Sydney’s CBD to Manly to be closer to her new-found obsession, and organised media trips to surf in South Africa, Ireland, Wales, India and Tahiti. She was even inspired to jump out of a plane by the 1991 film Point Break. Out of the water, Nicole will complete her Master of Arts in creative writing at the University of Technology Sydney this year.