Soul Surfing

The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever’ – Jacques Yves Cousteau

I remember Faith. She was a chunky old lady, a little yellow around the outside and she had a lot of holes that had been temporarily filled with wax and covered with grey duct tape. Faith was my father’s favourite, she had served him well for many years and sparked within me a passion, an addiction. Good ol’ Faith, she was a one of a kind. Surfboard I mean.

On weekends my brother and dad would pack the car with their surfboards as well as throwing the lightweight black and red body board on top for me to splash around with in the shallows while my mum would passively observe from the beach. The buckets that had once been used for storing large quantities of paint, was now consumed with black wetsuits spilling over the top, often with my short little ‘Zero’ wetsuit tucked up at the bottom. It had been passed onto me from my brother when he had outgrown it. It was black and luminous yellow, with the clumsy zip on the back and the brand name ‘ZERO’ plastered large across the leg on the side. I would only surf Big Bay, something which I’m sure really pissed off my brother and Dad as it often did not provide that great surf, but I felt safe there. We all did. Ironically, we all surf that place all the time now, and although sometimes it is one of the most frustrating and crappy waves, I love it.

A lot has changed since I was little, apart from my size and food intake. There was a huge parking lot where all the surfers used to hang out after their surf, making a traditional South African braai on the lawn and drinking post-surf beers with their friends while animatedly filling their friends in about their session. There used to be an old wooden lifesaving tower with the best fish and chips take-away shop behind it, all of which no longer exists today due to the demand for shopping centers and apartments. After our surf, we would stand in the line waiting for something hot to drink to warm our tiny bodies up, the feeling of the wet sandy floor under our feet and the smell of surf wax and stale wetsuits permeating through the air.

I would always need help putting my wetsuit on, my dad would have to dress me and zip me up, hand me my ‘boogie board’ and then we would all head down to the water, with my mom often being made our bag and towel caddy. I never had much time for body boards, I still don’t really, and I was more than eager to throw it on the beach and join the ‘surf crew’. After my dad had finished his surf, I would demand that he helped to push me on the baby waves on old leaky, yellow Faith. I don’t ever remember being cold despite the fact that I would only last 5 minutes in a short wetsuit today, a trait that I probably had observed from my brother who would to stay in the water until his lips went blue and he could no longer function, yet still not admitting defeat despite the fact that a deaf person would have even been able to hear his teeth chatter.

Luckily for me my dad finally let go of Faith and upgraded his board to something a little more modern. This meant that Old Faith and I could become great friends, and she still had the job of teaching me how to surf.  I used to take her out to the sand bank that connects both Small Bay and Big Bay together which meant that there would be waves coming from two different directions and intersect in the middle, which earned it the name ‘Scissors’. I would have a blast catching the waves from the the one side and smashing into the waves coming from the other side head on. Slowly but surely, I managed to teach myself how to stand in this ridiculous place where I was dealing with head on collisions from the other waves. I would practice on the white water, often quitting halfway through due to losing interest, and would then resume my learning when my dad would come out the water and help me.

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I got my first surfboard for Christmas when I was 10. That 6’2 second hand surfboard was the best present ever and my favourite part of the whole board was the luminous purple fins that were glassed in at the back. I upgraded wetsuits to my brother’s new hand me down and attempted a few times to head out to the back when it was smaller. I could just about go along the wave back then, and I will always remember driving to the beach with my brother and his friend James, I was so excited when I saw that the ocean was literally flat, with few waves in sight, much to my brother’s disappointment. When I started to chirp from the back seat about how excited I was, expecting to be told that I was excited for nothing, my brother turned to James and said, ‘Yeah, my sister really rips on small waves!’. I must have been incredible excited that he had said that as I’ve never quite managed to forget about it. As most younger siblings do, I was always seeking acceptance from my big brother, particularly when it came to surfing as he was my role model, but also my mentor.

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When the waves were above a certain size, I openly boycotted going into the water, usually accompanied by a sulk as I became angry at my lack of ability to paddle to the back. Big waves scared the bejeesus out of me. On this one particular day the waves were quite big, at least for a little human like myself, and like clockwork I sat on the beach and with a grumpy face because I wanted to surf so badly but was too scared. In the middle of my brother’s surf, he caught a wave in to try and convince me to paddle out to the back with him. I immediately resorted to shouting at him, and like sibling instinct, he immediately shouted right back at me informing me that ‘I was a baby and I wasn’t ever going to be a surfer if I didn’t surf in bigger waves’. Then he turned around and proceeded to paddle back out while I shed a little tear on the beach. I was so angry with him for telling me the truth that I never wanted to hear and in a very determined attempt to prove him horribly wrong, I paddled out to the backline.

You see, paddling out at Big Bay when it was big was not an issue as there was a channel next to the rocks that takes you out to the back, often only resulting in a few duck dives, if any at all. My problem was how I was going to get back in, and I knew the answer: I had to catch a wave. My predicament however was that if I wanted to catch a smaller wave I would have to sit further in towards the beach, but that meant taking waves on the head when the big sets rolled through, and if I paddled to the very back to avoid getting caught by the big sets, I would have to catch a bigger wave to get in. Do you get it? As I was almost at the backline, a huge set was approaching and I was clearly going to be its next victim. I let go of my board and tried to swim under each wave, only to be shouted at by another surfer regarding the dangerous situation of my flailing board in close proximity to other surfer’s heads. In tears and pure panic, I admitted defeat and was dragged back in by the large waves, only to be horridly disappointed and embarrassed by my horrific performance.

But you see, this was the challenge I needed. And my brother knew that too, as well as very clearly knowing that I was going to be ended if I paddle out. I’m extremely stubborn and when told that I cannot do something, I will go out of my way to prove that person wrong. From that day, I made an effort to challenge myself in bigger conditions and never wanted to feel defeated like that again. I never took on anything beyond that which I could not handle, but you would be surprised what we can handle. My passion for surfing grew and grew in junior school, however when faced with an academically and sport demanding high school, my time for surfing became few and far between. I finished school at 3 everyday and would have sport practice until 6 four times a week, and majority of the spare time that I had went into completing assignments and studying for tests. On weekends we would have sport matches and the rest of that time I was doing teenager things, like going to those awkward parties where boys would stand on the one side of the room and girls would stand on the other giggling and blushing. And then you would get your friend to deliver the message of ‘She’s got a crush on you’ to the one guy that you managed to maintain eye contact with for more than three seconds.

After I finished school, I boarded an aeroplane and flew across the length of Africa only to land in England for a year to work abroad in a boarding school. Due to England  not exactly being the most exciting surf destination in the world, surfing quickly became a distant memory and drinking, traveling and doing crazy things with crazy people soon replaced those thoughts. Towards the end of the year when my flatmate and I were counting down the days until we were due to fly back home to our respective New Zealand and South African Summers. I begun to viciously troll YouTube for any girls surfing video that I could find, my favourite one being Nike 6.0. I used to watch them everyday during every break that I got and I even managed to convert my house mate into a YouTube surfing video fan, although I’m convinced that he used to watch it for the small bikini’s and bodies.

When I finally planted my feet firmly on African soil, it was time to reignite my passion for surfing. Unfortunately, I had a couple of months until it was time to start my university degree however compared to school, my schedule was a dream and I was managing to find time to surf more than ever before, probably more than I should have been to be honest with you. Very quickly, I became addicted once again and my passion for surfing, salt and the ocean has been reignited.