by Nick Bruechle
“Consistency when you’re surfing is the shizzle,” said Taryn Billings to himself as he stood on the beach. Long lines of foaming froth churned the water between where he stood and the six foot swell that was detonating with alarming regularity on the outer bank.
“Unless you’re about to paddle out and there’s no channel, in which case consistency is the shit,” he finished the thought. But thinking wasn’t going to get him out there. He fastened his leash, took a long deep breath, and plunged into the crispy-cold shore break. His heart rate jumped, and his limbs swung into action.
The first twenty metres wasn’t so bad. The grunt had gone out of the thin parapets of foam that slapped him ineffectually as he popped under them, and he was feeling optimistic. Maybe it wouldn’t be too bad of a paddle out after all. In fact, from what he could see, he might just have happened on a bit of a lull. There was a happy surge of confidence in his strokes.
The next line of white water had a bit more push behind it, stood a little taller and rolled a little thicker. He duck-dived easily, but the cycle of air, bubbles and energy below the surface caught him by surprise and knocked him back a couple of metres. “That’s fine,” he thought with an inner smile as he resumed his positive attack.
The one behind that struck him with more force than he was prepared for, pushing him back further than the last. He put his head down and strived a touch harder. For the next few minutes, progress seemed to have stalled completely – no matter how high the stroke rate, forward motion eluded him, almost as though he had a stern line anchoring him to the beach. The only thing that appeared to be advancing was his heart rate, which was elevating quite nicely with every ten seconds. His formerly even breathing was moving from easy to laboured, and threatened to stray into strenuous fairly soon.
But wait! Was that a patch of dead water ahead? Tossing aside the growing fatigue, he chucked out a few fast, deep handfuls of water and made it almost to where the waves were wedging up before slamming down.
Thoughts of success filled his fool head, and he slackened the pace a half a cupful. The fool. Those dreams of victory were shortly displaced by a shock of pained disappointment as a solid shape stood up on the bank, kept growing like a demented, animated barrage, and dumped its boiling load five metres from his now grimacing face.
That one hit hard. It rolled and shook him while it was holding him down and dragging him back a gruelling ten metres. He surfaced at last, just in time to see the next wave of the set, easy six foot and shockingly thick, smacking down on the passive sand. That one bashed him too. Rattled him, in fact. But his trials were not over. Not by a long shot.
For the next five minutes he lost ground, breath, energy, and almost, for a moment, the will to live. Or at least to continue with this fruitless paddle-out. The set seemed endless, and the beatings got worse, moving from vicious to barbarous, from relentless to merciless, and finally to ludicrous. If he’d had the strength, he would have laughed. Time dilation went into full effect, and those five minutes – actually really only four and a half minutes – felt like a week. Maybe two.
Then without warning, it all ceased. The ocean went flat, he was over the bank and into deep water, sitting up on his board recovering. His pulse moderated to a comfortable 110, his breathing lost that ragged feverishness, and his adrenalin levels plummeted. His mind was clear. He was ready.
Not far away in the depths of a nearby trench, at Huey’s South East Indian Swell Distribution Centre, a siren blew. “Okay, tools down everyone,” said the boss. “Fifteen minute break and then we hand over to the apprentices. Nothing over two foot for the next two hours.”
“Should I switch on the onshore, boss?”
“Good idea. Let everyone cool down,” came the reply.