I caught up with a lot of surfers yesterday at the 40th anniversary of the Peninsula Surfriders Club; a surfing club I joined in Year 12 in 1974. I don’t surf much these days but it was great to meet up with some faces from the past and to hear how many are still surfing, lots of them seeking out warmer climates now that the old bones don’t enjoy the cold waters of the Mornington Peninsula so much.
I’ve always thought surfing was more than just something to do at the beach when it’s hot. Maybe more than a sport. When I was surfing a lot, I wrote about it a lot too, not so many poems but stories, articles, journal entries, trying to understand it all. I’ve got still a eighty page poetry sequence sitting in Scrivener waiting to be turned into an ebook, or a major section of some larger book someday. Maybe I should get back to that.
One of the surfers told me about a journal they liked called PaperSea, which looks part-travel writing, part surf-writing, photography and counter-culture. Looks interesting, and good to see others interested in the subtler nuances about surfing and the sea. They write:
Creative men and women with an appreciation for hand-crafted quality will find honest stories and critical pictures about surf, travel and art from the world over.
We saw the need for a creative alternative and so we present to you a quarterly book for people who share our affinity for the ocean, creativity in its infinite manifestations and the thrills and perils of travelling amongst far away cultures.
Full-bleed images by the world’s best minds accompanied by their stories behind the moments are set alongside in depth interviews and stories. We are publishing first-hand experiences as we explore not just the beaches but also the cultures of far away countries.
It made me go back to my own work too, and see what about surfing was there already. This poem, from my collection The Colour of Maps, probably owes as much to Gerald Manley Hopkins as it does to the waves, but celebrates an early surfing moment:
The Waves in the Bay
These fine light pulses
flicker across rippling sand,
perfect solids, half-lit wedges,
tubes unravelling continually
like pvc, along a precise depth of moment
and the spilling forward motion
is thrown out and over along an angling
vortex, punching out air like engines minutely,
crackling like small arms fire
along calf-deep edges
of sandbank promontories.
Or, on still days,
with the bay
stretched taut as glad-wrap,
wrinkly, oily looking,
and strange sets,
yes waves arrive in sets
like Meccano, assembled,
dark stacked mounds of water
appearing from somewhere abruptly,
the bow waves of some great tanker
that passed by ages ago, perhaps,
or merely the sea itself, its slow stretching
sending children skittering
from their floatables, new water
running up the smooth sand,
lapping at towels briefly like affairs,
the old tales of the seventh wave
that sinks ships: ask sailors about it.
And then, that perfect day, the miracle,
when, after the strong wind had finally
transformed the bay’s wayward cross-chop
into lines of swell that darkened
and caved out of the cold depths like bears,
the wind swung around, and while the pulse still beat
strongly in for an hour, fading at last by degrees,
with the sun,
those perfect waves
pushed still against an offshore,
smoothing before our amazed eyes,
these natural things becoming startling,
in surfing dreams come true at last
in the temporary crossing of energies.
And as they beat, still more faintly
from the yellow sunset
and we turned for home,
they were already depleted,
and we, rubbing the salt from our eyes
as if in a dream,
could already barely recall
the moment at all,
or the first fine lace spray
off an offshore in the bay.