Barbarian Days

BarbarianDays

As a one-time surfer, and someone still in love with the sea, I’m conscious of just how difficult it is (and laughable it can be to real surfers) to try to describe to someone else the act of surfing.

So, I’ve been pretty impressed with Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life by William Finnegan. It probably wont win my book of the year prize (teaser: full list coming soon!) but it’s just about the best thing I’ve ever read at capturing the act of surfing, and the beauty and terror of big surf.

I’ve been listening to this as an audio book (from Audible) and have been surprised at just how powerful that can be, especially perhaps, when read by the author themselves.

Highly recommended as I hone my book of the year awards! There’s a pretty good review from The Guardian HERE

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Surf stories

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.

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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,
unexpectedly complete,
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.

WW

Just back from a week away surfing …

Just back from a week away surfing and doing a bit of writing down the West Coast; the sight of a large whale close offshore the highlight of the week for me. It was just beyond the breakers and we were driving back from Apollo Bay and saw a few people standing by the side of the road looking out to sea, so we pulled over and sure enough there it was; spouting and big enough for the waves to break along its back I thought! It spouted air a few times and we watched it for a while then drove on. Just as we were driving into Lorne we looked out and saw over a hundred dolphins in three big groups all heading somewhere in excitement it seemed to me! Next day, surfing near Fairhaven we saw another whale, this time further out. It was pretty amazing; driving along and seeing a whale.

Whale Spotting in Australia