Part One: Breaking out
Time after time she suffers the same fate. She can manage only two steps forward before being driven back several feet in the churning foam. Her arms ache from trying to secure the board as it threatens to break free. Often it twists slamming into her neoprene-wrapped body. The stronger waves simultaneously knock all breath from her lungs and jar bare feet against the sandy bottom. She watches the others. Some have made it past this primary battleground and are poised astride their boards searching for a wave to carry them on its back.
She has realised now that this activity is not for softies as grimly she fights with the unruly board. It seems that between the most pounding waves there are occasional lulls which tempt her to make rapid progress. As she approaches the group a large wave strikes launching uncontrolled bodies and boards into a chaotic soup of writhing foam. From her perspective this seems like sheer madness- but she wouldn’t be here if she didn’t prefer a whiff of adventure to the creeping stench of conformity. It came as a shock to discover that the rest of the class were twenty five years her junior, and with only two summers to run before she hits her half-century, she probably ought to be watching from the beach. Already battered, bruised and spitting salt she reaches a point where each ridge raises a swell but does not throw her off balance. She feels she has been wrestling with wild horses for many hours and takes a breather, watching the stormy water.
The next task is to identify a wave with enough energy to catch her board and carry her forward, but she must identify it at an early stage and begin paddling before it arrives. Without skill, she makes several vain attempts resulting in either no movement whatsoever or being unceremoniously dumped in the water, tumbling disorientated in the choppy currents. Something sharp strikes her foot, maybe one of those stabilising fins; she checks quickly to be sure the skin is intact. There’s no point in giving up now, she must force her way back to the starting point, body angled into the waves, toes clawing to grip the sand and jumping clear to avoid some of the impact. If only she too had those tight muscles and sinews of steel this could be so much easier. Once or twice she almost believes she has succeeded but the ride is brief and uncontrolled. Each attempt heralds yet another interminable push against an untiring ocean. Instructors leap through waves attempting to give advice, but the tide is so unpredictable it’s an impossible task. The class is disorganised, they must all simply keep experimenting with the most basic ideas and occasionally one or two small successes allow her to keep hoping.
By now she has lost all track of time. The two hour lesson has stretched to an eternity of wading, turning, and gulping while semi-immersed in the salty water. Pain is shut out of her mind, there’s no time to think about the consequences right now.
A wave appears which looks promising; she’s in position, paddling frantically to gain some momentum. There’s a sudden rush as she is swept into the breaking foam, a pause as she realises this is a real opportunity. Her next aim is to get upright. Her hand slips from the rail but she has time to replace it and try again. Now she manages to plant one knee on the board, then both feet, and suddenly her world is transformed. Time stands still while the motion continues. She’s gliding, in these same moments vulnerable and invincible. The energy of the wave propels her right into the shallows before she finally loses balance, toppling inelegantly into ankle-deep ripples. This must be what it’s all about, but it was over so fast she’ll need to try again to discover how much she likes it.
Part Two: A view from the beach
Monday, 27th August
It’s been 2 years now, exactly. Couldn’t bear to sit inside alone so I wandered ‘til I reached the beach. Low, darkly clouded skies and a turbulent sea perfectly suited my mood. Few people around. Had just begun to settle when a gaggle of would-be surfers invaded my monotony of sand and sea. You’d think the beach was their personal property the way they charged around warming-up in ridiculous skin-tight suits. Some tiddlers incapable of carrying their own boards and others losing their shape or hair looked a poor prospect for surfing. Couldn’t help thinking how you would have laughed!
Seemed to charge into the water very quickly and were beaten back by erratic heavy waves. Spent ages falling backwards and forwards before they got past waist-deep water. Nobody seemed to have a clue how to cope with those clumsy boards; they lurched about, knocking people over, dragging them under. There was nothing else to watch; just this continuous battle with the waves. Now and then somebody would launch themselves on a breaking crest before it dumped them headlong into the foam. They’d come up soaked, breathless and spitting salt. Seem to be rather too familiar with that taste these days.
All through the morning they were there; instructors showed little interest in teaching them anything. They’d spend long periods marooned on boards apparently watching the waves pass by. Occasionally there were some gestures about bending knees and looking forward but nobody could actually stand up for more than a few seconds. You’d have been splitting your sides at their determination to succeed. But staying-power was never one of your strong points.
It was exhausting to watch. After a while I noticed a couple of efforts which looked a bit more successful, but the ‘rider’ simply turned back to deeper water as if dissatisfied and desperate to try harder next time. How many times can anyone want to get up and start all over again before they eventually stop trying?
When they finally left the water, I watched them make their way up the beach. Some limped painfully and there were a few comparing bruises. One could barely summon up enough energy to keep moving at all. But I’ll bet they went away telling each other what a wonderful time they’d had.
Part Three: On white horses
Wrestling wild horses in flight
Which come galloping in with the tide
Swelling they rise to full height
Then crashing they sweep her aside.
Drenched and thrown she has nowhere to hide
Heart pounding, hands gripping in fright
As her bruises will prove that she tried
Wrestling wild horses in flight.
Hope must die, for her chances are slight
Quite unskilled and inept to decide
How to choose from these stallions in white
Which come galloping in with the tide.
Through this turmoil and spray she must guide
Her bright board while she strains to have sight
Of new ridges as puffed up with pride
Swelling they rise to full height
For an instant she dreams that it might
Be these promising crests which provide
The enjoyment to merit this fight
Then crashing they sweep her aside
But fatigue and frustration defied
Moving fast on the current, upright
Finely balanced she smoothly will glide.
Now she will sleep soundly tonight
Wrestling wild horses in flight