The Pointlessness of Surfing
By: Chas Smith
John thinks of going up to Forster but isn’t quite sure, wants to have a sniff around Newcastle first. The thought of better surf haunts him. That he might be paddling out somewhere while somewhere else is better.
A plus about Forster is the fact that Jeddy lives just across the river. Jeddy and his brother are both proper gangsters and were born and raised in the vacation town. Both are white as the snow, short, trim with long, brown hair and green eyes. Jeddy has gold-capped teeth, too, and just bought a midseventies Cadillac in the States and had it shipped out to his home in Tuncurry, just across the river from Forster.
John explains all this to his filmer, Pat, who is riding shotgun. Tells him, “I heard he doesn’t even take it out of the driveway.”
Pat asks if he is too paranoid?
“Nah,” John answers. “Oh, maybe paranoid, but I just think he loves it too much.”
Benny and his brother both rip, surfing. Amazing. And they know every break around their area. From Blueys to Bulls Paddock.
“I don’t even know where to go out,” John says. “I don’t want to miss somewhere.”
Newcastle’s wide beach is in view again. The wave looks like it might even have little sections on the corners to punt. The wind isn’t right, though, for air, but “Look at that guy go right there…” John pulls over. Pulls the emergency brake. Gets out of the car.
“Ahhhh it feels like a new town.” John stares out to sea. “This is fuckin’ ridiculous right now. The winds will be offshore in Forster. If this was eight foot…that’s when it gets best here at eight foot. Tide’s going out…”
This stretch of sand and water appears a different place than it did just one hour ago. Merewether floats above the blue, bathed in sun. The white buildings look extra white. The brick pops red. The blue beach hotel does, too, and the green, weedy beach grass looks positively Irish. The ocean, groomed by constant offshore breezes, is inviting.
A kid, maybe ten or twelve, runs by in wetsuit, holding a board. He has an eyepatch over one eye. It looks to be medically necessary but also still looks like a pirate eyepatch. Black etc.
Pat asks, “Does that kid have an eyepatch?”
John answers, “What?” And Pat repeats, “An eyepatch.” John looks. “Sick.” Then, “Ah fuck. These conditions with this swell are heavy. Forster is probably the best it’s ever been. I bet it’d be so good. What do you reckon? Should we go hang out with Jeddy for the day?”
He continues a tortured monologue. “This swell is northeast. Don’t get it very often, but when we do—fuck. Or we could just sit in the house all day.”
He pulls out his phone and pecks away with both thumbs. Pat looks from water to light to wave. If John paddles here, he’ll shoot it from down the beach and get him in left barrels even though they don’t really need more film of left barrels. Bali equals a left barrel. John speaks up again. “I’ve just messaged the guys in Forster to see what it’s like. They probably won’t write back, though. Oh, that guy just got belted!”
A surfer eats shit.
“I wonder what Bosco’s doing?” Pat says.
Bosco is a photographer who might or might not be angry with him. He didn’t choose one of his photos for a new ad campaign so… Pat stares at the ocean, arms folded. “Somewhere, it’ll be the best it’s ever been.”
He stares more. A knot of five surfers bob on the surface. One takes off and doesn’t do much, but it still looks fun. Maybe six feet on the sets. “I’m so bad at making decisions. I need Walshy here.” Anthony Walsh is a surfer with a ridiculous knack for calling “the spot” and also a rock-solid, unwavering conviction. He doesn’t dillydally or debate. He knows and goes.
Pat watches another less than spectacular surfer take off and race past a section. “Oh what? You gotta hit that!” There is no word from Jeddy yet.
“It’d be really good up there. Fuck.”
John’s phone chirps a ring, and he assumes it’s Jeddy, but it’s not. “Hoy. Yeah, man,” John says. “After ten tomorrow? I don’t know…I don’t really want to do it now. It’s kinda almost firing. Forster. I don’t know, I’m thinking about it. Ummmm, not here actually. It’s horseshit. Nah. It’s just too small. It’s three foot. If it was eight foot, it’d be good, but…I’ve been here for like fifteen minutes…Dave O’Leary on the mal…Nothing. Yeah. It’d be bigger probably. Maybe Blueys is your spot…Yeah. Where else up there? Everywhere, huh? Ohhh shit. Well, when can we do this car thing? Tomorrow. Noooo, I’m gonna help you out. When are you gonna do it? Today or tomorrow? Ok. Then tomorrow we’ll do it. Ten o’clock. In the arvo? Ok then we’ll do it tomorrow arvo. Ahh perfect. Ok. No, it’s all right. We’ll just tie the coffin to the roof. Sick, well…ok well, we’ll do it tomorrow arvo then. All right, old boy, I will talk to ya. I don’t know. I’ll be fuckin’ leavin’ this place though. It’s baaaad. Yeah. Boskie’s down there? Ahhh he hates me these days. Ahh I’ll call Sfennie then. All right, Hoyo, I’ll talk to you soon. Yeah, I’m gonna be back. I just messaged the Forster boys, and they haven’t got back to me. Yup. I’m up there. See ya, man.”
He looks over at Pat who has his eyes fixed on the lineup still. “Hoyo sounded so gutted ’cuz he has the kids.”
John puts a hand up to shield the sun. Looking. “Ahh what to do. I’m not surfing out there, that’s for sure.” He asks Pat, “Do you want left barrels? ’Cuz that’s pretty much all we’re going to get here.”
Pat, spotting another empty peak a little further down the beach, asks John why nobody is surfing it.
“People are like sheep here. They just follow each other. They’ll just surf where everyone else is.”
Bosco drives by in a white truck. He either doesn’t see John or pretends he doesn’t. “There goes Boskie. So funny, that guy.” He follows the truck down the street, then turns his head toward the water.
“Look at this shit—are you kidding me? Ahhhhh…” A left barrel reels perfectly across the bank. “Is that Desert Point or… When it is double that size it goes from there”—John points to a rock outcropping off to the left—“all the way…ahhh it’s so good. These waves can be so good.”
A surfer pulls up behind John’s Dae Woo, hops out of his car, and looks thrilled. Eager, excited. John says, “What’s up, Lessy…it’s almost doing it…”
Les says, “Yeah, when I drove past this morning, it was all the time. Like the biggest sets ever.”
John doesn’t show his dubiousness. “What, six foot?”
Les says, “Yeaaah…” And John breaks in, “Ahh that would be all right…” And Les caveats, “But it probably only rolls through every two hours.”
John asks, “Are you out there?”
Now a slightly embarrassed smile crawls over Les’s face, “Yeah.”
John’s phone chirps out another ring, and he answers. “Ollie…what’s up? Yeah, a little bit. Looks like it’s getting a little bigger. Looks four foot on the sets, maybe bigger. It’s like a proper nor’east swell. Forster. Stop working and I’ll come grab you.”
Ollie is one of John’s longtime friends. Surf is rare for him lately, because he works with his dad doing some sort of construction. John doesn’t really know.
A gorgeous blonde passes in skintight, black, Lycra jogging pants. “Ahhh Johnny, how are you?” Her voice is like honey. John says, “How are you?” at the same time and adds a sheepish “good,” after. She power walks on. John watches her, turns to the surf one last time, opens the driver’s side door, and gets inside. Pat is already there. They back out, decision made, and head through the fresh, sunny light home.
The car wheels down the beach road, then takes a first right. Trough a roundabout and again, it is at the dreaded intersection where his fate was almost undone. He explains to Pat who has had the same expression on his face for the last fifteen minutes.
“I rocked through a stop sign. Like it was a four-way stop, and they have to stop, so I just kept going…” The expression is dispassionate but interested. It takes exactly two minutes and fifty-eight seconds to reach his driveway.
Chas Smith Bio: (from Encyclopedia of Surfing) Bright, hyper-ironic surf journalist, author, and bon vivant from Coos Bay, Oregon; frequent contributor to Stab magazine, contributing editor at Surfing magazine, and co-founder of Beach Grit, a surfing website. Chas has written two books (Welcome to Paradise, Now Go to Hell and Cocaine + Surfing) with a third coming out this spring.