He didn’t flinch as he watched the wave. Even as it thundered closer; white froth erupting from its mouth like from a man in a fit. The wave was angry today. Had Allan never witnessed the vitality of a wave become snuffed upon the shore, he might have feared it would never stop, he and the world behind him falling prey to its rumble. He might have attempted to run like the children do in the summertime when a ripple approaches them and they giggle at the chase.
The summer time waves, warmed and dusted by the shimmer of sunlight seem a kinder breed then their dreary winter brother, only a playful suggestion of power contained in their twinkle. The run from the concrete grey of the winter water wouldn’t have been so gleeful.
Regardless, the man stood. His icy toes nuzzled into the damp sand and the grains embedded their impression into his soles. Not that he could isolate the sensation so precisely; he was numb from the walk to the shore. The man reached for his zip strap, the muscles of his back yawned as he tugged to seal his body in the damp cocoon. Next he flexed his fingers; he forced them into his palm and out again, marking the flesh with the imprint of his nails. Shortly however, despite his fingers purple tinge he stopped, and bent to strap his board to his ankle. His breath escaped him as he rose; a ghost like fog that, for a moment, blotted the waves. He began to trudge, his feet sinking into sand softened by water. He felt its icy fingers claw at his body, climbing upwards from his toes. He gritted his teeth, his hold on the board under his arm intensifying. He tensed in anticipation, not prepared for the slap of the wave.
It stabs him in the stomach. Winded, he gasps. He catches his breath and furious, retaliates; hurling his frame onto the hard board, dragging his arms through the water that blinds him. Its roar intensifies at his intrusion, filling his ear drums with angry bellows, screams accompanying the icy fists that punch sporadically and submerge him with their reach. He’s trapped in an icy sleeping bag he can’t unzip. His hands pull at the water, frustration fuels his campaign. The waves curse his arrogance, how can men dare attempt to tame and ride its might? The suggestion is an insult and as if to prove it, Allan is bucked from his board. A towering wall of concrete catches the tired man off guard and he tumbles into the icy arms of the sea. Greedily they tug him to their depths.
Allan is unsure how long he is held by the disorientating swirls of the undercurrents, although his desperation for another breath suggests some time. The thought leads him to kick, paddling in a direction he hopes is the surface, gasping at the exertion which has intensified through the lack of oxygen. At some point the seas arms either tire of holding the struggling man or have mercy, because he is released to its surface. He emerges dazed. He pulls at his leash cord, dragging the board to him and falling gratefully upon it. Keep pushing, he breaths to himself, forcing iron limbs to paddle over a cresting wave.
The ocean is relentless.
Hearing a cry from the beach Allan turns his head, startled by the disruption. A child runs across the sand, chased by another, followed at length by a couple walking hand in hand. None of the family notices the lone surfer.
Allan turns back to his waves, thankful the distraction hadn’t resulted in another tumble. A lull has descended. He recognises his opportunity and channels irritation into a paddle which at length, leaves him ‘out back’, a place where still evolving waves will pass underneath him, not yet ready for their crescendo. The man sits up on his board and pants like a dog. His legs are cast either side of the deck. He glances at the beach; the family have become figures on the horizon, although even from his distance he can still see the couple’s hands clasped together. He turns his head and nothing else spoils the scenes starkness. A slight smile is allowed to contort his face, creasing his eyes and lifting his lips, its feels good to exercise those muscles.
It’s short lived; thoughts he’d hoped to dump on the shore catch up with him and screw his smile into a grimace with their presence. He shakes his head as if he could escape them that way, fixing it finally on the horizon in the hope of another set.
In this he is in luck, a wave is approaching; a small lump at first, but it mutates as he watches. He grins and his languid moment passes. Anticipation builds apace with the waves mutations. He turns the board to face the shore, lies flat on its surface, angles his head to check the wave and paddles. Wired arms cut long strokes through the water and created the motion that lurches him forwards.
‘Come on’ he yells as zeal sears through his gloom. The sense that a thrill is near electrifies his motions.
These moments are why he walks into walls of water in winter.
He keeps paddling even when he feels the wave grip his board, carrying him now on the back of its fury.
‘Come on’, a command directed now at the wave, he’s in charge.
Confident, he jumps to standing as the wave and his board surge. His stance is perfect, he knows it is, the wave is fast, he can feel it is and best of all he’s not even aware he’s thinking these things. All is lost to the sensation; he’s like a junkie scoring his next high, all he can feel is euphoria. It’s a feeling as hard to describe as love but like that feeling, it seizes control. He moves in a zig zag up and down the cuff of the wave; turns it into a skate ramp. He leaves water to trail behind him like an obedient dog.
Unlike love the heightened sensation of his climax is over in less than a minute, only a residue of the thrill remains as his heart rate slows and awareness returns, bringing with it everything he is trying to forget, every reason why he is surfing alone on Christmas day.
He paddles out to battle with the ocean until the light of the day has faded.
Presented for the daily prompt, Sink or Swim
- How To Survive A Crowded Lineup (surfwanderer.com)