Sunday, May 23, 2010

Climactic Conditions & Being a Surfer's Girlfriend

Being the girlfriend of a surfer has taught me many things. I’ve always had the travel bug and surfing inevitably takes you in search of new places, so it’s a good match in more ways than one. Together we’ve churned up the dust on lots of pothole-filled back roads on our way through isolated sections in not-for-tourists zones, where the locals look up at you in surprise because visitors are a novelty. I can unpack a boot, jack up a car and change a flat tyre in 5-minutes flat. I’ve become a practiced wave photographer – enjoying my time on the beach while snapping up lifetime memories that can be savored and celebrated. I’ve found myself in the middle of the ocean – kayaking or snorkeling where I would never go alone – taking in the beauty of aquamarine water, seeing the shore from the other side, meeting inquisitive sea-friends and strange alien looking plantlife. I’ve been dunked by walls of seawater, sputtering to the surface like a fledgling painfully trying to learn to surf my own fun. I’ve gone on adventures when most stay inside cozy under a duvet – braving the rain, the wind and the cold – to catch a glimpse of Mother Nature gracing the seas with big swell, big waves and big dreams.

In surfing, the convergence of a myriad of factors makes for perfect conditions: the wind direction, the swell height, period and direction, the angle of the beach, the tide and the cycle of the moon – Neap or Spring – the time of day. For some surf spots these things unite only on rare occasions, making the event one of significance and worthy of the chase, to travel at odd times, seeking out the dream. I’ve always been spontaneous but now the weather patterns have become a deciding factor in my life – beach holidays are no longer decided by the condition of the sun but by the direction of the wind and on storm patterns emerging from the deep Antarctic. Hand-drawn synoptic charts, plotted in purple, red and orange, have taken me as far away as Mozambique and Namibia, and just about everywhere in between.

As co-pilot on surfing adventures I’ve learnt that when the time is right and a window of opportunity presents itself in a moment, you have to be ready. And even though I’m not the one suiting up and jumping into the sea, there are many fringe benefits like the exciting feeling of discovery, experiencing beautiful landscapes and taking in the magic of the sea. And so it was that I found myself awakening in the cozy predawn darkness on a wintry morning – rising, dressing and rushing to the car for a new expedition. We were chasing the tide and the dawn for the promise of a new surf spot up the West Coast of South Africa.

We drove through the darkness blanketed by fog – at times visibility was limited to only a car’s length, maybe two. The headlights punctured the mist with inadequate shafts of light. Eventually the mist lifted and the dawn presented itself to us in shades of pink, orange and yellow – lighting up the sky in beautiful streaks of colour. We arrived at our destination on a lonely strip of beach, seemingly isolated yet managed by a gate keeper who greeted us with clipboard in hand and made friendly small talk as he slowly signed us in. We were at the doorstep of a beach resort, and were obliged even though we were not guests. Paperwork completed, we were finally free.

We got started on our walk – 4-kilometres to go – and celebrated as we found ourselves starting the day in the West Coast, taking in its few unmistakable characteristics – a red dirt trail, scrubby bushland crowded by one colourful succulent plant after another, thorny bushes, lucent green and dark rich browns in the dew of the morning, everything wet, and birds – everywhere birds, gliding through the long view of the Swartland.

We eventually found the spot through the wonders of Google Earth, a GPS-enabled phone, and hearsay. We celebrated as we found ourselves in view of Table Mountain across the bay, shrouded in pink clouds. The beach had a steep pitch and as the waves broke on the shallow sandbar the water rushed back down the slope, crashing into the sea, churning and causing a great wobble on the surface. The backwash caused the waves to double in height and as they closed out the sound reverberated like thunder.

After the surf we were back in the car and passed by the harbour – the fishing boats had come in, laden with hundreds of Snoek – some of them still gasping, drowning in air – and an assault of relentless screeching seagulls circulating overhead, their noise overwhelming and as charming as nails on a chalkboard. The fishermen called out their prices, one voice on top of the next, all the while cleaning the fish on the side of the boat, splattering blood, dumping the guts and tossing the fish into boxes for transport. We scored two enormous fish – a rare treat.

We headed home through Darling – a small town made famous for its history, quaint buildings, a local satirical celebrity who makes his living by poking fun at the government while dressed as a woman and last but not least, wine farms. We drove through rolling farmland lined with row upon row of grapevines with yellow and brown leaves, about to fall to the ground before a winter’s sleep during the rainy months to come. We stopped at Darling Cellars for a taste of their berry-rich Pinotage and were greeted by the farmer’s wife from behind a giant tasting bar made to look like a wooden wine barrel. She generously treated us to samples while straight-talking stories of farm life in a gentle voice that masked her sharp wit.

Our day complete, we returned home with memories of the foggy journey, a pink sunrise, the discovery of a new place, photos of beautiful surf, the freshest Snoek possible and Darling wine. We were only an hour from home but it felt like we’d gone so much farther. I couldn’t help thinking how nice it is to be a surfer’s girlfriend and co-pilot on trips that take you to so many more places than the surf spot alone, and that once again leaving things to chance – or rather to the weather – turned out better than we could have ever planned.

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