Finding Winter

There’s a little spot where you can see the water from the road. There’s only enough room for one car to pull-over, and you have to shimmy up one of the slender paper-barks if you want to see the beach. The scrub’s thick, so you mostly go by the swell-lines – that navy-blue corduroy that makes your balls tingle.

We jump back in the Subaru and keep on driving, deeper into the bush. The tracks down to the beaches are hidden, exposed only by the clearing of cars having parked along the edge of the road. On this day there’s half a dozen cars, a crowd by all accounts, but nothing compared to the masses we were avoiding at Broken Head, it was Sunday after-all.

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You can’t check the waves from the road; you have to commit to the hike down the cliff. There’s always a moment of frustration; but it’s soon dismissed, with a smile of knowing that anything that’s too easy is never going to be much good.

We grab wetties and boards, a canvas bag: water, camera, avocados, nuts, towel, newspaper.

The bush here is special; wet like a rainforest but not as thick. The dirt is cool and soft under bare-feet. Rocks have been formed into rough steps to help you on your way down. Low hanging branches offer a hand-hold; their tips smooth from so many hands.

My thighs start to burn with the effort; the pain feels good, as I know where it’s taking me. I watch my bare feet on the stones, dusted with mud. I was wearing only a t-shirt and shorts, it was winter and I didn’t want to be anywhere else.

At the bottom the bush gives way to a stretch of scattered stones that are littered with dried pandanas leaves and driftwood. You walk with careful steps before reaching the sand. It stretches out bright in front of you; the tide had groomed it as it receded some hours before. The sun is not quite overhead.

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We drop our gear and sit on a rock without saying anything. Our eyes are on the waves, a glassy 2-3 foot of lazy swell. There are five guys in the water, taking turns to rip lines into the blue waves. We’re not in any hurry.

There’s a girl sunning herself in a bikini to our left. To the right there’s a group of three people watching their dog drag a length of driftwood towards them.

Time is relegated on a day like this. The drive can be long if the road is bad; the walk in can’t be hurried and if the waves are good you may be in the water for two, three, four hours. The meandering pleasures of your friends are out of your control; there are no deadlines, the path reveals itself in its own time.

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Russ is in his wetsuit and in the water before me. It had been a long time since I’d felt the sun on my back, it lacks the sting of summer and I want to make the most of it.

Surfers stroll in and out of the water, dripping and smiling. More people arrive down the cliff, some are friends, some I recognize and others I don’t know. We speak with smiles and we don’t need much more conversation than our praise for the sun. Everyone carries surfboards; I wait for a few guys to paddle in before I pull on my wetsuit.

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There’s no wind and no current. The sets come every five minutes or so, with the odd bigger wave breaking further out. They have a wide shoulder that would open-up just right, but the wait was long. The smaller ones are breaking fast along the sand bank. You can pump down the line but the face gives you only a rare opportunity for a turn.

I go for a bigger one but I’m too deep. The lip crashes in front of me as I turn off the bottom, in the flurry of the white-water my board hits me in the chest and my shin hits something hard.

I paddled in slowly, my chest was starting to ache and I wondered if I’d broken a rib. The sand was bright; it was so glary, there was no definition.

I pull off my wetsuit slowly, reveling in the sun on my cold skin. A guy waves to me as he and his friends head back up the track, I recognize his face, but I’m not sure how I know him.

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I drink some water and I eat an avocado, it would have been good to have some salt to go with it, but it feels right to eat it raw. My body is tired and sore as I sit on my towel, it’s a welcome fatigue as it gives me no option but to relax.

Russ comes in; he drops his board and grabs a towel then asks what happened to my board. I look over to see one of my fins had been snapped off, that explains the bloody bruise on my shin then, I say.

Russ pulls his wetsuit down to his waist and walks towards the shore, he stands still with his hands on his hips. I turn back to the newspaper.

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