Thursday, October 13 (Day 42)
The wave has taken me under and, fleetingly, I panic. Relief comes as I gasp for air and choke out the water from my lungs. I don’t seem to be making much progress with my surfing. I guess forty is a bit late to start, but why not? The waves are huge and relentless today. It takes some effort to hold on to your surf board as you venture further out from the shore in search of the ‘perfect wave’.
After two hours of effort I do finally manage to stand up on the board. This is ‘base one’ in the surfing learning curve. From here on in I will need to be able to do this regularly, and only then will I genuinely be able to start riding the waves and be able to call myself ‘a surfer’. One of the lads I came down here with, who’s from Derry, has ended up with a broken nose from the waves smacking the board against his face. Michael has also got blood coming from his mouth after falling off and getting properly whacked. I’m going to call it a day and take satisfaction from my small bit of progress, before I get my teeth knocked out.
Today is day 42 of my trip i.e. the halfway point of my adventure in New Zealand, Fiji & Samoa. This thought leaves me feeling slightly deflated. At this point in time, I do want to go home and see my mum, nan, sister and nieces but, otherwise, I have absolutely no desire to return to ‘reality’. And, of course, I use that word reality, loosely, almost in jest. There are billions - trillions - of different realities in this world, every one of them as real as you want them to be. Is getting up every morning at the crack of dawn, driving to work and doing the same thing over and over again, year upon year, ‘reality’? Yes, it is. But, trying to ride a treacherous wave on a black sand beach on the west coast of New Zealand is also reality. And I bet this reality feels a hell of a lot more ‘real’ than the previous lifestyle choice I mentioned.
I guess it is the starting over again, back to square one, uncertain what the hell am I going to do with my life reality that is the one I have absolutely no desire to return to. Still, at least I can put that off for another 42 days.
Wednesday, October 5 (Day 34)
Raglan - Ngarunui Beach - Manu Bay
What would you know? Just as I am finally beginning to unwind from my magazine proofreading work and the rugby, the project manager of the magazine suddenly comes back at the very last minute (when I thought we were ready to send to print) with requests for several new (loyalty-free) photos, proofreading of adverts(!) and additional text for one of the articles. With the 10-hour time difference it is not as if I can Skype anybody in the middle of the Latvian night and ask for bloody photos.
My magazine gives me zero budget for photos, so absolutely every photo we use must be free. Yes, that lovely word ‘free’. I have had instances where one or two photos have screwed up my time for several days at a time, sending emails and making phone calls; getting given the wrong kind of images; wrong quality images; and, finally, my colleagues not liking the images I get and demanding I find alternatives.
Yes, it comes with the territory but it never, ever helps when everything is so bloody last minute. Just to complicate matters, a thunderstorm has taken down the town’s Wi-Fi across the board, and I have been temporarily sent back to the dark ages.
I am supposed to be joining a surfing lesson class at one of the world’s finest surfing beaches this afternoon but now I am running out of time. There again, if there is no internet, there is sweet FA I can do about it for now. I don’t suppose my boss will be too understanding of my circumstances given that I am 10,000 miles away on a jolly. And, no, I don’t expect anybody reading this to have much sympathy for me either...
The internet fleetingly returns, I pull a rabbit out of a hat, and I am back with two minutes to spare for my very basic surf lesson. I was thinking my lesson would be on the beach, but instead Californian Josh talks me and two young German girls through the moves we need to know in the hostel car park, fits me up with a wet suit and board, and gives me the keys to the hostel car. “Off you go. You will be fine.”
This wasn’t something I was expecting to be doing: driving an old banger down the New Zealand coast in an almighty thunderstorm with surf boards tied to the roof, two 22-year-old German girls in the back seats, peering through the rain and the wipers for the turn off to one of the world’s best surf beaches.
The weather is shocking. I mean, you would never think of setting foot out of your car with it sheet lightning and raining like it’s the apocalypse, unless you really, really had to. But I need to change into my wetsuit and get my arse down to the beach. I can’t actually believe I’m doing this. I’ve spent so many occasions hanging around with surfers or hippies in surfing towns during my life and never actually surfed because of my lack of confidence in my own ability and here I am now trudging across a volcanic black sand beach and out to sea with a surf board the size of a house under my arm.
Thunder rumbles and a lightning strike hits somewhere not a million miles away. This surfing lark certainly isn’t easy. I know what I need to do but some small detail goes wrong each time the right kind of wave comes along. I seem to have swallowed half of the ocean and my eyes are red roar. Then suddenly, I catch my first wave and body board it for what seems like 30 seconds, until I reach the shoreline, where I fall off and fill my lungs with more sea water. The waves are gigantic and the ridiculous storm is making me feel - well not to sound too clichéd – very, very alive. The dramatic setting, thunder, lightning, huge waves and monsoon-like rain are enough to make this feel very special, regardless of my none-too-impressive attempts to surf. When I do finally call it a day, and carry my board back to the beach, I realise that my thighs are aching like I’ve done a half marathon. I think I only nearly came close to drowning twice. Truth be known, I never did pull off the stand on the board and surf bit. But I did manage a full five seconds surfing on my knees, a bit like a nervous Yorkshire Terrier in the back of someone’s pickup truck.
It feels even more silly driving back with the surfboards on the roof – like I’m a real surfer or something. I feel like such a fraud.
Back at Raglan Backpackers I wash down the board and surfing gear and jump straight into their 42-degrees Jacuzzi. This can’t be bad.
While all the twenty-something surfing chicks and Californian ‘hey man’ surfing dudes talk about their day’s exploits I lie back in the Jacuzzi and pretend for a minute or two that I am just like them: young, cool and very good at surfing. Nobody seems to notice the 40-year-old fraud perched in the corner of the Jacuzzi with a cold beer in his hand, smiling to himself.