– Azores 2009 –
Looking out from the beach, it was quite in line with what I had imagined. In reality, the length and perfection of the waves exceeded my expectations. They were seemingly so wild and powerful already, which was assuredly far from the actual figure from shore. You could feel an uncommon amount of energy by the continuous flow of projection producing open cavities of water peeling flawlessly along the mile long stretch of reef. It was not more than a singularity born out of far and powerful forces of nature hitting a profoundly exposed and perfectly shaped area of land. There was no such beautiful thing in the world, a truly masterpiece of nature.
The lineup was complex judging by different shapes and sizes of waves depending on the pattern of reef involved and the tide. There was not a soul except me and another guy checking from a watch tower at the edge of the forest. As I was trying to figure out the spot, I promptly came to wonder how the hell you could reach the waves without being pummeled on the reef. The tide was coming up but there was no one out and I thought it was still too low to give it a try.
Meanwhile, somebody appeared in the distance walking from down the reef a board under his arm. He went all the way up the point and finally came to stop, dropped his board to tie his leash, walked slowly on the sharp reef and stood at the limit of the foam about twenty yards from the wall of crashing waves. After a long wait, things calmed down a little and a sketchy channel appeared exactly in front of him. He rushed out and paddled fast but not straight through, with a downstream angle allowing him to take advantage of a rip current running down the point to reach safety faster behind the waves. Immediately after, the passage shut down like an oyster and the waves started hammering down the reef again.
Some time after we saw him take off on a middle sized wave and get a ride as long as a couple hundred yards. He had to kick out before the end to deal with an unfeasible section and it was only at that point that he realized the bigger size of the rest of the set which was hiding behind.
“He’s going to get pounded! ” the other guy said.
His name was Marty, a fellow Aussie of something under fifty from New South Wales.
“He took of on the first one of the set. Maybe not the best idea. ” I replied.
“You’d better be ready for anything out there. Things can change pretty much in a blink of an eye. ”
Marty was the type of character you meet oftentimes in places with good waves. He tended to talk loud and play the tough guy but wasn’t arrogant like most other guys. He used to walk unsteadily with a dragging right leg and seemed to know the place pretty well.
“First time here ? ” he asked.
“Yes. I have wished to come for a while. ”
“So you like big waves? ”
“No I’m just looking for good barrels. ”
“Better know what to expect dude. This place is more powerful than anywhere else. ” He stared at another set.
“Well, I planned to stay more to get used to it. ”
“Knowing the place is what it’s all about. I came here twenty seven times. ”
“I’m nearly fifty. ” He paused for an instant. “I’ve spent nearly all my life surfing, looking for waves, having good times. Look out my skin, I’ve been so burned out by the sun in my life that I’m pretty sure all these spots on my skin mean cancer. These days I can barely walk because of a problem with the hipbone. But I don’t complain because it’s my right hip and I’m regular footed, so I can still surf left handers. Taking off backside does not require my right leg so much. As I’m slower to stand up on a wave, I can only go for the bigger ones. Anyway even if I wasn’t impaired I wouldn’t want anything else than big barrels anymore. ”
“You can’t fix that hip ?”
“What for? My body is washed up after years of mistreatments of all kinds. I lived pretty much to the fullest and I know I’m pretty close to the end, so whatever. ”
He was right after all. It had no importance. Nothing has, we all end up eating shit the same way in the end. We kept watching there and I was rather interested to find out how to paddle out. There seemed to be two options. The first one was the versatile keyhole. A safer way to begin was to undertake a long paddle of several hundred yards all the way down the reef.
I had much time to think on the first time I ventured paddling to the waves, figuring out their actual power at each paddle stroke towards the lineup. The weather was warm and clear but it was hard to see sets coming and even harder to figure out where to sit. Sets looked to come at a long interval which was also the sign that they double up on occasion. A massive line of water then popped out from outer space. The vision of this force marching right at you drives singular feelings of exaltation and intense fright. There’s no escape other than paddling right at it in turn with the hope to escape. While I was getting close, the enormous steamroller rose into something like the glass front of a small building which was bearing down upon me. On my left side I could see the translucent seawall crashing up the reef producing a truck size tube peeling in slow motion all the way down the point. When it reached my position, I was just in time to get through the peaking crest and made it safe to the other side before it broke. Another shit was already on the horizon again.
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