Dorkeling, or The Art Of Horizontal Rockclimbing

'Right,' I said, 'let me just get my mask and fins, and I'll be there in a sec ...'

'No worries,' said Blue Flame, Champion Fart Lighter and Terror Of Elevators And Small Confined Spaces. 'I'll start getting along, the others have gone already.'

She waddled off in the direction where the others had gone. I grabbed my gear, shut the car and with my gear in my hands I hurried after her down the boat ramp at the beach where we were going snorkeling. When we got to the sand though I found to my surprise that, instead of wading into the water from the boat ramp, as we had agreed and planned, more or less, the whole group had chucked a hard 90 degree right turn and had started down the beach towards the lagoon. This lagoon lay protected behind a reef of rocks holding the strong currents at bay, and, we had surmised, would be prime snorkeling territory.

I stared down the beach.

What had been intended to be a five metre shuffle down the boat ramp now appeared to be developing into something altogether more challenging. The others of our group had gotten kitted out, replete with wetsuit, diving mask, snorkel, and, importantly, fins on their feet, expecting to easily survive the ten second stroll to the water like turtles fresh back from laying a thousand eggs in the sand and keen to get back to the water, float around and tend to their haemorrhoids. Popping out all those eggs is hard work on the rear end. Inexplicably they had turned up their noses at the inviting water and had, for some reason, decided to go sideways.

Which meant that there were now six people trying to walk a good 200 metres with snorkeling fins, through loose sand. With masks and snorkels on their faces.

I looked at Blue Flame, next to me. She beamed a manic smile with her snorkel stuck between her teeth, and said 'Huuuaaaarghhh?'. Then she lifted up one fin proudly, strode foreward in a determined fashion, caught the edge of her fin in the sand, and fell flat on her face.

'Prrrfft uurrgghk,' she said, as she sat up and spat out half a bucket of sand. 'I'll tell you what, it's bloody hard walking in these things!'

'Really?' I said, keeping a straight face and hiding my mask and fins behind my back. 'I thought you were doing a great job there.'

'Oh, you think so?'

'Absolutely. You're setting a great example there. Truly inspiring.' I nodded encouragingly. 'I'm sure you'll make it all the way there.'

'Yeah ... maybe ...' She looked doubtful. 'How are the others doing?'

I turned my gaze towards the rest of the group. To a man, or, as the case might be, a woman, they appeared as stubbornly determined as Blue Flame to go the whole hog, and, from the looks of it, as deluded. There was the Snake Catcher, Blue Flame's partner, striding purposefully onwards with huge great big strides, lifting up his knees to his nose at every step, and, very carefully and with great consideration and commitment, tripping over every rock in his way. Currently he was down on one knee, hands held out in front of him and feeling the air, as if trying to ascertain if he had just walked into a wall. Next to him was Kiana, Polynesian Princess Of Surf, my partner, and surely not born yesterday, because she, in her enlightenment, had seen the wisdom in walking backwards in her fins, obviously a much more reasonable proposal. So much so that she had walked backwards into Pony Girl, proud possessor of a shiny luscious tail and an enviable gallop, who had dropped to her knees with both her fins bent backwards and buried halfway into the sand. She had been trying to re-adjust her mask and snorkel which had slipped sideways off her face and were now temporarily blinding her. The Polynesian Princess of Surf crashed into her, gracefully tumbled over backwards, fins waving through the air over her head, and both of them landed upside down in the sand. Next to them the others were faring slightly better: the Foals, Pony Girl's offspring, had crashed into each other and had started a punch-on, but at least they were still upright, and, hero of the moment, the Pocket Rocket Grommet was nimbly ambling along unperturbedly and had almost reached the water.

I looked down at Blue Flame in the sand next to me, struggling to push up with her hands, swearing through her snorkel with indistinct submarine and whale-speech noises. Across the way over her head, up on the retaining wall overlooking the beach, I saw a fat middle-aged bloke rolling around the ground in an apoplectic fit of hysterics, his face bright purple, gasping for breath, a woman standing next to him wringing her hands with a look of panic on her face. It looked like he had been watching us. I hoped he would survive.

'So, how are the others doing?' she asked again, before spitting out more sand and eloquently holding forth on the ancestry into the sixth generation of the arsehole who had invented sand and put it in her way on the beach. I reached down and patted her amiably on the shoulder. 'They're doing really well. Come on, we're almost there, you can make it,' I said encouragingly.

She scrambled to her feet, and, having previously watched the mode of locomotion of The Polynesian Princess, currently trying to disentangle herself from the manifold arms and legs of Pony Girl, she turned around, resolving to try the backwards walk.

I wasn't sure if I should have told her about the sand castle that some kids had been building right behind her, or, more to the point, the massive hole right next to it.

The swearing was really very impressive in its inventiveness this time. Up on the retaining wall the ambulance had arrived and ambos were administering oxygen to the bloke on the ground.

The water, when we finally got there, looked inviting, so I put on my fins, mask and snorkel, and started walking backwards into the lagoon. No fool, I. The water came up to my knees. I plodded backwards further into the lagoon, a good fifty metres, and stopped. The water still came up to my knees. I looked around. Scattered here and there across the lagoon were the others, all walking backwards now, and all in knee-deep water. A dark brown suspicion stole over me. I looked over my shoulder, walked another 50 metres backwards in knee-deep water, gave up, turned around and plunged into the water.

A solid-looking rock pulled up a nose-length in front of me, stopping just short of braining me. Ah. I looked left under the water. Stretching away into the deep-blue submarine gloom was a field of underwater boulders, prime habitat for fish of all species, provided, of course, that it ever got more than the current half a metre of water over it. On the right hand side a deep sandy hole led away into unplumbable reaches. It looked like I might well be able to get the waters to close above my back there, if I dug a hole in the sand and buried myself in it. Two bream and a mullet stared at me curiously, then twitched their tails and swam away, shaking their heads at the idiocy of humans. I couldn't blame them.

I sat up on my knees, stuck my head out above the water and looked around. The rest of the crew were spread out around the lagoon, dragging themselves around on their elbows, their arses sticking out high above the water, black neoprene islands of commitment in an ocean of delusion.

Resolving not to be outdone, I stuck my head back under the water, poked my own shiny pink Baboon arse high out above the surface like a lighthouse on a headland, and started feeling my way around. Aha. This wasn't so hard after all. I reached forwards, grabbed hold of a rock, and dragged myself towards it, narrowly avoiding slicing my knees on some oyster shells on another rock. Cunningly I shifted my body into a sideways position, lifted up one fin, found a hold somewhere down below, pushed off and felt myself gaining ground, enough to reach forwards with my other hand, and close it around a solid-feeling jug, a reliable anchor point you could put your life onto, and, at a stretch, wedge a bit of protection gear into, a cam or a hex or a nut. I reached down to my harness to pull out a quick draw and drag up the rope to clinch the hold, only to feel nothing but empty wetness. Bugger. Looked like I was free-climbing. Bad idea. I could feel my hands getting clammy, and reached behind me for my good old trusty chalk-bag. More empty wetness. This was getting decidedly challenging, if not downright dangerous. I groped around sideways, and felt my fingers sliding underneath an under-cling. Ah, very good. Now, by turning my arm this way and twisting my finned foot in that crack there like that, could I? ... Yes! Progress! I inched my way forwards between two rocks, grazed a patch of seagrass with my belly, pulled forwards again on another rock, glided gracefully over a ridge of igneous intrusive metamorphic granite seasand, and pulled up abruptly face-to-face with a wobbegong.

Wobbegongs are a type of shark. They usually lie around quietly under rocks and in crevasses, minding their own business and doing nothing very much at all, and are widely considered to be harmless. However, dozens of instances of wobbegong attacks and bites are recorded, and they have the peculiar ability to bend right around backwards and bite their own tail, should anyone feel careless enough to try to grab them there. I didn't feel the urge.

'Blub,' I said, courteously. It always pays to be polite.

The wobbegong raised one eyebrow questioningly. He was clearly a disciple of the Roger Moore school of facial expressions.

'Blubberblibblablablue?' I enquired.

He nodded thoughfully. Then he lifted one fin and pointed off to my right.

'Hooboobloobloorroorroo. Blanbs blabe,' I said.

Considering the exchange over, he bent down into his hole and flicked up sand over his dorsal fin. I backed away carefully.

According to that intelligence the way out lay over there. I scouted ahead. Sighting along the field of boulders, rocks, overhangs and faces I could make out a route. Stay on the left until the little ledge, then traverse around to the granite slab and work it at an angle. No worries. I hoped my rope was long enough.

I jammed my fist into a crag and hauled on it, nudged myself up on my elbow, smeared my fins against the boulders underfoot, and, unexpectedly, found myself high and dry on top of a rock. I looked down at the water. It was ankle deep. Faced with no other alternative I stood up, stumbled three, four steps across a bed of gravel, squirts and shale, and fell over backwards on the other side of the reef wall that formed the lagoon. Having completely lost any sense of direction I plummeted down, down, down to the murky depths of the bottom of the ocean, and came to a rest on the sand about a metre below the surface. Hah! That was more like it! Proper deepsea diving!

I struck out wildly, kicked hard with my fins, shot through beds of long waving seagrass like a dugong with a fire cracker up his arse, and emerged at the boat ramp.

I pulled myself out of the water, dripping, sat down at the edge, and took off my fins. The Snake Catcher popped up right behind me. I surveyed the scene of the crime. A long way behind us the others were variously crawling, staggering, stumbling or falling out of the water, several of them with seaweed around their necks.

'How'd ya go?' I asked the Snake Catcher, as I tipped the water out of my ears.

'Oh, that was sensational!' he said, glowing with enthusiasm and several large fresh purple bruises. 'This place is beautiful! We'll have to do this again!'

'Yeah ...' I hesitated. I cast my eye over the field of massive rocks sticking out of the water, and the forlorn puddles of water strewn here and there between them.

'Don't you reckon?' he asked, with a look of sincere concern on his face.

'Yeah ...,' I said again, still looking around. 'Maybe ... it's just that ...'

'What?'

'Well,' I said slowly, turning the idea over in my head and trying it on for size, 'I reckon that next time it might be better not to do it at low tide.'

We got out and prepared to return back to camp, thinking hard of a way we could possibly make this sound like something the others, who had stayed behind and had been relaxing by the fire instead of joining the snorkeling expedition, would be spewing about having missed out on.

When we got back to the bush camp half an hour later we hadn't found one yet.