My mates and me have, over the long years, developed a predilection for surfing at night, in the dark. This curious and bizarre notion was born out of the twin desires to get away from a crowded day-time line-up with its attendant necessity of having to fight, hustle and hassle for every wave; and to step out of the ordinary of everyday humdrum life and our mundane existences by doing something different, something challenging, wild, unaccountable.
Some might say the appropriate term is "stupid".
It started with surfing by the full moon. We scored magic rides over jet black rolling acres of water under a hard diamond moon, alone and unseen under the night sky. As we got more used to being out at night, we started pushing the envelope, because, well, that was the whole point to begin with. So little by little we surfed with increasingly less moon light, at more and more advanced stages of the waning moon, until, inevitably, we got to the stage we were at on this day.
'It's dark', growled the Cork, champion of bobbing up and down aimlessly in the surf, devoid of all sense of direction, and, frequently, of all ability to catch waves.
'Yeah mate. It's like that.' said I, known as the Baboon, for a comprehensive lack of any grace on the water, or, for that matter, of any sense. I looked up at the dark night sky above us as we waded out, waist-high into the low tide. 'It'll be right, there's plenty of stars out.' I nodded to myself with the conviction of the terminally deluded. The last sliver of the moon had disappeared two days ago and we were now officially surfing without any pretext of using moon light.
'You are kidding yourself', said the Cork, 'how are we gonna catch waves in this.' The Cork is afflicted with the dire condition of not always being able to see the bright side of things. Or, as on days like today, of not being able to see anything very much at all. Off to our right our other mate, the Snake Catcher, terror of snakes, drop-ins, queue jumpers and little children, launched himself onto his board and started paddling like a geriatric. I veered off to the left and did the same. Behind me I heard the Cork ploughing through the shorebreak asthmatically.
With great cunning we copped every wave in the set on the head, rolled, ducked, got dragged backwards upside down and drank seawater, until we pulled clear of the impact zone and sat up on our boards. On cue the sets stopped coming through, and the ocean became a flat black mirror. The Cork glared at it, taking it as a personal insult.
We surveyed our preserve. There, stretching out in front of us, lay the black ocean water. It had to be assumed that at some point in the middle distance there would be a horizon where the black water touched the black sky, but we were buggered if we could see any of it. Behind us lay the calm waters of the bay, unfathomable, inscrutable, mysterious, and, well, black. Above us the Milky Way yawned and stretched its tentacles across the universe. Its stars were reflected in the surface of the water, shimmering and blinking with the swell.
I stared into the night. The Cork coughed and swore. Further in, sitting deeper, the Snake Catcher paddled once, twice and disappeared behind a crest of light-black foam, barely discernible in the darkness.
'So', I said, reflectively, 'what you do is, you don't try to focus your eyes on what's in front of you, but you ... just sorta look out of the corners of your eyes, look for the big outlines, the big picture, without trying to see inside of it. And then feel your way along it, to where you know things should be ...' I grinned happily. It was a good wheeze.
'Bullshit.' The Cork scowled in the dark. 'Show me, if you're so bloody smart.'
'Yeah ... no worries, watch this.' I spun around in the dark, staring intently at a patch of blackness that I reckoned was just a touch darker than the bits around it, and just might be moving. I lined myself up, paddled hard, and, as I felt the merest lift beneath me, jumped up blind and slid into the hollow. The wave picked me up and carried me forwards, and I became lost in time and space.
When the force of the wave was spent I dropped down on my board and started paddling back up to the take-off zone. The black night engulfed me. I couldn't hear or see the others, and concentrated on gliding quietly through the water, the night amplifying the splashes of my hands in the water. At times like these you could be anywhere on Earth, and feel completely and utterly alone, and at peace with the universe.
Till a shape appeared right next to me. Two metres away, just visible by starlight.
A fin. Black, triangular. Pointy.
I choked in mid-breath-take. Swallowed a mouthful of water and spat it back out again. My head spun around in panic. How far to shore? Another fin broke through the surface, in line with the first one. Then another, and another. Holy hell.
A sound came from behind me. My head snapped around to the other side. Right there behind me, another fin. Followed by another three. I was surrounded. For three heart-stopping seconds my mind was flooded with old mariner's tales of feeding frenzies and baitballs. Right there it looked like it was my balls that were going to be the bait.
I held my breath and froze, wondering what to do.
Until, loud and clear in the cold night, came the tell-tale sound. 'Pffffrrrh!', went one of them. 'Unnggggrrrfff!' went another one.
Sharks don't breathe air. I let out a long, heartfelt sigh of relief, and looked at the dolphins surrounding me with all the love and affection of a dried-out alcoholic who's found the keys to the pub after closing time.
I smiled at them in the dark, gave them the thumbs up and paddled off. Just then, off to my right a bit, I saw the distinct Neanderthal silhouette of the Cork cruising past along the face of a wave, knuckles dragging through the water. As I watched the wave died in the arse and he came off.
I stopped paddling and started counting under my breath. 'One ... two ... three ...' Three fins glided past me on an inexorable date with destiny. '... four ... five ...'
A blood-curdling scream ripped through the night air.
I nodded to myself with satisfaction. Sounded like the Cork had stuck his head up from out of the water in the middle of the circle of dolphins.
I struck out and paddled away, whistling contentedly to myself.