We meet in the morning and we paddle out. The surf is there, waiting for us, an eternal combination of exasperating challenge and generous but jealous lover. There is nothing that comes close to the salt water washing over your head, drenching you with the first rolling set you cop, chasing the cobwebs of sleep out of your mind and dragging you into the here and now without compromise.
We are the First People. We are here when the rest of the world is asleep. We strike out into the pitch-black night, floating out over water as dark as the sky, guided by starlight. When the moon is full and sitting high above our bay, we come out extra early, just for good measure, and snatch up magical hours well before dawn. The peace and quiet, the hush that lies over the ocean, is incomparable. It forges an invisible bond between us, the surfers, and the currents, swells and waves of the ocean. They pick us up and throw us around, like an neverending bareback bronc that chucks us down on the ground, tramples on us and kicks our heads in, and then stops, turns around and gives us a look, saying "come on! what are you waiting for!" And we obey the call, heedless and mindless, and surrender ourselves to the salt water.
Our arms rise and fall. We direct our boards onto the crests coming our way, timing it carefully for maximum efficiency of negotiation. We rise high over the top of them, slamming down hard in the valley on the other side on the big ones, if we time it right. We time it wrong we get smashed. We roll and duck underneath, get skulldragged backwards, flip over, swing back on, and keep going.
This night here now is magic. There's a billion stars overhead, spread across the universe, a bewildering carpet of countless universes. Millions of them will have burned out and exploded, or imploded into great big black holes, thousands of years before we were even born. Long before white fella came to Australia, long before the first chainsaw cut the old growth forest, long before the huge massive animals died out. But the light of these stars is just now getting to us, after travelling unfathomable distances. And it lights our way here on the surface of the sea, as we navigate our way around through the darkness.
There's a solid group of us that come together here to do this thing. Different people from different places, all brought together by the one thing: an unquenchable zest for communion with the water.
So we paddle out, side by side into the night, passing the time of day, sharing jokes and laughing at the ridiculousness of life and other people. We drag our arms through the water until we arrive right at the frontline of the land, at the cutting edge of water movement, there where the sea and the land lock horns with each other, and wrangle to and fro in an timeless and endless battle for supremacy, locked in a lethal embrace, a dance to life or death. We breathe in deeply, and suck big lungfuls of fresh, salty air down into us, all the goodness of the interplay between the water and the air, wild, clean, sustaining of life.
The moon drops low towards the western sky, and tans from a bright and brittle hard silver into a warm, luscious golden yellow. The shadows that dance over the water, always with us here, try to lengthen, as the moon recedes, but get caught out by the sun coming the other way, and get thrown into disarray, tumbled arse over tit back the other way, as the eastern sky begins to lighten. Because, as we sit here lined up companionably, facing out towards the ocean, legs dangling in warm water underneath us, the sun starts to come up right in front of us, and we are caught between the two. On our left, the moon setting majestically over the mountains, its gold fading into red. On our right, the sun starting to throw colour all around the sky in front of it, painting it orange, gold, yellow, streaked through with brown and blue and purple lines. The whole of the eastern sky is filled up magnificently, and the colours race to catch the last of the moon as it sinks down behind the mountains, speeding up as it reaches the final stages of its trajectory, dropping fast now, and leaving the mountain peaks covered in a purple hue.
It is truly spectacular, and I roll my shoulders back, and take deep, sweet, delicious breaths of clean air, absolutely and completely happy as a pig in shit in this moment. And in this perfect moment, the wave of the day rolls up, stands up in front of us twice the size of anything else we've seen so far, and we scramble for action, minds focussed now only on that one thing, get on that wave. Those not in the right position, or not due for a wave yet, bail out over the top of it. I spin around and shout out an invitation to my next mate down the line to paddle for his life and get onto it, and we put our heads down and strain with all the effort we can muster, and we both glide forwards, jump to our feet and find ourselves side by side, just inside the crest of this wave. I yell out more encouragement to my mate, who can't see me cause he's got his back turned to me, but he can hear me all right, and we fly off, away, high and mighty on top of that wave, at the speed of the wild wind. The water sucks up into a curl below us and we can see the sandy bottom of the ocean far below us as we race on, but we climb the slope and slide ourselves into position as high as possible on top of the wave, right there where the wave is the most majestically alive, and we dig our rails into that wall of water and tap into the life force of the ocean, and we shoot away over the bay.
I keep waiting for the wave to die in the arse, but it just keeps on rising, walls up, strengthens and solidifies, and never once looks like crumbling or closing out. I shake my head in dumb disbelief, and call out more nonsensical bullshit of encouragement and enjoyment to my mate, and shadow-copy his every move: he cuts back, I cut back, he bottom turns right again, I bottom turn right again.
We go on and on forever. Eventually I look down between my feet and the wave, still sucking itself into a sharp hollow, starts to spit out and throw up sand, turning its white foam dirty. Time to bail out. I drop down on my board and call out to the other bloke again, but as he turns his head a look of astonishment creeps over his face, and right below his feet the wave reforms again, stands up tall and straight one more time, and picks him up and drags him off further down the line again. I sit on my board and watch the back of his head disappear into the wild blue distance. After the phenomenal ride we had already had, he's just gone back for seconds. I watch him vanish towards the beach, miles away, and I know for a fact he's not going to paddle out again.
Always finish on a high.
I grab a bit of slosh and head for the beach. We are the luckiest bastards on Earth.