The moon was full, the night was black, and the surf was, if not exactly pumping, then at least moderately accommodating. There were waves to be ridden, so we heeded the call.
Three of us, the Snake Catcher, scourge of drop-ins and snakes, the Uncle, champion of the abandoned and the fatherless, and myself, the Baboon, specialist in surfing with knuckles dragging through the water, paddled out into the night, gently bobbing up and down on the breakers as they came our way. Rising over the top, breaking through their crests, and on the big ones rolling our longboards over turtle-style to let them wash over us.
We made our way up to Singapore Point, the rocky fingers sticking out from the rock formations behind us, where waves push up against, arc up and break into slippery slides for us to ride. It’s named after The Battle Of Singapore, because it is always hotly contested and fought over, and vicious and callous atrocities are committed in the name of Snatching A Wave on a daily basis.
We’re lucky to have a decent wave here, at our break. There’s a headland with a point where a tidy wave peels off, and it’s not too hard to get to. It can get pretty crowded, and people tend to pack into the one spot, much too close for comfort. Often tempers rise, and all of humanity’s ugliest sides come out: petty-minded obstructionism, and dog-eat-dog competition for any wave at all. It occasionally results in fist fights, people have been hurt, and depressingly regularly there are fine displays of violent verbal abuse involving the invocation of other people’s matrilineal descent from a variety of undesirable flea-riddled and addle-brained animals.
Not long ago, one of our number, The Shredder, Lord Of Deep Vertical Take-Offs, one of very few shortboard riders among us, was in a mild tussle with a boogie-boarder. It had been a particularly rewarding day, with waves breaking sharply into long peeling barrels, and, on the low tide, such boogie-boarders as were in attendance were lapping it up: lying down they were able to get into small pokey holes us longboarders could only dream off. The Shredder however was able to get in there and amongst them and give them a run for their money. This hadn’t gone down well, and, as he had been paddling back up alongside a random boogie-boarder, The Shredder had casually mentioned that the boogie-boarder in question had better back off and mind his manners a bit more. This is unfortunately a fairly standard sort of an exchange in the relentless scrambling for waves. The boogie-boarder had looked at him funny, paddled up a bit closer, and sideswiped him an elbow-blow alongside of the head. Thanks for coming.
These are the things that give the world of surfing a bad name. And for good reason.
These are also the very reasons why we paddle out in the dark of night, by the light of the Milky Way and the full moon, and catch our share of waves in the dark. It’s the only time there’s tranquility on the water. We can sit back and relax, pick and choose our waves, and take it in turns and share the load amongst ourselves, companionably and peacefully. We have been doing it for a long time, and we have learned to see in the dark.
The Snake Catcher had seen something in the dark.
‘I just went right over a shark,’ he said. It was hard to tell by starlight, but he looked positively green behind the gills. ‘But it’s all right,’ he continued with terminal optimism, ‘it was only a little one. Only about 5 foot, probably.’ He pulled his left earlobe pensively. ‘Probably,’ he added, nodding encouragingly, carefully re-moulding the shape and size of the memory in his brain. His nose grew longer.
‘Right,’ said the Uncle and me, and huddled a bit closer. ‘Did you get a positive ID?’
‘Yeah, maybe … I think it was a bull shark.’
That was great news. Only the third most aggressive and dangerous shark in the ocean. Well, that was all right then.
‘But it was only a baby, really,’ the Snake Catcher added hopefully, visibly perking up. There is no end to the amount of positive reinforcement and creative imagination that the human brain is capable of. Or delusion.
We looked around apprehensively, then shrugged it off. It was part and parcel of what we did. You knew they were out there somewhere, you just hoped they had better things to do that day then to come and harass you, and you kept an eye out over your shoulder, just in case.
Remember it’s not just because you’re paranoid that they’re not out to get you …
Our golden time is that slot between the high full moon and the rising of the sun. While the sunrise is always a very welcome sight, and, in the middle of winter time, can be the only thing that can save us from acute hypothermia and chronic vitamin D privation, it also unfortunately brings out The Crowds. Every man and his dog come charging down the beach at first light, flood the water, and ignore any and all rules of negotiation, surf courtesy, and commonly accepted protocol and procedure.
So I wasn’t surprised when I got snaked by two blow-ins at the crack of dawn. Without a look or a word of acknowledgement they paddled right around me so they ended up closer to Singapore Point and the start of the wave, which technically would give them right of way. However, in our Code of Honour that only counts if you got there by honest means, i.e. by waiting for your turn.
It was my turn, and I was waiting for the set. My wave arrived. By all road rules and established terms of engagement it was mine, because I had been waiting the longest. I looked left and saw one of the blokes start to paddle for it. Of course. They were now on the inside and could, theoretically, claim priority. I thought “bugger it, it’s my wave”, put my head down and paddled hard. As I pulled into the wave I glimpsed out of the corner of my eye the other fella pull up behind me. I turned my back to him and rode away, and sure enough there came his voice, sounding pissed off, going “Hey! Hey! Hey!”. Presumably he thought that was going to make me pull off and leave him the wave.
Little did he know Hay Is For Cows.
I ignored him and kept on sailing away. My wave. See you later, loser.
I heard him splutter and curse in impotent fury. ‘Aaaaarrrggghhh!!!’
But maybe his fury was not all that impotent. Maybe he had designs on making it Omni Potent.
Because as he dropped back and pulled away, not being able to get past me, I saw him lean back, move his legs just so, put a little bit of pressure there, and, describing a long lethal arc through the air, his longboard came swinging right up to my head, missing it by mere inches, and barely failing to decapitate me or at the very least inflict concussion and potentially serious brain damage. What the fuck?
I ducked away and kept going, ignoring the splash behind me and the muffled, bubbling underwater protests. Good riddance of bad rubbish.
I finished my ride, dived into the water, and came up, as it so happened, next to another one of our mates, a bloke going by the name of The Bulldozer. He had once run me over wholesale and comprehensively put my back out, three days before I went off on a skiing trip. The results were interesting, and involved a lot of gnashing of teeth, painkillers, and large amounts of hot saké. But it had been an honest accident, he had felt terrible about it and had apologised profusely, and I had never told him about the aftermath.
So now I turned to him, flabbergasted, incredulous and stunned by what had just taken place.
‘Hey mate,’ I gasped, bristling indignantly, ‘you wouldn’t believe what just happened! Some arsehole just tried to take my head off!’
‘Yeah, I saw it,’ The Bulldozer nodded. ‘That was dangerous, mate.’
Until then I hadn’t been quite sure if I had been imagining it, whether it had really been a deliberate act or whether it was an accident. I didn’t think so, but it was worth getting a reality check. My imagination can be very creative.
‘That bloke swung his board around and tried to hit me in the head with it!’ I said. ‘At least I think so. You saw it, what did it look like?’
‘I saw the whole thing,’ The Bulldozer confirmed. ‘There’s no way that was an accident. That was on purpose, mate.’
I sat back and thought about it. What to do? Go back, pick a fight and smash his brains in? Get my brains smashed in? Round up all the boys and mount a gang fight? Make it into the papers, if not potentially into the court room, and bring further discredit to myself and the world of surfing in general?
I looked around.
The sun had risen, had come peeping from around the corner of the headland where our waves break, and was filling the world with light, colour and warmth. The water was shimmering green, orange and blue, the sand was a dull gold below the surface; all around us were people of all ages, enjoying being out on the water, having a good time. Why make a bad thing worse?
We paddled off and went and found Turtle Reef, where waves break on a bed of seagrass, and where turtles feed, swim, float and doze. And there on that reef, away from the cut-throat hustle and bustle of the point, we caught waves in peace and quiet.
Three hours later, on a beach not very far away from us, a three metre Great White Shark appeared out of nowhere and viciously attacked a surfer. It all but bit off his left leg and caused massive hemorrhaging.
The bloke who was attacked was out there surfing by himself, but surrounded by people he didn’t know.
As the shark attacked him, several complete strangers came to his rescue. They got him away from the shark, dragged him onto his board, and paddled him back to shore as fast as they could.
All the way back the shark continued to attack.
Those random, complete strangers, who had never seen this bloke before in their lives, fought off that shark tooth and nail, putting their own lives on the line, and they never gave up.
They beat off the shark, and made it back to shore.
That poor fella, he died on that beach, there and then. There was nothing anyone could do.
But it wasn’t for lack of human support, and of humanity showing itself from its brightest and most beautiful side.
Read more of Steve Hansen’s work at …