Posts Tagged With: dolphins

For the Love of Sharks

Death in jaws. I’m chewing over the phrase. It plays on itself better when spoken aloud. The topic’s on my mind – not in the back of it – alive in every lurking cluster of sub-surface seaweed, tainting the turquoise ocean with their sinister shadows. They move with currents, lurch to the surface as waves lift and pull them, tug at my peripheral vision.

I’m alone outside the breakers, every sense engaged. The nearest people are two kilometres to the north and a hundred metres above sea level. I know, because I can see them. My not-quite-reliable-enough-to-drive-without-glasses vision can pick them out, two dots, standing at the lookout over the enormous expanse of beach. They’re watching me, I guess. I’m watching them.

I hope they come closer.

It’s not because I want to talk to them. It’s not even that (as I repeat in the rational part of my mind that keeps getting shouted down by my utterly spooked Fear Of Bloody Death department) they could help me if I was abruptly attended to by a large man (named Noah) in a grey suit.

No, I want them to be closer because at least then there’d be witnesses. I’d live on as a story. Gory, yes. Remembered? More so than the alternative; a scrap of wetsuit turned up by a search party and an expert opinion on a tooth pattern.

An over-the-shoulder view back up the beach. See the shadows? Yeah, those ones. You see them.

An over-the-shoulder view back up the beach. See the shadows? Yeah, those ones. You see them. Bastards.

Two grey fins slice the surface tension in shallow, clear water to my south. They dissect the ocean in a perfect line toward me. My heart takes a quick run-up and slams into my ribcage before I confirm that, yes, they’re dolphins. Five, in fact. Two large females, an adolescent and two babies.

I wait, and bob around a bit. There’s rarely much point trying to guess the path of a dolphin pod. The local ones seem to like people; I slide off my board and drop below the surface as they close the distance. They’re approaching through a plume of sand kicked up by a recent wave; I surface and idly squeak my fingers along the bottom of my board until they emerge into clearer water. The squeaking seemed to entertain a dolphin I encountered once, and now it’s a habit of mine. I wonder if they notice. I wonder if it annoys them.

They’re feeling social. I duck my head back under, open my eyes. It’s a curse that our underwater vision is blurry. The front mother-child pair drift by me slowly, at half depth, turned on their side to study me. They pass within arm’s reach. I twist in the water. The other three split around me, fearless, curious, close. The baby is nestled, almost connected, slipstreaming under its mother’s pectoral fin. I can make out their eyes, just, in the dappled light. Then they’re past.

I realise I’ve been holding my breath and surface with a gasp as they do. A wave is bearing down – a good one. I lunge back to my board, take off and fumble a clumsy line through a short barrel. The next wave is bigger, and I’m stuck inside. The dolphins flash up in the blue face of the wave as it crests, then slingshot out the back and disappear as I duck the whitewash. They’re gone.

Elation subsides quickly. I have no-one to share the moment with. Seconds feel like minutes. A shadow cast by a sand plume sets my heart racing again. The dry easterly wind brushes the top off another Southern Ocean set, detonating on heavy sand after a nine thousand kilometre journey from the storms below South Africa. I last fifteen minutes more before I ride a wave to the shore. The Fear of Bloody Death department go back to their desks (I presume to watch videos about asbestos and spiders hiding in shoes and the dangers of driving fatigued).

A trail of footprints: evidence that I'm shark-proof again.

A trail of footprints: evidence that I’m shark-proof again.

I look back at the people on the lookout. They’re specks, turning back to their car. I wonder if they could see the dolphins. I wonder if they were alarmed, as I was, or perhaps jealous, or if they enjoyed seeing what they saw.

I shuck the top half of my wetsuit. Westcape’s notoriously sticky sand has gathered in the folds, and now my elbows are ringed with pieces of shell. The sun dries the salt water on my shoulders as I trudge back towards the headland. As I climb the wooden stairs, a single surfer trots down past me. We exchange smiles in silence. Words don’t feel necessary until after the fact; until I realise I might not speak to anyone else that day.

I turn back at the top of the steps, breathing a little harder than usual. The surfer is paddling out at the north end of the beach, riding a rip that rushes out past a huge rock that looks like an upturned Christmas pudding.

There are only two cars in the car park: his, and mine. I take my time getting changed, enjoying the ambience of the day. As I reverse out, another arrives. In my rear view, before my car drops below a sand dune, I see a couple clamber up to the lookout. One points at something down the headland, at the north end of the wide, sandy expanse.

And now, a day later, the experience feels as real to me as the moment it happened. Every vibrant detail, preserved in whatever passes for 4K in the mystery of a human memory. Sitting comfortably inside, I can send a memo of thanks to the folks who staff my Fear of Bloody Death department – specifically, the shark watchers.

If they’d been off duty yesterday, that moment wouldn’t have been as vivid. As clear. As alive. As real.

Death. It wasn’t really close to me, that day. Probably. But the fact that it could have been – all terror and primal instinct and cultural hysteria wrapped up in thousand kilograms of large-toothed fish – made me feel further from it than I ever have before.

Thanks, sharks. For being somewhere. As long as somewhere isn’t where I am, when I am.

In answer to the begged question: Yes. It is worth it.

In answer to the begged question: Yes. It is worth it.

Categories: Surf, Things people do, Thoughts | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Dream Series: The Shack

The Weekend Dreams continue. I was looking back over the photos of my trip to South Australia in May, and was struck, once again, by the natural beauty of the place. The Shack – that little old building on a rocky beach in Point Turton – gave rise to a fascination with the outdoors and nature, a passion for surf that’s taken me to incredible places, quality time with family and friends and epic card games on baking hot summer evenings.

The outlook from the (newish) verandah on a spectacular May morning.

Continue reading

Categories: photos | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Friendly can be scary

I haven’t had much time to digest the events of the past couple of weeks – not in front of a computer, anyway. Rather than give a blow by blow of what’s been going on (I’m sure you’d love that), I will stick to a couple of the more unique stories of the high seas.

South Oz was a week packed with the stuff good memories are made of – family, friends, food and far-flung fun (and far fewer ‘f’ words than that sentence). I managed to tick a new surf break off the list – Chinaman’s, which I’d been keen on for a long time. While it wasn’t epic, the warm, sunny day and dolphins frolicking in the clear water made for a nice day.

Menacingly balancing on its nose, waiting for a surfer to scare...

The dolphins were out in force again when we returned to surf a different spot. It’d just been Johnno and I surfing, but he went in and I was sitting alone, looking up at the towering cliffs and surveying the expanse of the ocean with the usual slight undercurrent of nerves.

I pushed in for a wave but it didn’t shape up well over the rock ledge. I had to duckdive the one behind it, and as I popped up, I saw a grey fin not two metres to my right, shooting through the water straight at me. A minor heart attack and five slow seconds later, a pair of dolphins surfaced to my left. Heart racing, I stuck my head under as they cruised around me, checking me out.

It’s a funny feeling – a flash of realisation about the situation, followed by the frozen moments waiting for some confirmation that the encounter’s going to be a good one, not a fatal one. After that, the magic returns, but it’s always a reminder to me that I’m out of my element!

It’s a good thing dolphins are playful and charismatic, otherwise I’d be naming them as oceanic nuisance #1…

Categories: Road Trip, Surf | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

What we worked for*

Feeling the surge of speed from the wedge takeoff, then threading a fast line through a deep, hollow barrel wrapping down the line next to the breakwall, seeing a peace sign hanging into the pit from the shoulder as the last backdoor section throws nice and wide for a clean exit and a little invert bowl to top things off…

Putting the memory of a good wave into words just makes it sound a bit wanky. After all, a picture’s worth a thousand words!

The best ones linked up through at least two or three sections like this!

Continue reading

Categories: photos, Road Trip, Surf | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments

Good Vibes

The past few years I’ve managed to usher in the new year with good times. In 2008, I surfed Main Beach at Byron a pumping 4’+, biggest I’ve seen it holding, on the back of a huge swell. Last year, I was down in SA, and we spent New Years at Pt Elliott, surfed some thick lumps at Knights, went to see The Touch play live and then cruised over to Yorkes and scored some fun ledge action.

This year wasn’t so flash in the wave department, but I was having a bash on New Year’s Day down near The Spit when a couple of dolphins bobbed past out the back. A few minutes later, I was paddling back out from a wave and another group of 4 dolphins – 2 adults and 2 young ones – appeared, slowly making their way towards me. Without any sign of fear, they cruised right up and drifted under my board, the closest an arm’s length away. They then lazily kept swimming while I followed along a few metres back, meeting up with another 5 or 6 dolphins. They hung around for a while and appeared again later in the session. It’s a humbling experience to get so close to wild dolphins, especially on the Gold Coast beaches – I’ve had plenty of similar experiences in South Australia, but it was a particularly nice way to welcome 2010.

Categories: Surf | Tags: , | 1 Comment

Blog at

%d bloggers like this: