Just Another Surf Story
by Lloyd "Jack" Johnston in South Africa Thurs 30 Jul 1998
To put these words down on paper or rather, to tap them slowly into a
machine that glows in my face, is about as distant an act as it can
conceivably be from what I am thinking.
I write these thoughts to answer a question so often asked over the years
and perhaps out of a deeper need to reassess my passion. Perhaps spurred on
by something a friend said to me last night: Is this what itís all about?
Is this as good as it gets. These words coming from probably the most
talented well equipped person I know! My God, what if heís right! When did
it all get so gray. At what point did the edges blur.
My mind wonders back to a spring day a lifetime ago. The time is around
11am. The air is unseasonably cool. Crisp. Everything seems crisp.
I stand on the small boulders trying not to slip into the rock pools. My
eyes scan the horizon.
"How big do you reckon?" My stomach tenses. Will my voice give me away and
reveal the paralyzing fear that Iím trying so valiantly to suppress?
"Umm...I donít know.....Maybe eight, ten foot on the sets." I pull off the
nonchalant reply perfectly. The peak is clean. A set rolls in. The first
one stands up in full grandeur and as if in slow motion the lip starts to
pitch out. It takes what feels like an age before the glass like bowl
explodes in a release of kinetic energy from the impact.
"Shit! Itís big." My stomach wrenches. Iím positive you can actually see my legs shaking.
"Letís do it."
Something in my brain switches off. I dive forward, arch by back and reach
forward for my first stroke. As my fingertips touch the icy water another
switch is tripped. It is as if she is washing away analytical thought.
Purging my brain of correct thoughts. Something deep inside me is fed.
Fear and calm piggyback each other. I look over my shoulder and smile.
Another set marches in and as if rehearsed, the ballet begins. Fluid
power, galvanized into action by wind, gravity and distant bodies. I paddle
up what feels like a small hill. I look left. I pear deep into the barrel.
I reach the peak and make sure Iím not too deep inside. He smiles at me and
I realize Iíve been grinning. For how long I donít know. "Beautiful hey."
Not a question. Not a statement. Fact. I nod. Shards of light pierce the
surface of the water and plumb down into the depths where things loose
there color and the blue gray is all there is. Still.
I look up. The horizon seems to be morphing itself. A set begins to build
and that feeling in my stomach returns. Breath. Breath deeply into your
I stare, almost transfixed. Absorbing all I can. Time stretches and actions
There is no place for analytical thought. Not now. Not here.
I spin my board and push forward off the submerged tail propelling myself
forward. I look over my right shoulder and see water beginning to move up
the face of the ever building swell. Somewhere my brain registers a voice
shouting Go for it. Did I hear that or did I think it?
My hands move deliberately through the water thrusting me forward. Rhythm.
I feel my body being drawn back. Back and up. My body registers height and
pitch. I look over the nose of my board and down into the bowl. Iím being
lifted and driven forward by and immense force. One extra stoke. Remember
one extra stroke could give you the speed that makes the difference between
getting pitched and making it. Breath. Time slows and fades away. I clasp
my rails and in one fluid motion swing my legs forward. I sense the
pressure under my feet. My vision tunnels as I begin to drop.
The speed is immense and unexpected. The water somehow seems to harden
beneath my board.
I reach the bowl in split second. Made the drop. Keep your head.
Instinctively I put it on the inside rail. My legs feel weak against such
incredible inertia. I bend my knees. Lock my thighs and drive the rail in
hard, holding the turn. The board explodes out of the turn and I have to
turn hard to set my line and prevent being catapulted straight up the face
and over the back. For an instant the board slows as I feel myself being
pulled up the face. Shit! Iím to high. My line is just too bloody high.
I loose focus and fear rushes in and instantly consumes me.
My body takes over. Itís seems to take over with mechanical, computer
driven precision. In a fraction of a second, speed, distance, gravity and
direction collide, are calculated and transferred into physical action.
My outside rail freeze up and Iím rushing back down the face. I manage to
maintain my inside rails precarious footing in the face. It starts to wall
up all the way down the line. I set the rail and know that the lip will
pitch. The thick unyielding lip begins to pitch out about five feet in
front of me.
I remember looking at this very scene from the shoulder as I was paddling
out. Only this time Iím inside looking out and my God it is such a
different perspective. The barrel seems to rush up and over me from a place
somewhere over my left shoulder. I dare not look back. It seems far to fast
to be makeable. I feel myself getting overtaken and being pulled in.
Just keep your line and drive as far down the line as you can. If I loose
it now the next set wave will surely get me. Breath.
I remember having watched this kind of thing a million times from the
comfort of a lounge chair. Laughing, hooting and the plethora of Ow...poor
bastard as some poor sole gets executed by an avalanche of water. Today
would be my turn to feel it firsthand. The words divine retribution flash
through my head.
I am now in a place I have never been before. There is noise, yet I hear no
sound. There is immense speed, but I feel completely still. Time does not
exist. It is cool and beautiful. Itís not merely a beauty of words or
pictures, of sounds or colors. It is all these and more. It is nothing and
everything. It just...is. I absorb it all and it is stored deep in my brain
Something explodes behind me. As the immense burst of power hits me from
behind I feel as though I am going to be blown off my board. Board and body
somehow accelerate in unison. Water is flying everywhere and I can see
almost nothing. Everything is bright and loud. As my eyes clear a
realization hits me.
I made it. Shit.....I MADE IT!
Iím made aware of
my speed as I rocket over the fading shoulder and go skiing over flat
water, slowing fast. I arch my back and do a big sweeping ark on the flat
water as I slow. I grab my rails and ease myself down onto the deck as the
energy lent to me leaves. As I take my first stroke back out to the peak I
look up and see a smile that will stay with me for life. I paddle up next
to him. We are both sporting childlike grins that rap around our faces. We
both start stroking our way back to the peak. Still smiling he looks
straight ahead and says "That was awesome.....My God....that was awesome."
So now I have written these thoughts and perhaps I hoped I would find
answers. One answer is very clear. As surfers we are lucky. We choose to
spend our time in a place that we have not one iota of control over. We can
always return to that place. Forget the car payments, bad TV and road
rage. At the waters edge itís all behind us. At anytime we can choose to
leave all the crap behind.
Is this what itís all about? Is this as good as it gets?
I phoned up my friend that asked me the question, the same friend that was
out with me on that magical spring morning. Sure enough he had the answer
all the time: "Hello Hi...Itís me. How you doing?"
"Aw OK you know...Works a bitch and Iím really missing living at the coast and Iím
shitting off trying to make the payments on the new car, surviving I
"Listen, I was just writing something....do you remember that epic spring
day when it got so big and it was just us out."
"Ye.....O my God.....Do you remember that monster barrel you snagged. Shit
that was unreal and.............." and so over the next half an hour things
became crystal clear. We reminisced, laughed and made plans to rent a house
up the coast over the summer break.
In conclusion we both agreed that in fact there was more to life and we
both knew it all along. We knew it at fourteen and we still know it now.
We merely let the other stuff of life cloud the issue, we just needed a
Read: Just another surf story by Foondoggy Thu, 30 Jul 1998
Tue, 6 Oct 1998
This is just a short note to say thanks to all those people who enjoyed my
story. I received a fair amount of mails in response to it. The only problem
is that I've been away and unfortunately I didn't respond to all the mails, so this is just a
big thank you to all who took the time to let me know they enjoyed it. I
There's another one in the pipeline.
more from Jack
The Essence by Jack in South Africa - Mon, 26 Apr 1999
These days are as important as the best conditions you have ever surfed. These days make good days truly epic
story Copyright © 1998 Jac. All rights reserved.