Have you ever had an experience where your feet somehow walk ahead of you? That you suddenly wake up and you don’t know how you’ve got there? That something which has slowly been percolating away at the back of your mind has suddenly jumped out in front of you like a kangaroo in the headlights and bam. You’ve suddenly hit your dream head-on and almost had a fatality. You’re in shock. You just can’t believe how all your ducks have suddenly lined up all at the same time. How is this so? It doesn’t make any sense. It doesn’t make any more sense that when bad things happen to good people. There are just mysteries in this life…questions which are never going to be answered.
Coincidence is one of these great mysteries.
For the last few weeks, I have been working pretty flat out on my poem The Surfer’s Dog. This poem was inspired by a dog I saw at Whale Beach in Sydney something like 20 years ago. I photographed this particular dog lying on the beach staring out to sea watching his master. He seemed to be waiting and waiting for hours just lying there in the sun. He didn’t go to sleep or move a muscle. He just lay there waiting patiently for his master to return. He had such loyalty, devotion. His master was his entire world. I remember ebullient excitement when his master eventually emerged from the surf and then they walked along the beach together back to the car. The dog was in heaven.
That dog has stayed with me. He was the epitome of loyalty, devotion and love and yet I wouldn’t advocate putting your life on hold like that or revolving your life around someone else either. Phrases like “get a life” come to mind. He was an adorable but quite a lone figure on the beach…almost like a ghost…as he waited for his master to come back.
Surfer’s dogs have always seemed a breed of their own…rough and tough and certainly not at all fluffy. Perhaps, they might have a touch of kelpie or working dog but certainly nothing glamorous. I’ve certainly never seen a surfer with a fluffy, white dog like the one in the My Dog commercial.
Last October, I went back to Whale Beach for the first time in about ten years. It was a strange experience because in so many ways, time had stood still. Nothing much had changed. In particular, I noticed that the surfers were still out there in the surf bobbing up and down like seals and it just seemed like they have always been there. They’ve never left. They were caught up in some kind of time warp. It was like they weren’t real…more iconic.
That inspired my poem: Surfing Through the Hourglass, which is still a work in progress but I’ve posted it as part of this story.
In the original version of the poem, the surfer’s dog was more of an image…an icon rather than being a real dog. The dog has been there so long that he’s become part of the spirit of the place.
Then I came up with a stanza about who feeds the dog. How does it eat? I mentioned that to Geoff and he said that if there was a dog on the beach people would be feeding it. As a result, the surfer’s dog became more of a community dog. I thought about him being a bit like a barperson who listens to everyone’s problems…a friend to all and yet at the same time, the surfer’s dog only has one master.
At this point, I was pretty sure that I’d finished the poem but I took it in with me for a final proof when I was having my regular blood transfusion of Immunoglobulin. These transfusions take about 4 hours so it’s a great time for me to write and catch up on some reading. Well, The Surfer’s Dog took another U-Turn. Instead of just passively waiting for his master to return, he was now wanting to learn how to surf. However, because he’s never seen a dog surfing before, he chickens out. He’s afraid. Doesn’t want to make a fool of himself. He has his pride. He is the surfer’s dog.
By the time I’d reached this stage of the poem, I was living and breathing The Surfer’s Dog. I was editing and re-editing the poem for hours each day and the surfer’s dog was my constant companion.
Then about a week ago, I had another revelation about the poem. I was the surfer’s dog. I have desperately wanted to learn how to surf most of my life. To me, surfing has always been the epitome of freedom and that sort of merges with my dream of taking off in a kombi. I realise now that my mythical Kombi has always had a surfboard strapped onto the roof and we’re heading up to Byron Bay. I can already feel my hair blowing in the wind,the sand between my toes and the waves calling me.
I’ve always wanted to learn how to surf but I’ve only been surfing once about 20 years ago and I’ve never forgotten just how amazing that felt. A friend of mine had come down to my parents’ beach house at Whale Beach and had brought his board along. I only went on it once. I didn’t stand up. I just lay on it and caught my first wave….my one and only wave. I still remember how good that felt…the exhilaration, the power of the wave. It was just amazing!! I could have surfed for the rest of my life. Yet, for some strange reason, I never went surfing again. The surfboard rider and I were supposedly “just good friends” and we all know what that means so there were no more surfing lessons from him. We lived just across the road from a legendary surfing beach and yet we had no surfboards. It all seems a bit insane now. After all, what is a beach house for????
So there I was a week ago having spent hours and hours and hours living and breathing as the surfer’s dog sitting on the beach inside his scruffy, sand-encrusted coat when I realised that I desperately wanted to surf. That I’d always desperately wanted to surf and here I was 43 years old and 20 plus years later and I’d done nothing whatsoever about it. The eyes of my heart had been opened. The scales had been lifted and I could finally see things clearly. I had to learn how to surf…especially as I only live 700 metres from the beach now. I’ve been living here for 11 years and I haven’t even tried out the kids’ boogie boards. It really does paint me as a bit of a sod.
It was time to get moving!
The morning after this great revelation, I left for an Adventure Camp at Nelson Bay with Muscular Dystrophy NSW. They support me with my auto-immune disease as it affects my muscles. We were just settling into camp when I looked at the program. What was the first thing on the program…learn to surf! I couldn’t believe it! It’s taken me more than 20 years to realise just how much I wanted to surf and then hey presto I’m going to surfing lessons the very next morning.
I was so stoked but I was also gobsmacked. My dream had been hand-delivered to me on a silver platter. I couldn’t believe it!! It was all a bit surreal and too much of a coincidence.
It was meant to be!
I was going surfing. Me… the middle-aged mother with the dodgy muscles was actually going surfing! It was so bizarre especially after working on that poem so intensely.
I was reminded of a quote by Oscar Wilde: Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life.
Yet, before I experienced the exhilaration of actually surfing, I still needed to clear a few minor, major hurdles.
Firstly, I had to squeeze into my wet suit. These things might look fabulous on a very fit, young body but I had serious trouble getting into mine. They seem to be two sizes too small and it’s pretty tricky squeezing all this whale blubber into such a confined space. My balance isn’t the best so I also needed a bit of assistance to climb in and it really did feel like I was climbing inside some kind of very thick and inflexible second skin. This was when I found out why surfers strut. Wet suits are so stiff, you’re moving like a robot!
Sadly, even in my tight, constricting wet suit, I didn’t perfect the strut. I was still me.
The second thing they leave out of the surfing brochures is just how much a surfboard weighs and you can’t just stick them on a luggage trolley and pull them down the beach. No, to be a true blue ultra cool surfie dude, you need to have your surfboard casually tucked under your arm like a piece of cardboard. Ha! Surfboards are heavy. I guess that’s how surfers develop all those lovely, well-developed muscles. My muscles don’t work that well so I had to settle for assistance. One of the carers very kindly carried my board down to the beach. Once there, I lugged the thing awkwardly by the neck while the poor tail dragged along through the sand. I had no poise or grace whatsoever…and certainly no strut!
But so what if I didn’t look cool?!! I didn’t care! I was too blissed out living my dream to care about the mechanics. I just wanted to surf! The surfer’s dog was finally going to catch a wave.
Wait! Before we actually hit the surf, we had a surfing lesson on the sand. This lesson just took us through the basics of surfing like the parts of the board and attaching the leg rope to your stronger leg. I took special note of the leg rope and was determined not to trip over it!!
Then, off we went.
Wow! I caught a few waves. It was awesome.
Then it was time to really get stuck into it. We were back out on the sand learning how to stand up. This was getting serious. Could I do it? Could I actually stand up? I wasn’t holding my breath although it would have been out of this world to pull it off and rather amusing. Mummy learning to surf at my age…ha!
Standing up was proving seriously difficult. As I mentioned before, I have muscle weakness. Moving from sitting to standing isn’t a quick, seamless manoeuvre on land. It takes time, thought, effort. The instructor was quite encouraging suggesting that the water might help to lubricate the board and make it easier but I wasn’t convinced. I had a go in the surf and nothing budged. But the instructor wasn’t to be deterred. I started off in a kneel and then tried to manoeuvre my feet to get me up but they wouldn’t move either. My movements were just too slow and awkward. I’d need a good hour to laboriously move all my body parts into the right positions and by then the wave would be history.
Standing up wasn’t going to happen at camp but I didn’t dismiss it as a never ever. I might just need a bit of practice. As much as you need to push yourself to reach a dream, you also need to know when to stop and defer things to another day.
Surfing was hard work and had what Beatrix Potter would describe as a soporific effect. I went back to our cabin for a snooze.
Instead of waking up feeling like an iron woman the next morning, I felt like quite the geriatric. Almost every muscle ached but it was worth it!!! Rowie had finally caught some waves.
Wahoo! I was finally surfing my dream.
Now, perhaps there’s even hope for the surfer’s dog!
Check out these very cool surfing dogs…
19th April, 2013