My ankles and core prepare as I adjust the buggy board in my hands for take-off. The anticipation is rising. I push lightly off from the sand and begin to flutter kick, hard. The water turns to foam under the top of the board, just as I was hoping. My hands fasten more securely around the upper reaches of the sides of the board and the memo about the particularly steep wave reaches my core. I am soaring, sliding, skimming, and now it is just me and my board and the sea.
The wave begins to sputter as I come horizontal and I offer it a few wavy dolphin kicks. It catches the bait and the momentum continues. Another kick and a glide, and the gentle shhhh of sand assures me of a well-executed landing. I role onto my right side, for a change because variety is healthy, and carefully sit up, avoiding rubbing my knees or elbows into the sand. Sand burn isn’t much fun.
I wait for the next oomph of sea-power to come along to unwedge my board from the sand for me and stand up. Knees slightly bent and after listening for a second, I begin to flipper backwards. You couldn’t call it jogging, exactly, because no one’s popularised the image of joggers with rubber fins on yet, for good reason. One thing is for sure though, it’s much more practical to flipper backwards than forwards into the waves. I am only buffeted forwards on my way back mildly today; it’s not too choppy. It’s a welcome change. Firm, decisive, less frequent waves are far preferable to frequent, oddly angled half-hearted affairs like the ones Tawharanui beach served up yesterday. Just as I take my position, water just passed my waist, I’m in luck. I board, start to kick and the wave tilts and I’m soaring, sliding–and then I’m not. I spit and stand up.
“Sorry!” I do my best to sputter-yell over the wave, “are you alright?”
“Yeah, all good, no worries, are you alright?”
It would just be a moderate bruise. Just as well I had my head down properly, and I think the board would have taken some of the impact. Still, one does not expect to be interrupted while soaring, sliding, skimming on a wave.
The conversation with my inadvertent obstacle actually lasted longer than that. I only went back into position after receiving three reassurances that he was, in fact, alright. One of my parents is usually keeping a look-out for exactly this purpose, but we’d called ‘last wave’ for the day. Dad caught his and I chose not to take that one, so there was nothing he could do. Realistically though, if you’re body-surfing or standing in the sea for the love of it, even from a purely narcissistic perspective it is not the greatest plan to position yourself in front of a reasonably tightly-packed two lines of buggy boarders.
I flashback to when I swam competitively. I was sprinting backstroke towards the wall, practicing slick finishes. My core was engaged, kick churning up the water and arms spinning in helicopter motion. Thud. My head hurt and I felt immediately deflated. The rule was that if you missed tapping my head at the allocated distance from the end of the pool, you stabbed me with the two metre long tapping pole, wherever it landed, leaving said tapper itself in the same position it was when it missed my head. I received no tap at all. Many blind swimmers have had far worse incidents and I knew it.
Sometimes I wonder if the world expects us to turn into robots. How else are we supposed to trust the same human to tap us again? Of course it was an accident. But the truth is that tapping expertise varies dramatically between humans. With every life-entrusting scramble after that one, that same day, I’d felt the unease lift slightly and my brain’s determination bully it’s way closer and closer to centre stage once more.
Now, I adjust my left foot backwards into ‘ready’ mode. Today’s unexpected encounter on the wave was far less severe than any of those nasty incidents in the pool. Human body-mass alone is far more forgiving than concrete pool walls, after all. If I could deal with those, then with buggy-boarding, it must simply be a matter of catching another four, five, six waves with no repeat occurrences, and all the ominous images of danger would disappear from mental view again.
The sea is calm now, too calm. I’ve never been a patient buggy-boarder and that encounter in no way qualified as a satisfactory ending to the day. Nothing for it but to wait for another ‘last wave’. I already checked with my victim that my latest springboarding spot in the sand is indeed safe. I make myself focus on the sound of the slosh of the sea, the way I would focus in the seconds before a race or before a flute performance.
I hop on to two waves that expire without breaking. I don’t often misjudge more than I catch, but I’ll try anything when the sea gives in like that. I wasn’t alone; sighted boarders were misjudging all over the show, to.
The third wave feels better straight away. I can usually tell just after I start kicking. The water turns to foam under the top of the board. I am riding the wave, erect and proper, letting the sea glide me towards the shhhh of the sand. Just another five, four, three, waves with Mum or Dad standing guard and I will be soaring, sliding, skimming again.