Saturday, 26 October 2013

The Rip

It was a gloriously bright Tuesday in September when he crested the ridge and got a glimpse of the ocean as it stretched out to the horizon. He'd never approached his secret cove from the mountain before and the view was breath-taking when it unfolded before him. It was as if a whole world lay hidden behind a bend in the tiny road. He eased his vehicle to a stop and rolled down the driver’s window to take in the magnificence of the scene.

"This is what it must feel like to be an eagle," he whispered to himself as his eyes took in the islands in the distance dwarfed by the vast undulating water. White lines of surf, so tiny from this vantage point, broke on a sliver of golden shore miles below. The land nuzzling the coast was a patchwork of fields which swept up the valley until they ran into an impregnable buttress of dark limestone. The fluted rock soared skyward a thousand feet, as if the rib cage of the earth had burst through the soil. The road he travelled was carved into the face of the cliff and his camper van was perched a stone’s throw from the top.

He looked down at his tattered wool jumper and fingered his jeans which were ripped from old age rather than fashion sense. A huge smile spread across his face as he realised he was the luckiest man alive. Whatever money he had jangled in his pocket, and when the van ran out of petrol he would call that place home until he found a way of making enough for another tank of fuel. He was not ashamed to say he had eaten from more than one dumpster but at moments like this he wouldn't trade lives with any billionaire you may care to mention.  He slid first gear into place and the battered VW camper puttered down the four-in-one incline, snaking its way past boulders and waterfalls. He inched down the face of the impressive cliff like a sure footed mountain goat until the road vanished into the top reaches of the tree line.

Once the distraction of Gods personal view was removed he felt his foot depress the accelerator more firmly, eager to be one with that vast body of water. The cove was known only to a few, and the first time he had stumbled upon it he had been wandering aimlessness near deserted coastal paths. He had been stunned by the pristine waves he found, as if they had been waiting an eon for him to come and carve them up with the fins of his surfboard.

With the thought of what was waiting for him looming large in his mind, each second seemed an hour, every foot a mile, as he drove further down the mountain. His cove was a surfer’s dream, a personal paradise of perfect breaking waves, hidden from the rest of the world, reserved for him.

At last he turned into the unmarked Bohereen which narrowed and ended before he had reached his destination. He unloaded his board and wet-suit, shouldered a backpack with food and supplies, and trecked the last mile across farmers’ fields. As he marched, he thought about the word Bohereen which meant little road. It had such a musical sound, perhaps Irish was the language of happiness after all. Once he'd asked an old man in a pub what made a Bohereen a Bohereen? The old fella wiped a Guinness moustache from his top lip and said, "A Boher is a road where two cows can pass, a Bohereene is where there is only room for one." Such a simple but beautiful explanation sums up Ireland nicely.

At last he stood looking out over his promised land, he salivated over the huge glassy waves forced to die a virgin death upon the unfeeling shore without ever knowing the caress of a surfers fin. Such a ending was a travesty for waves as perfect as these. Zipping himself into his rubber cocoon he had his first twinge of doubt. From the shore the waves looked substantial but perfect, the substantial part would be magnified when he got in the grip of them. The question in his mind was not if he could ride them, but could he even get past them. He strapped the board's leash to his leg and sprinted undaunted into the chilly Atlantic swell. His board skimming the surface of the foaming white water with ease, powerful strokes drove him further into oncoming waves. Some waves broke before he reached them and he had to power through the boiling froth, others paused just long enough to let him crest the lip before plunging down the dark valley of water the wave left behind as it rushed toward shore.

Muscles aching, he battled the massive swell. Stroke after stroke taking him into deeper water. Soon the feel of the waves under his board changed, the colour of the water darkened from foam flecked grey to dark brooding green. The surfer could feel the cold begin to numb his fingers and he knew he had gone far enough. Sitting up on his board he scanned the horizon for an approaching set to challenge. Wave after wave marched toward him but none broke. He was not sure how long he had bobbed in the water before it dawned on him that something was wrong. The massive waves should be breaking. He turned and was shocked to find the beach had gone. The only land in sight was the upper reaches of the hills he had so carefully navigated earlier. His guts knotted with fear as he realised he was caught in a rip.

Despite his experience, panic made him do what he should never have done. He turned and tried to paddle back directly toward shore. Each frantic stroke sapped vital strength, where he gained a foot, he lost two. Every second the flow of water carried him further from land. The ocean seemed to have discarded all the heat it gathered from the sun and was now as cold as the grave. Layers of protective rubber couldn't stop the fingers of icy water probing his skin, robbing him of his most precious resource - heat. He battled the rip for what seemed like hours before the shakes began, gathering speed and strength until they rippled through his body, running from shoulders to feet, torturing his already jaded muscles, but fear made him push through the agony. Slowly the shakes dwindled and the cold seemed to slip from his body. He felt tired, so very tired but he continued to paddle with jelly like arms. After one last attempt to save himself by paddling for a hopeless wave, he collapsed on the board in utter exhaustion, letting his arms hang below the surface of the frigid water.

His cheek resting on the board, he could see his ragged breathing create tiny waves in the water pooled on the surface. His mind felt drugged, as if he was tripping on the lack of oxygen. He couldn't fully explain what was happening, but he knew it was serous. Piece by piece his body was closing down. All the pain was gone, all the fear had vanished and a state of complete calm descended on him. Euphoria engulfed him with warming hands and he felt his eyelids flutter as sleep threatened to take him. Heavier and heavier his eyes grew until he could hold them open no longer. He was past caring when a wave tipped up his board and his body slipped into the ocean. Some ancient part of his brain sensed the danger and forced his eyes open one last time.

In the depths, shadows condensed, moulding themselves into gracefully swirling nymphs. They danced as if to welcome him to the kingdom of Neptune, a brother eventually come home. Without fear or sadness the surfer surrendered the last of his strength and accepted this final embrace.


Francine Hirst said...

Wow! That is a great read!

squid mc finnigan said...

What is the super natural with a wee bit of the natural to scare the bejesus out of us now and again. Loved your last blog post, More we all shout!!!

paula shene said...

Wowzer - for now and for ever - fantastic!

squid mc finnigan said...

Wowzer has gone right to the top of my favourite post comments ever. Thanks Paula, so glad you liked it,

Nikkah Lubanga said...

a great read as always! you're always good at describing scenes (one of my weaknesses in writing)...also, i love the transition of the story, from a sunny atmosphere to a very sad but redemptive one!

Caylie Maehr said...

My Father is a surfer and i have seen through out my life that his bond with the sea and his board is immensely strong, whilst reading your piece i couldn't agree more with the mans eager heart racing (impatiently) towards the waves.
Its very good - i love the reality of fear, panic and then acceptance that allot of us cannot see through when put on the edge.

squid mc finnigan said...

I guess so much of his story was about the place rather than the person it became the second character, that is the amazing thing about the ocean over here it can seem such a bright sunny day but the ocean early in the year only hovers about 11 Degrees quite cold enough to send you hypothermic in about an hour if not kitted out in the right gear. I am a surfer myself and on one occasion went to the stage of shut down, that was an experience I will never forget but as in the story the amazing thing about it was how un frightening it was.

squid mc finnigan said...

:) Caylie, I can tell you have been subjected to the frantic drives to the beach followed by the calm nearly sedated drives back that all us surfers are prone to.
Thank you so much for taking the time to check out my piece and Say Hi to your Dad from a fellow surfer.