Sunday, 3 April 2011

The Fisherman

My first green wave was when I was 12 years old. I’d tagged along again with my older brother and his mates down to Rest Bay. He came in early and offered me a go on his 6’ Bilbo single-fin before his mates also came in. The sun was just going down, the water was freezing, but that didn’t matter. That first experience of catching a wave, standing up, leaning over and have the board turn vaguely in the direction you wanted to go, and actually staying ahead of the whitewater was a feeling I’ve been trying to recapture ever since.

It changes your view of the ocean, or the sea as we called it then. Even on the very many blown-out days of onshore slop, your eyes would skip across the sections looking for that fleeting bit of clean face or a glimmer of a lip you could mentally smack. It changes your view of everything, you start seeing waves everywhere.

Surf mags were full of images of perfect waves so you start traveling looking for what you could never get at home. Overseas where people just didn’t surf, if the local fishermen thought you were crazy for paddling out you’d just smugly chuckle to yourself thinking they just didn’t understand.

Most surfers know a bit about tsunamis. A building, unstoppable surge of water pushing far inland as opposed to your classic surfable big wave. Before a tsunami hits the tide starts dropping rapidly and possibly further than normal, then when the tsunami arrives it would be visible across the whole bay but with a height much less than you’d expect from something that could cause so much destruction. It was always the surge that would cause all the damage.

I’d heard second-hand stories about a friend of a friend who was surfing in Sri Lanka when the tsunami hit in 2004. He had no choice but to catch it and ride it in, managing somehow to direct himself over to some beach-front lodgings and scramble up to the safety of the second floor balcony.

Then came this:

And then this shaky hand-held clip.

 I’m not sure how well known this clip is. It was taken by a local fisherman at Nodamura, Iwate and despite the dodgy-looking last few seconds, he and his family all survived and managed to get to one of the evacuation shelters. He lost his home along with his fishing boat but is amazingly lucky to be alive.

Big waves are life-threatening, no doubt about it. There are countless surf stories of big-wave heroes battling monster waves and surviving wipeouts from hell but with a few notable exceptions, these stories usually end up with the ocean “just letting go”. A lucky escape and a ritual good kicking. But what if the wipeout was just the start? What if the ocean just didn’t "let go"?

As of April 2: 11,800 confirmed dead and another 15,540 still missing… 

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