This is surfing Bondi…
Jacket is on, keys in my pocket, wallet, phone too, sunnies on my head. It’s the first day of daylight savings and it’s 4:59pm. Come on, let’s go! Every second has seemed to gnaw at my patience since I checked the surf cam half an hour ago. CLICK 5:00pm!!! Let’s go! Out the door and I’m onto the bustling street, my motorbike making quick work of the traffic…the first green light flies by, second, third… but not the fourth. My mind slows, how fast was I going back there? Who cares… my mind wanders to what board I will choose when I get home… do I need a wetsuit… where did I leave the wax? Green light!
In what seems like an instant I’m home and out the door running towards the infamous Bondi beach. I can feel the warm offshore breeze as it gently brushes the back of my neck and the warmth of the afternoon light seems to dance off the traffic as I duck between the cars. I come over the hill (puffing) and the ocean is exactly how I imagined, a little crowded, but three foot and clean as a sheet of glass.
From the beach the waves and heads bobbing in the water seem almost graceful. But after living here for a while, I know better than to take this beach at face value. What is masked to the untrained eye is the struggle.
Up close, it’s every man, woman and child for themselves. Although I know the chivalrous “soul surfer” isn’t dead entirely, he seems to have left this place a long time ago.
On this day, as I hit the water and wait in the lulls between the sets, you can see glimpses of his ghost. But when a precious wave reveals itself, me and my four-hundred newest and closest friends are driven into a frenzy. Turning, struggling, kicking and splashing for a wave. When the wave rears its head and the three to ten surfers take off there are calls of “HEY”, “OI” and the occasional “FUCK OFF” thrown around.
There is no real localism here, no ladies first and old guys don’t rule. Every surfer here, surfs with a sense of entitlement. While everyone is free to have a go, having a go doesn’t guarantee you anything more than getting wet. This place truly reveals surfing’s selfish side. Most rules and customs are out the window.
Fairness and freedom remain, but it’s a kind of freedom that can be intolerable to even the best surfers, who take the lions share of the waves. This is chaos on water, a place where people attempt to release the tensions of city life. Where each surfer selfishly seeks to maximise his or her own interest at the detriment of others enjoyment.
This is not the surfing that anyone signed up for. Surfing is supposed to be uncorrupted by the rigid rhythm and evils of the city. But just like the old days the sewage of the city spills into the ocean here. It’s just a different sewage, the waste of men, money, excess, power & ego.
But if you do it often enough, come here and be here, often enough you will learn how to relax here. It will actually be within your power to experience this crowded, impatient and consumer-hell type situation as beautiful. If you can do this you will find the freedom that is uncorrupted by the commercial forces and insatiable materialism that is modern life in Sydney. You will find the freedom that is surfing, so stick at it and look for the glimpses of why you are out there in the first place.
Around two hours after I hit the water, I find myself meandering home in the dark with a big cheeky grin on my face and a calm that only the ocean (even the one that laps at this cities edges) can deliver.