The best day ever...

Port Stephens Sand Dune Sunset

Port Stephens Sand Dune Sunset

After so many great expectations the best day ever had begun not so well. ‘Goodsey’, his best mate, had planned a midweek surf at a favourite, isolated spot and they had both been able to wrangle a guilt free day off work.

Years ago a surreptitious day off work was much more satisfying than a sanctioned one because of the lack of guilt it illicited. But that was in the days before responsibility, love, children and mortgages.

So the day was arranged weeks before in the hope of good surf and weather coinciding. That it would also be his birthday made it more special to his family and his mate. His own birthdays weren’t such a big deal for Luke. But hey, if it helped justify a day surfing then so be it! Luke enjoyed other people’s birthdays more than his own and found it hard to accept any fuss that was made about his.

With age came more reflection and less lifting of carpet for the brushing of truths and secrets under. The last year or so had seen Luke struggle with a hidden darkness that lay just behind his bright green eyes and sun-weathered, omniscient smile. The black dog, however, had been coaxed out for more regular walks and years of happy hidden sadness was being talked about, understood and, better still, accepted.

Last night, backed by a perfect forecast, held the anticipation of clean waves, and a blue sky. The spot was isolated enough that not many would make the 2k walk in when there were other places, easier to get to, that would have good waves as well.

The spot was their place. He and Goodsey had first camped there as 14 year olds when the surf first took hold of their bodies, souls and, for a long time, sole possession of their hearts. Others knew about it and it could often be crowded on weekends but, midweek, at this time of year they might even have it to themselves.

At 5am Luke heard Goodsey’s old 4WD ute rattle onto his drive. He gulped a last mouthful of Weetbix and half rinsed the bowl before setting it quietly in the sink. His board and gear were in the carport ready for loading and he got downstairs and out the front door so quickly that the ute had barely stopped.

The quiet excitement and anticipation disappeared with one look at his friend’s face.

‘Sorry mate,’ he said, hardly able to look up. ‘Hank can’t make work and I need to be there for today’s pour.’

Hank was the foreman at Goodsey’s concreting business and it was his experience, trustworthiness and reliability that allowed Goodsey the time and peace of mind to take the occasional day off.

‘What’s up with him?’ Luke knew Hank well and if he couldn’t make work it had to be serious.

‘It’s that bastard son in law...’ was enough for Luke to know that Hank’s daughter had probably been hit again.

'Why does she stick with the mongrel? She ok?’

‘Yeah, a bit of a shiner, but nothing broken. At least this time she called the cops. Hank’s helping her move out.’

‘Well, at least that’s good,’ Luke said putting down the board he had just picked up.

‘Hey mate, what are you doin’? You go - the waves will be great. It’s offshore, five foot - perfect birthday pressie, mate’

Goodsey grabbed Luke’s board putting it and his gear in the ute with the food and water he’d organised last night. ‘You take the ute, I’ll catch up later in one of the work trucks.’

He could see Luke was hesitating and spoke quickly as he moved around to the passenger side, ‘Drop me off at the site on ya way! Don’t miss these waves mate - you’ll be dead a long time and ya gettin’ bloody old now!’

So, before he had a chance to back out, he had dropped Goodsey at work and arrived at the break in the trees where the track to the sand dunes began. The old ute meant he’d be able to get much closer to the break so he’d only have to climb one or two sand hills.

From the top of the last one he could see a perfect little peak peel off across a shallow bank with fast, tubing left and right walls. No one was out and the beach was empty - a perfect present.

In younger, invincible times there would have been no second thoughts. He and Goodsey would be rushing to the water barely taking time to wax their boards.

Now, though, he was more measured. The allure of a perfect empty break was tempered by the occasional fins they had seen at their spot over the years. They had never been hassled by a shark but surfing alone had made Luke a little more uneasy the older he got.

Besides, Goodsey was bigger and a little slower - something to be considered when choosing a surfing buddy. Luke smiled at the joke they often shared and his mate’s retort that he would be fine because ‘Sharks don’t like blackfellas!’

As he walked down the dune and closer to the shore a new set broke and any reticence was set aside. Methodically, he stripped down and then pulled on his wetsuit. It would be a warm day but this early in spring the water was still cold. Besides, last night at dinner, hadn't his kids said he was ‘really old’ this time? Just before they sang him ‘Happy Birthday’.

The cold water was quickly forgotten as he broke through the shore break . The surf wasn’t big - just a good, fun, comfortable size. Perfect to play and relax in.

His first wave peaked quickly and he hardly had to paddle. Just turn and sink the board backwards into the face. Momentum launched him and in a single motion was on his feet leaning low to make the turn before the lip crashed onto his back. Tucked up tight, he crouched, becoming wrapped in a watery blanket. Some long seconds later the wave pushed him out across the wall as it feathered far down line preparing to close out. He pushed down into a final bottom turn and launched the board up over the lip. In younger times he would have attempted a crashing re entry just like his heros in the surf magazines. Now though, he was content to glide down the back of the wave looking for the next one.

It was already the best day ever….

Paul FoleyComment