Monday, 9 April 2012
The beach is my church. I grew up in the waves and on the sand and feel just as comfortable in the water as on land. Each Sunday as a nipper I could be found on the long stretch of white sand at Leighton Beach. When I learned to drive I would steer the surf club's rusty, salt-encrusted old ute through the corrugations in the sand up to the dog beach at Cables and south down to Sandtracks. I read the English classics with one eye on the crowds while sitting in the patrol tower at Port Beach, where the cranes and stacked sea containers of Fremantle's busy port loom over the narrow strip of sand carved out by the swell that crashes against the seawall.
I was a clubbie, but I always wanted to be a surfer. I tried to learn a couple of times as a teenager. It did not come naturally to me and I felt too self conscious floundering in the waves to stick at it. When I moved to the south coast in my early twenties I thought I would give it another try, and drove out around the peninsula to Salmon Holes with my body board in the back of my car. I bobbed around in the swell, watching the young guys catching every wave and steering clear of the slippery walls of granite that slide into the treacherous cove. I still wasn't ready. I wasn't any good at it and it was all too embarrassing.
When we moved back to the south coast I said I would learn once the children were older and I had some time to myself again. Whenever that might be.
For my birthday last year Grant bought me a surf board and some lessons with the local surfing school. Quinn was still only a few months old at the time. I had a good few years of procrastination left in me. But I signed up for some lessons with a friend and together we paddled out into the gentle swell at Ocean Beach. I no longer cared what anyone thought, or whether I was any good or not. I just wanted to catch a wave or two, to be alone on the water, to reconnect with that wild and free part of myself that got forgotten while I was mothering my little ones.
Every Sunday since I have strapped my board onto the roof of my station wagon and headed out for an hour on the waves. One hour of silence and solitude, alone with the elements and my thoughts. I have gradually progressed from wobbling shakily to my feet to a more fluid movement, my limbs finding their rhythm where once they flailed. After a year of Sundays my body seems to know what to do - my feet plant themselves wide and my body crouches low as I steer my longboard along the face of the wave.
I headed out with a friend this morning. She has four kids. She did have a babysitter who would watch her little ones while she went surfing each Tuesday, but since her helper headed off to university in the city she has not been able to surf as much as she would like. There is a strong community of female surfers here. Surfing mamas, who know the exhilaration and freedom that the ocean gives. Older women, their children now grown, who offer support and guidance on the waves. "You catch this one. I've got all day, you have to get home to the kids." Words you would never hear from guys reluctant to share the swell.
Sitting out the back with my legs straddling my board I watch the waves curve around the headland into the bay. Craggy limestone cliffs stretch out into the vast blue expanse of the Southern Ocean. Heavily forested hills cling to the folds of the river, soft and green, as it snakes its way into the hinterland. Each and every time I give thanks that we live where we do, this little corner of paradise where the forest meets the sea. I journey home with a light heart. The beach is my church.