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The Early Darkness of November
Publicerad fredag 29 september 2000 av Andreas LinnellInnehåll / Artiklar

It was never an easy thing for him, to paddle out with the ease and posture that most of the other surfers that graced The Beach were able to do. The headhigh balls of foaming icy whitewater rolled relentlessly towards him, and effortlessly pulled him back out from his late duck dive, legs first and then toppling him over backwards, board clutched tight to his chest. A second later he was back to where he started from, patiently wiping his puffy red face sticking out of the black neoprene hood, and hyperventilating. The cold water that seeped down from his neck didn't warm up sufficiently until it reached his thick booties, and he would wait for it to settle before attempting the paddle out again.

Somehow he always made it out. In the end there would always be a window in the unorganised windswell. On those days he could be seen sitting on the outside, balancing himself on the voluminous 6'10" between his legs, dodging sets and gazing towards the grey horizon where the heavy sea exploded in short bursts of blistering white against black rock. Or he would try to anticipate the brief blink of the lighthouse, even further out, while bobbing up and down in the churning whitecapped water. Occasionally he would swing around and paddle frantically for an approaching set, but he rarely made a wave and he never surfed. It was more a display of behaviour for the sketchy figures sitting amongst the trees, and for the handful of other surfers further down the line; little subconscious bursts of energy that somehow bought him some more time out in the water.

Most of the other surfers that frequented The Beach and The Point were part of a colourful and small surfing community of all ages, most of them driving the 80 miles from the capital every time a low pressure off the British Isles wandered up the broken coastline, generating surfable windswell. The waves would terminate on the shallow banks or barren rock islands in the outer string of the archipelago that protected the city from the bitter seas, leaving only a small nature reserve that was both surfable and accessible by car. And on the southern end of the peninsula, a two-mile long stretch of round polished rocks would flank the sea, exposing itself and the fragile vegetation that lined the beach to the outcome of two hundred miles of fetch over the sea that separated them from the tip of Eastern Europe. On odd occasions, usually during the stormy late-falls, the wind-generated waves would thunder in at an unbelievable 10 feet. Pretty big for a coast that supposedly has no waves.

It was on those miserable days that a variety of surfboards would crown their owner's cars, heading south against the morning traffic with the heat cranked up high, a thermos of coffee in between their legs and Bob Marley on the stereo. But the people heading towards the city would be oblivious. Sometimes a head would turn, but a second later their thoughts were destined to drown in the hysterical voice of a morning show host on the radio.

And it was on those days that he was the first one in the water though he would never make the drive in clear weather or for small waves. He would wait until the end of September or the beginning of October, when the water got cold and storms battered the coast, when the barren pines swayed hard in the wind and he could barely make out the sea from the sky on the horizon. On those days he'd leave his stereo mute, pretending he could feel the symphony of raindrops on the windshield slapping hard against his face, as he drove in silence.

On the parking lot he was everybody's acquaintance, polite and soft spoken. He would smile and nod, and listen to the tired lies of the people just out of the water or the booming from below the trees. And then meticulously wax up and calmly walk down the uneven path to the beach, preparing for the paddle out. Upon leaving the parking lot he left the superficial shell of being one of the chosen ones, and he wouldn't smile again until he had to.

The sense of belonging that the other surfers shared was something that was beyond him. He never read the magazines, watched the videos or cared to travel. Maybe he was too old. He felt old. It wasn't his place to attempt to master the waves, to slide across their unbroken faces, to carve deep scars in the smooth sea, to laugh in the face of nature. He was never a surfer. And for the most part, they all left him alone, left him sitting in the cradle of the whitecapped water, back bent and hands submerged by his sides. And he would let the early darkness of November cover him and the sea that surrounded him, until it had had enough and impatiently sent him tumbling underwater towards the beach.

He remembered the first time he had made the drive out there. It had been early, almost too early, and the distant sun had struggled with the night as he stepped out of the mist and onto the slippery rocks. The loud sea had drawn him in, and though he could only barely make out the wash of the whitewater as it licked the rocks, he became sadly infatuated with the ocean. He remembered the initial shock of the cold water rushing around him and the humiliating powers of the sea that forced him to cry out for pause. It had kept him coming for more. And in only one day it had become a dirty little secret he shared with the dominating waves and the unforgiving nature that surrounded the beach. Once beyond the shorebreak he would turn his back to the slow activities on the colourless beach and he would whisper softly into the black depths while slowly stirring his hands in the forgiving sea.

It was never an easy thing, but somehow that seemed to be the point. And on this bleak November morning, it was harder than ever. The sun was sure to be there, somewhere beyond the low clouds, but he hadn't seen it for a little over a month. The lack of colours and the damp cold seeped straight through his heavy coat and rugged sweater, and had him shiver uncontrollably as he stumbled down to watch the waves break. The sea was in rage, tossing and turning violently before rising angrily, easily reaching eight feet before suddenly unleashing all of its energy on the rocks below. He stood motionless for a long time, licking the salt off his lips, before he slowly made his way back to the car.

A quarter of an hour later he returned, now clad in a thick layer of neoprene, board under arm and carefully watching each and every step to avoid accidentally tripping over the legrope. The waves pounded the shore relentlessly, and didn't miss a beat. He stepped over the slippery rocks, letting the whitewater soak him up to the waist. It was colder than he had thought it would be. Patiently he waited and watched the sea, before finally throwing himself on the board and furiously paddling his long arms towards the thundering whitewater. Moments later he found himself back on the beach face just above water, cold rocks against his back and the fins of his board tapping against his thigh. And he got up again. It was almost like a ritual and he spent a good hour trying to penetrate the shorebreak. In the usual fashion his determination got him through. Or maybe the sea grew tired of the game, and simply wanted a change, a new challenge.

But it wasn't a game, not to him. He sat out there, moving like a puppet in the violent sea, drawing deep, sad breaths, thinking only of the dark grey and green that surrounded him. It was all very simple, it was something he had to do, and it made perfect sense to him. He didn't have anything else. And he would've spent the better part of the short day like that, had it not been for the black figures running down from the parking lot and entering the water. Five minutes later they were in the lineup. He silently cursed the loud addition to the water, and paddled slowly further up the beach. As he did so, he could feel their eyes on his back and he heard them ridicule him in low, muffled voices.

For a while he tried to return to the calm state of mind that had graced him a few minutes earlier and stared hopefully at the expressionless depths below him, but the moment was lost. He resisted the urge to look over his shoulder, and turned his hollow glance toward the dull tip of his board, as it emerged swiftly from the water just before the next wave drowned it again. He let his eye follow the empty waterline, past the heap of rocks where cold birdwatchers and lost beach goers would seek shelter from the breeze, past the dock that braved the waves in silent white explosions, and past the summer houses that rested safely among the trees. The Point at the far end of his field of vision was covered in white foam. A seagull dropped low and peered curiously straight at him as it gracefully swooped by his head, carried on the violent southern wind. Irritated, he made a dash for the next set that came his way. After a second of frantic paddling he felt a surge pass through his stomach and as he glanced over his shoulder he already knew what was happening. He hung in the lip, still hugging his board, and stared down the surprisingly smooth face of the wave, dark from its own looming shadow. Time came almost to a halt, and continued to move along at a more appropriate rate for the moment, and he marvelled at the lack of colours in the world. And then, naturally, the world exploded.

On impact, all air that was saved up in his lungs for just such a moment left his body in a violent gasp and he spun around himself in the old underwater dance, his limbs loosely directed by invisible forces. When the water calmed he searched for the bottom, and when he found it he kicked off with his legs to reach the surface. He broke it just in time for the next explosion. Unlike the first one, this one let loose a thousand brightly coloured flashes that danced uncontrollably in front of his eyes like legions of fireflies or enchanted specks of stardust. And when they died, they left him with a warmth that spread through every part of his body.

When he finally made it to the surface he looked around for his board, and pulled desperately on the legrope to bring it over to him. He wasn't scared. He sat up as a wave approached him, swung around and started his clumsy paddling; the wave rose and elevated the tail of his board below him. But instead of pitching, it drew back, leaving him silently gliding along a wall of calm green water, and raising behind him just enough to maintain his speed. Slow and insecure, he rose to a standing position and stared in disbelief as the water parted slightly before his board. The seagull flew higher, but came around his back and fell down the line in front of him. He could only stand and watch in surprise as the wave swiftly guided him towards the beach, and he leaned into a wide bottomturn that smoothly brought him eye to eye to the surprised seagull, before they parted paths again. He flew down he face with new speed and grace until finally one of his fins connected with the rocky bottom and sent him flying into the arms of the shorebreak. The seagull circled once more before silently swooping back out to sea again. And then the whole ocean seemed to unload its cold fury on top of him.

He lay there, by the edge of the water for a few minutes, feeling more lost than ever before. Seawater ran out of his nostrils and didn't seem to stop. Confused, he crawled up the beach, until he finally he rose to his feet and started to walk slowly up the path. The rocks and roots on the ground cut into his frozen feet, and halfway up the pathway thought he heard a faint hoot riding on the wind from below him. He didn't turn back. And he knew he'd never return.

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