WATCH­ING A GAN­NET

Surfing World - - Contents - By An­drew Kid­man, For­mer Waves Edi­tor, Film Maker, Mu­si­cian

Avalon: circa 1993. I was work­ing as the edi­tor of Waves Mag­a­zine, liv­ing in a small bed­sit in Bil­gola. I was at my wits end with my ca­reer, I could see it for what it was and it wasn’t much. I viewed my­self as just an­other sell-out.

The surf in­dus­try was go­ing gang­busters. The big­ger the in­dus­try got the fur­ther it got from its roots of shar­ing an ex­pe­ri­ence in the ocean with friends.

Co­caine fu­elled the bravado of the in­dus­try pro­tag­o­nists. This bravado per­me­ated the streets, night­clubs and line-ups: fast cars, surf travel deca­dence, bright wet­suits and noise, noise, noise and more noise. Ev­ery bas­tard had an an­gle, in­clud­ing me.

It was early Sun­day morn­ing. A south-east­erly wind ripped through the penin­sula around mid­night, wak­ing me up and curs­ing me to my con­scious mind. The wind rat­tled the old glass win­dow­panes in the bed­sit; I could hear the swell ris­ing as the hours went by, the ocean and wind be­com­ing one con­stant hum.

Day­break brought the rain. I imag­ined be­ing Leonard Cohen, wak­ing to a beau­ti­ful woman, light­ing a cig­a­rette and play­ing some chords to a love song I’d writ­ten for her. This wasn’t the case; I made some cof­fee, pulled back the cur­tains and watched the rain cre­ate psy­che­delic mag­ni­fi­ca­tions of the gum trees that twisted in the wind out­side.

It was around 7.30am. De­spite the gloom the ocean still called. I drove down to Avalon to look at it. I looked north from the south­ern head­land; it was a solid eight feet, a ragged mess of a sea, clos­ing out ran­domly from North Av to Lit­tle Av, the on­shore wind crush­ing the swells from be­hind. It was beau­ti­ful all the same. I turned to the wind and closed my eyes, it sure is some­thing to stand upon a cliff’s edge and feel the pres­sure from a sea storm on one’s face. I opened my eyes: there was not one soul to be seen.

Cold and wet I got back in my car. I drove down the hill and waited at the lights. I looked over to surf club; there was a lone car parked there and a man un­hitch­ing a wind­surfer from the roof. “Wow,” I thought to my­self, “This will be in­ter­est­ing.”

I backed back up the hill and parked my car. I walked over to the knoll that over­looks the surf club carpark and watched the man go through his process of rig­ging up his wind­surfer. This was no mean feat as the gusts of wind caught the sail and brought the ves­sel to life. But this op­er­a­tor was an old hand, he had an an­swer for ev­ery an­gle of wind that whipped around him, lock­ing his car and strad­dling the awk­ward craft on his back, point­ing the nose of the board into the wind and the sail down­wards, out be­hind, like a bird’s tail feather.

He walked to­wards the ocean with ease and dropped the board in the shore­line. Like light­ning he was up and rid­ing, cut­ting across the white foam soup, dart­ing back and forth look­ing for the clean wa­ter, mak­ing a run for the open sea when he saw his chance. I stood in the rain, mes­merised. Half a mile out he cut back and headed to­wards North Avalon head­land. The south-east swells were jack­ing up all over the place, he cir­cled around wait­ing for the big­gest one then com­mit­ted by open­ing his sail up to the wind. He flew across the face of the wave and out into the flats as it closed out, he was just like a gan­net, toy­ing with the wind and waves.

I watched him at play for an hour. I re­alised I was wit­ness­ing some­thing very spe­cial, a lifechang­ing mo­ment. It was the most re­mark­able thing I had ever seen any­body do in the ocean. It was mag­nif­i­cent. Watch­ing him put ev­ery­thing into per­spec­tive for me, tele­port­ing me back to those first days as a kid and the pure joy of be­ing in the ocean.

He beached his craft, picked it up, dropped it on his shoul­der and walked back to his car. As he changed I walked to­wards him, I didn’t know what I was go­ing to say to him, but I wanted to talk to him. Thank him for the per­spec­tive. As I got closer to him I re­alised it was Midget; ev­ery­thing made sense to me then, the com­plete mas­tery. He felt my pres­ence and looked at me, his eyes were lit up, his hair tangled, he had a cheeky grin on his face, like he’d just got­ten away with some­thing and no one had seen it. “Hello An­drew,” he said in his beau­ti­ful Aus­tralian ac­cent.

“Wow Midget,” I said. “That was in­cred­i­ble.”

“Fan­tas­tic isn’t it! What a day An­drew, what a day.”

What a day in­deed.

Long be­fore Kelly Slater, long be­fore Chris­tian Fletcher, long be­fore Martin Pot­ter, the Midget was hit­tin’ ramps and feelin’ mad air. Like a gan­net. (Peter Craw­ford)

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