THE OLD NOMAD
YOU MEET ALL SORTS OF CHARACTERS ON THE ROAD WHEN SURFING. SOME WILL INSPIRE YOU...
He said he’d left Cornwall when the council started charging for his local beach car park. He moved over to France for a time, and then Spain until the same happened in both places too. He ended up here in the south of Portugal living out of his faded red raggedy motorhome with only his mongrel dog for companionship. He wasn't specific with the amount of time he'd been away just that it had been a “long ol’ time”.
He added as a caveat, “But when it happens here I’ll just head down to Morocco, and keep going further and further south”.
I joked with my mates in the car on the way back to our soulless but air conditioned hotel,
“Seems a bit extreme to pack up and leave a bloody country over a parking fee”
“It’s not simply the fee though is it, it’s the principle. Nah I get it, I’m with the old nomad, he’s a principled man”, my mate replied.
We had got talking to him earlier that day. Arriving at the beach we clambered out of our rental hatchback. Hungover and dishevelled we made a beeline for a viewpoint to see what the conditions were like up close. From the top of the pass it had definitely given us a glimpse to small but clean waves easily the best we had seen out of the three beaches we had stopped by already.
The old nomads home on wheels was parked just to the side of the car park on a patch of dry grass and dirt, it gave the immediate impression that it was more than just a space to him, it was clearly his home, well at least until the day the Portuguese authorities installed a metre that is.
“It’ll be good on the push, in about forty minutes or so”, he said as he walked towards us. He told us that he had been in early that morning and it was small but perfectly clean and was hopeful the tide may give it a bit more size soon. We told him we couldn’t wait as we’d been cooped up in a Twingo for the last fifty minutes but we’d see him in there, his exaggerated thumbs up assured us we would.
We ran tentatively across the stones fitting a wetsuit arm or grabbing a leash as we went and then bolted onto the beach, the warm golden sand a welcome juxtaposition from the path. We playfully cruised through the small shore break and then through a set of small but nicely formed waves. There was a bodyboarding father and son duo on the main peak but that was it.
It took a while for the next set to arrive but we weren’t complaining, the afternoon’s sun rays warmed our noggins as we bobbed on the ocean’s calm surface. The beach was flanked by cliffs and the tranquil scene was only interrupted by us talking crap or the Dad calling his son into the first wave of the set. He followed on the next and then we picked off the rest, gliding along the waist high smooth faces with the kind of control and confidence I only have in waves of zero consequence.
There were long spells in between sets but we were enjoying the long rides the small waves were offering. Before long the old nomad paddled out on his trusty steed, a long board so beaten and tattered I imagined that it had most likely made it from his Cornwall days. We only had a few seconds for some small talk and then on cue the biggest set of the session emerged, we all paddled for position but the old nomad was already further out and best placed. in one well-rehearsed movement he sat on the tail of his board swung the nose towards the beach and after a couple of paddle strokes sprung to his feet, low and focussed he dropped down the face and arced from the bottom turn and tucked into the middle of the wave. The wave was big enough to throw the board along the bluey green wall at pace and the old nomad shuffled forward to absorb the increase of speed.
The increase in size was enough to put an end to our jovial chit chatting as we all raced for position, I managed to get on the last of the set and was able to work the face with some aggression for the first time. As I paddled back out the waves just kept coming like one contious set, paddling out was more focussed and everyone out was picking off every wave. There were no more lulls and I was beginning to think the old nomad was more than just wise and experienced. He appeared on each wave he caught like a spiritual phenomenon, a zen like bronzed pot-bellied God of waves, dropping and swooping at the starts and walking up the steed as the wave flattened out near the beach.
The waves kept coming but within fifteen minutes tops they were gone, like a puff of smoke all consuming one moment then no evidence it had even been, I thought it might be the same case for old nomad, that he'd simply been a figment of my hazy dyhydrated head, but no he was still there, furtheset out with his back to us. It was flat, an ironed ocean glistening in the afternoon sun and we all sat quiet staring at the horizon. Our patience was in vain and we all gradually retreated back to the beach.
We spent some time with the old nomad afterwards in the car park mainly talking about his experiences of living in a motorhome for a third of his life. He was a tad strange and eccentric but he was free and he surfed so much better than I will at his age.
Whenever I’m surf starved because my time is consumed by my day job or family commitments I think about the somewhat extreme but principled old nomad and where he might be now, confident in only one thing that if he's moved on it would've only been in one direction. And the older I get the more I think kudos to the man who left his home never to return because he was so pissed off with the beach parking situation.