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.

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