WATCHING A GANNET
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)