Tracks - - Intro -

It’s three days af­ter the Quik­sil­ver Pro fi­nal and I’m still on the Gold Coast. I’ve ig­nored work com­mit­ments, sidestepped a week­end bucks party back in Syd­ney and spent a night sleep­ing in the car. Why? Be­cause the tardy swell that never re­ally ar­rived for the Quik­sil­ver Pro has fi­nally shown up. For four­teen days of rel­a­tive flat­ness I’ve lis­tened to sto­ries of surfers who hooked up with cy­clone Mar­cia and en­joyed life-al­ter­ing rides, and of course I’ve watched dozens of tor­tur­ous clips to val­i­date their glo­ri­ous claims. I never got to make out with Mar­cia so I’ll be damned if I’m miss­ing out this time.

An­tic­i­pa­tion knows no equal as my rental swings past the point at Kirra. When a crisp green line swings into the big groyne and ri­fles down the line I’m like a dog with its head out the win­dow and its paws on the wheel. The tide’s ob­vi­ously too high for the wave’s cylin­dri­cal rev­e­la­tions, but the swell is most def­i­nitely here.

Min­utes later I’m launch­ing into the Snap­per Rocks mosh-pit, jostling along­side half a thou­sand other surfers with flex­i­ble, Mon­day work sched­ules. At this point the wave can begin to feel like an elab­o­rate feast that has been laid be­fore you while your mouth is gaffa­t­aped and your wrists cuffed. An­tic­i­pa­tion switches to self-in­ter­ested anx­i­ety. ‘Will I even get a taste?’ The Kirra teams chal­lenge has been held the day be­fore and as Davey Cathels blasts through a lip like a brick through a shop win­dow, I’m dramatically re­minded that some of the best surfers in the coun­try are now com­pet­ing for the wave of their lives. Not to men­tion a hand­ful of CT surfers who have stayed on af­ter the con­test. To off­set my grow­ing doubts about luck­ing into a de­cent wave, I try to pre­tend that I’m part of some gi­ant, aquatic rave. Of course I want my own tab of green room ec­stasy, but if I tap into the col­lec­tive stoke – the fes­ti­val vibe – surely I can get off on the ex­pe­ri­ence and en­joy some­one else’s ride as much as my own?

Bo­hemian philoso­phies are fast forgotten when one fi­nally bends my way. Sud­denly I must be­come a per­former in my own surf­ing fan­tasy. I’ve imag­ined this wave for days, resched­uled my life to be there for it and sud­denly here I am – weav­ing my own dream. A hun­dred en­vi­ous eyes are on me as I drop in at Snap­per and slalom through the crowd, nearly col­lid­ing with a mal rider whose board seems like a bat­tle­ship amongst a flotilla of yachts. Af­ter a des­per­ate re­cov­ery I strug­gle to ad­just to the wave’s speed as it throt­tles through lit­tle Mali. Then fi­nally, at some point half­way down Rain­bow Bay, I re­lax enough to en­joy the ride. The board glides ef­fort­lessly from top-to-bot­tom and for a few won­der­ful sec­onds I’m un­touch­able. By the time I kick off just past Green­mount I’ve be­come a kid at a Gold Coast theme park who is determined to keep chas­ing rides till they drop, no mat­ter how bad the queue.

Three hours and many hard-won waves later, I wade slug­gishly through the shal­lows – sun-fried, slack-limbed, frag­ile with hunger and never hap­pier. Af­ter re­fu­elling, I col­lapse be­neath a Rain­bow Bay pan­danus palm along­side pen­sion­ers who smile with wrinkly kind­ness. I fall into an ex­hausted sleep, only to be wo­ken by the sting of green ants. Curs­ing the poi­sonous army of in­sects I turn my at­ten­tion to the ocean where re­lent­less swell lines turn half-sleep to hyp­no­sis. I watch on as a fig­ure of ef­fort­less mo­men­tum be­neath a mop of blonde streaks across a wave. John John Florence whips his slinky frame through a med­ley of lip-tick­ling turns, be­fore shut­tling to­wards blue sky in a non­cha­lant pirou­ette. The best guy in the world just danced across a grand stage and I didn’t pay a pretty penny to see it.

The tide is run­ning out, Kirra might just re­veal her­self. There is noth­ing to do but shrug off the fa­tigue, pad­dle out and start drift­ing down Coolan­gatta’s two-mile mir­a­cle to the dream within a dream. Such things are pos­si­ble if you are a surfer.

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