28 April, 2015 28 April, 2015

Danny’s Dance – by Dougal Patterson

Danny waited 18 years to settle a score. ‘Danny’s Dance’ by Dougal Patterson is another winning entry into Write to Surf, which earned Dougal a R6000 hamper from Billabong and featured in Zigzag 39.1. The overall winner of Write To Surf will be announced in the next issue (more details below).


DANNY’S DANCE – by: Dougal Patterson


“The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved…” – Jack Kerouac


Wikipedia defines a dark horse as: a little-known person or thing that emerges to prominence, especially in a competition of some sort.

Danny is a dark horse. This is his story.

It was really big that morning and the wave was in a foul mood. She was raking her long, cold fingers across the charcoal reef tearing kelp out by its roots and hurling it against the rotting ribs of the jetty.

Every 45 minutes a rogue 20 footer would avalanche out back toppling over the deepest boil and bellowing through the inside bowl, turning it into a treacherous cauldron of foam.

A small crew was sitting wide. Very, very wide. 50 metres off that peak. As far as our collective logic and cumulative experience told us, on that day, the peak was unridable. Until Danny arrived.


Head down, he was breathing hard, encased head to toe in his rubber suit of armour. His already thick chest and shoulders were bloated with the added bulk of an impact vest. He paddled right past us. 50 metres past us.

18 years is a long time to court a lady who doesn’t want you to dance with her.


I was screaming into the phone as I drove back over the mountain. It had been an hour since Danny had clawed his way onto the shockwave that had been birthed from the womb of a frigid arctic storm. It was a wave that was never meant to be scarred by fins. It was a wave that was only meant to serve as a perfectly horrifying, gloriously unattainable reminder to Danny of the event that had happened out there 18 years earlier. It was meant as a warning against any further persistence in trying to dance with her.

Yet Danny had slid his board straight through the abyss. It must have been the steepest, meanest wave ridden anywhere on earth on that particular day. But that isn’t where this story begins, it’s where this story ends. This story started 18 years earlier when the same wave had unleashed her worst and tried to kill both Danny and his Father.


Wikipedia defines a pugilist like this: one who fights with his fists; especially a professional prizefighter; a boxer.

Father and son. The pugilists. On that day the two men had pitted themselves against the fury of nature. They had tied themselves to the mast of their conjoined destinies when they pulled on their ragged wetsuits and walked past the crowd of onlookers. Onlookers who had gathered to watch a grand spectacle of nature unfolding before them. The pugilists had paddled out past that same rotting jetty, father on an ancient 10-foot single fin and son mercilessly under-gunned on a much smaller board. They were entirely unprepared for what followed. The lady was angry on that day and the pair never made it out to the backline. Halfway out they had watched in horror as the only other surfer out there guided his spear down a mountain of water that was unlike anything else either of them had ever seen. Then, she threw her arms wide and bore down in a spitting rage that enveloped them both. Danny’s board was instantly ripped asunder as they were buried in an avalanche of water.

Danny’s hands are like spades. Huge square spades, and on that day he used them to pull himself up through the waterfall, managing to surface just in time to draw a single breath. It was long enough to see his father’s board tombstoning nearby. He knew that his 50-year-old dad wasn’t going to make it back to the surface before the next wave hit him.

On that day, Danny thought that this wave had killed his father.


For the next hour the two men fought for their lives. They were beaten to the canvas again and again by the huge walls of water that continued to avalanche over them. Broken, humbled, spent and terrified, they were finally reunited on the beach where father and son sat side-by-side on the sand and wept.

Years passed, with neither of them being able to forget what the wave had done to them. The father aged, mellowed and forgave her but the son’s desire to dance burned ever brighter. Danny would eventually meet the other surfer who had ridden the wave that had nearly drowned his father.

That surfer became his friend, mentor and board shaper. And Danny returned to her, again and again and again. Because that’s what dark horses do. They never stay down. They pick themselves up off the canvas time and again. An unquenchable curiosity and a desire sees them stand there, weaving drunkenly with eyes swollen shut, bleeding and punch drunk but still swinging their spade-like hands at adversity.

That’s why I was screaming into the phone that morning. I’d witnessed the impossible.

The son had stayed in the ring, fighting on for the two of them. It was love and curiosity that had pushed him to paddle those 50 metres beyond us on that day.


The wave had begun to draw while it was still hundreds of metres out. A long, dark shadow on the horizon travelling faster than anyone could paddle. My throat closed in terror as we watched Danny turn and start paddling for it. He didn’t even look over his shoulder. He was going, no matter what.

Already too deep, the wave was drawing so much water off the reef that he almost had no forward momentum. It was like he was going backwards. I thought I was going to watch someone die. As the wave caught him, the tail of his 10 foot gun was lifted so suddenly that he was instantly vertical.

The moment his feet touched the deck, everything changed. In that instant, Danny’s form went from punch-drunk to suddenly perfect. The wave staggered just long enough for him to sink the rail of his board deep into the wall. Compressed low, his feet apart in survival stance with his arms wide open, the sea was his throne. He slid straight down, already behind the peak, disappearing from our view as he guided his board across the mirror version of the wave that had almost killed his dad.

A man waiting 18 years to settle a score.

A son riding for his father.

This is Danny’s story.

Click here to check out all the entries so far >>


Launched in March last year, Write To Surf is Zag’s surf journo competition with some epic prizes up for grabs. We invited our readers to send in their surf stories to stand a chance to win a hamper from Billabong worth over R6000 every issue. The main prize, the winner of which we’ll be announcing in the next issue of Zigzag (Vol. 39 No. 4), is an all-expenses paid assignment for a major Zigzag feature. It could be somewhere tropical, it could be somewhere cold, all we’re promising is that it’ll be somewhere rad.

During the course of the competition we received dozens of epic entries, which you can check out here. Winning entries received the following hamper from Billabong:

1 x Billabong Wetsuit; 1 x Billabong Boardies; 1 x Billabong Cap; 1 x Von Zipper Sunnies; and 1 x Set of Kinetic Racing (KR) fins.


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