Is it The Joker, Lady Luck, Bonecrusher or The Tailor that makes you a surfer? In this entry into ‘Write to Surf‘ – our surf journo competition with some epic prizes up for grabs (see below for details) – Georgina Merrick contemplates exactly this…
WHICH WAVE MAKES YOU A SURFER?
The Journey from Cursing to Carving – by: Georgina Merrick
Wave 1: The Joker
I’m a girl who took a plunge and moved to Cape Town. Here my surfing life, like the rest of my life, completely transformed. You always remember your less than graceful first wave and mine began in a St Alban’s pub. There I met my South African fiancé, who had conquered the ant trail from SA to London and after 11 years he was still to be found in my homeland; preaching the word of the search, the surf and the southern tip of Africa. I love boardsports but until then I’d never tried the aquatic version, so like all knowledgeable 18 year-olds my first question to the soul patch was, “you’re from South Africa, do you surf?”.
Four weeks and a wetsuit later I found myself in the green grey waters of southern England trying to paddle, stand and ride a wave. How hard could it be? I soon found out. I was a buoyant Brit and my quiet competitiveness was the fuel to the fire of perseverance which ultimately paid off. Yes my first surf ‘sesh’ and I popped up like a nimble gazelle and rode the wave amongst a stampede of white horses, springing from my board to dive into the water. Stirring image – in reality all 5’4” of me found my feet like a tramp after four litres of special brew and I did my best impression of an orangutan with all arms flailing and a hefty helping of concentration strained facial expressions. To finish, I flopped off my glorified plank of wood like a freshly landed cod.
The Joker had struck. Bloody addictive sport. Like heroin, just one wave and you’re hooked, although you look like a guffawing idiot who should probably give up, but you don’t. I had one thought and that was; am I a surfer? Which wave would make me a surfer? I didn’t feel like I was a surfer despite the fact that I had surfed a wave (not well, but I had done it). So the search for the perfect wave began and my search for that wave that anointed me with the honoured title of Surfer Girl was on…
Wave 2: Lady Luck
In March 2013 I landed in Cape Town. The plane doors opened and the bright sapphire skies and mountains of the peninsula were a welcome and familiar sight. Bang, the starting gun sounded and my African search had started with two oceans and miles of coastline to explore.
My closer proximity to the ocean meant that a 4 x annually trip to the seaside with no guarantee of rideable waves became a weekly, maybe even daily occurrence. I had still not found that wave though. I was just a girl who surfed, a pretender, a bloody novice, dammit, come on Africa show me the money and make me a surfer…
First stop was the Berg. Yep, I know every man and his dog has surfed Muizenberg and moved on for bigger and better breaks, but Johnny foreigner here has one thing to say to anyone who ‘poo-poos’ the Berg. In my opinion you will have to go a long way to find a break that encapsulates the spirit of surfing better. It has waves aplenty, everyone paddling out there is after the same feeling and everyone out there is having fun. Sure very few guys or girls will ever say they had their best wave there, but plenty will say they had their first wave there and more will say they became surfers there. So this bay held so much promise for my search. First off, to realise the bounty you must venture into the promised land.
Paddling out at Muizenberg isn’t a barrel of laughs (it’s not even a barrel), it’s a plastic surgeon’s dream. Scrabbling out to the backline a mile offshore and 20 waves deep with a huge buoyant board – that’s a situation riddled with every potential to break the most prominent feature on your face, not to mention the ever present threat posed by Mr G White. As luck would have it, she is a comedic mistress; you get out and have to have a lie down before you even contemplate paddling for a ride. The set comes and you are ready to surf the face of this wave.
Well, months out of practice and shame, you capsize yourself. Maybe The Joker was a fluke? It was a sight after all, or maybe I’m only destined to surf the lolloping English waves? Coming to the third attempt of catching a ride and lucky legs decides to pitch up to the party. You take-off and your second surf milestone is met. New country, new break, and new practicing arena. Mate; the world’s biggest playground just opened the jungle gym. I was enjoying the swings in Cornwall now I’m playing with the big kids and scaling the climbing ropes in Africa, woo-hoo! Lady luck kissed my fins and I was away. This was the wave that after so many practice peaks I made my first proper bottom turn on. Finesse was still lacking, but my cup ranneth over with enjoyment. Frustration had closed out and I was smack bang in the barrel of belief that I could get the hang of this sport.
The turn had happened. It was short lived and not spectacular – completely missing the power pocket and making a turn into the Guinness Book of Records of shortest rides – but it was fun and it was my second surf birthday. You have so many waves in your surf life but a couple really stand out. So far I had added The Joker and Lady Luck to my portfolio.
Wave 3: Bonecrusher
Just in case I was getting too cocky, my fiancé decided that I should have a bash at bodyboarding. Not to humble my surfing ego, but to give me the first taste of the holy grail; getting barrelled! Cue Crons…
From previous trips, what I remember of this wave other than the most beautiful, deadly freezing water was the sheer amount of power the Cape breaks can have. My brother, a 6 foot-plus rugby player nicknamed ‘The Lummox’, took to this beachbreak for a quick dip. A wave of no extraordinary size was on the horizon. Without the local nouse, Harry acknowledged this forthcoming torrent of water but merely looked about surveying the astounding location. Seconds later he was clothes-lined and dumped on the beach. He resurfaced gasping with an almighty ice cream headache. Hilarious for me at the time, but funnily enough when I was duck-footing it out to bodyboard this beast it wasn’t such a fond memory.
This was a ‘topsy-turvy’ surf, paddling with your feet not your hands and learning to dig your thick rail into the face with upper body movement and force. What I found totally awesome though, was the view you have from your bodyboard; you have it briefly on a surfboard when craning your neck to check if you’re in the sweet spot of the wave you are paddling for. It’s nothing compared to lying prone on your board and looking along the wall of water that’s tipping its lip over you. It was the first time I truly appreciated how steep a drop could get and then came the closeout barrel. It had awesome power unlike any I had felt before.
Elation of ‘holy crap I’m in a barrel’ quickly transformed into a personal pocket of water, then air, then compression. That’s when I panicked. I was like Goldie, that goldfish your neighbour won at a fair. You know that freebie fish that was shaken about in his little Ziploc bag? Well that poor fish of gold never swam the same after Pinner fair, and I was sure I wouldn’t walk the same after Crons. I’d unceremoniously been crushed from on high by the Big Bertha of waves, and if I walked back to the car with a low rider suspension setting I wouldn’t be surprised!
As if to complete my absolute humiliation the Bonecrusher didn’t wash my limp body back to shore. Oh no, it dragged me back out for more. It had been the second wave of the set, which meant I had another three siblings to combat my way back through like a hooked rubber duck at the goldfish game. Having never duck-dived a wave before, this limited my options to drowning or gasping for breath where possible while swimming through the impact zone. I chose the latter, which was more challenging but worth the effort I feel. When possible, I breached the water like a baby whale and took a breath before submerging myself and taking handfuls of sand to keep me down. I hung out there until the powerball had passed over my head.
In my submerged state it did get me thinking about a saying back home, “only mad dogs and Englishman go out in the midday sun.” Well, to coin a phrase, “only mad sharks and South Africans surf at Crons.” When the time came to resurface I rather erupted from the water (NOT Bond girlesque) hair all over my face and doggy paddling for Africa – like a chihuahua in a puddle. That session was my steep learning curve on power and as my father-in-law says, “just another kak day in Africa”.
Wave 4: The Tailor
A snatched surf one Friday afternoon, what better way to start a weekend? 3:00pm and we were heading back to Muizenberg prepared to paddle for anything – a perfect peeler or a crumbling close out – just wanting to be in the water. My wetsuit is seven years old, I had bought it for The Joker. It has long forgotten elasticity and compared to the new wetsuits comfort could go hang. She is a relic and could probably be put on show at a Surfing Museum. Today however, this suit fitted like one of Savile Row’s finest. We paddled out into glassy little peelers. The sun had sunk below the mountain peak that stands sentry over the bay and light was filtering through the valley at the top. A light berg wind blew and although it was winter you felt warm.
I paddled and caught this cool as a cucumber right. I was on the plane and had a cracking foot stance while The Tailor just nudged me along. I came up for a shadow of a floater and dropped back on to the face. I bent low and dug my rail, then I grew tall and pumped my board through the lull and cruised on through to the next peak. I managed to stitch this wave together though all the little breaks, lulls and mini A-frames on offer and finally disembarked in line with the first beach huts. It was my longest ride and I had my light bulb moment where everything I had learnt just was and I didn’t over think it. I remember paddling back out (after a fist pump, naturally) with a big Cheshire cat grin and a tiny voice saying, “that felt like proper surfing”.
Do you every master a sport where each face is different, each wave like a fingerprint? Maybe that is the beauty of surfing? Maybe it isn’t the wave that makes the surfer? Who knows, who cares? After a year of living and loving Cape Town I am venturing onto a shortboard and expanding my surfing horizons. I’m looking forward to feeling as comfortable on a shortboard as I do on a snowboard, and more than that I am looking forward to ‘The Barreller’, ‘Cutty’ and ‘Lippy’ and all the other waves I’m practicing for. Most of all though, I can’t wait for my next wave…
PS: In the last week it was my birthday, I now have a new suit and I met Jordy Smith. Maybe King Triton is looking after me?
* The views expressed in ‘Write to Surf’ entries are not necessarily those of Zigzag.
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