11 November, 2014 11 November, 2014

High Altitude – by Alison Dell

It was for love that Alison Dell left the coast and relocated to Gauteng. In ‘High Altitude’, Alison considers whether only a [has been] surfer knows the feeling. ‘High Altitude’ is also an official entry into ‘Write to Surf‘ – our surf journo competition with some epic prizes up for grabs (see below for details).


HIGH ALTITUDE – by Alison Dell


700kms from the nearest ocean, things get claustrophobic fast. You can feel it coming closer, that sense of being closed in with no fresh air, no respite from the smog dulling the horizon, from the bitterly endless expanse of time that marks a weekend (or worse, a holiday!) with no ocean, no waves, no beach sand between your toes. Children, spouse, pets – normally the object of love and devotion – become the target of a worsening temper, as life closes in and joy seeps out. This is how it feels to be a surfer living in Gauteng!

Life is a funny journey, takes you down unexpected paths and alleyways, some nicer than others. Everyone makes their choices in life, and even if the choice is a good one there are still plenty of days when it doesn’t feel like it. Love and money are normally the drivers for such foolhardy decisions like leaving the sea behind. Sometimes the hiatus is temporary, the deviation slight. And sometimes not.


Things took a funny turn when I started internet dating. Yes I know, blind! But I had my reasons, and there I go and fall in love with my dream partner. Bliss divine, except for the fact that she lived in Pretoria. P-R-E-T-O-R-I-A! So things run their course and we are blissfully happy, albeit 1700kms between us, many Kulula voyager miles being racked up. But, like all good things, someone had to make a decision and take ten deep breaths. Someone, someone – someone like me. Someone who has experienced first-hand that love is so hard to find – love that works, that feels good, that doesn’t break you down or have you making decisions you can’t live with. Like yes let’s have kids, more than one! Yes I want a dog, two! Yes let’s buy land in the country, one day we can move to the klein karoo, breath deep that dazzling clear air!

But what of the sea, my first love, my greatest love? How long will we stay in Pretoria, how long will it take for you to find a job at the coast? How often will we travel to Durban, to Mozambique, so I can get my fix?


And that is how a person makes a life changing decision – half calculated risk, half blind hope, caught up in the joy of a moment. And then, as time moves on, as the relationship settles and vows exchanged, and the dogs are walked, and the children are born, and the land in the klein karoo is bought, and school uniforms are tried on for size, and we buckle under the weight of Grade 1 homework – then the realization settles heavily that this brief hiatus, this momentary sho’t left, is a bit longer than anticipated.

Gauteng is not entirely without hope, there are glimmers of happiness through the smog. There’s whitewater kayaking on the rivers – so similar to surfing in many ways, turbulent water, jubilation, humility when you get pummelled, glorious outdoor freedom with few others around. You have to search hard for a clean river and mostly you settle for less than clean, but as long as you don’t swallow any water the rush and joy is there to be found. There are others like me (some might call us sad?) who are doing stand up paddling on the local dams, even in rivers. Others still take up canoeing, tear round and round Emmarentia dam until their heads spin and their watery needs are met. Others fall before the might of hopelessness and buy Harleys, do breakfast runs past Hartebeespoort, or immerse themselves in golf or work or sex or alcohol or rampant consumerism in malls.


No matter what poison you choose to keep you afloat, nothing comes close to walking across the beach, feeling that sand underfoot, and then sinking into the glorious wondrous ocean. It’s like breathing anew, like being cleansed. And then, oh glory!, to actually catch a wave, clamber ungraciously to your feet (such a distant muscle memory, that quick and effortless movement), ride the foamie for as long as you can keep your balance. But how come that wax rash hurts so much, don’t remember that? And my tender desk-bound knees with that bright red bump on from trying to duckdive? And those snotkop Durban groms (all in their fullsuits in June, like Durban actually gets cold!?) making snide comments about vaalies, little pricks!

The return drive north, back to the interior, is filled with my self-satisfied silence, my partner sitting there with a bemused expression at how much I need this, my kids thinking I’m having a mid-life crisis. Whatever, “only a [has-been] surfer knows the feeling”…

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


Send your stories to calvin@zigzag.co.za. One submission will be selected every six weeks to appear in Zigzag magazine. The selected submission will also receive a hamper from Billabong. Zigzag retains the right to use any work submitted for the Zag Surf Journo competition on zigzag.co.za as outlined in the rules and terms of the competition. Zigzag reserves the right not to award a published winner in the magazine every six weeks, depending on the quality of entries. Zigzag is not obligated to run any and all entries submitted, either online or in print. Zigzag retains the right to edit all work submitted for brevity and / or clarity.

For the next three issues the Billabong prize hamper includes: 1 x Billabong Wetsuit; 1 x Billabong Boardies; 1 x Billabong Cap; 1 x Von Zipper Sunnies; 1 x Set of Kinetic Racing (KR) fins. After which the hamper will get a shake-up with new product of equal value for the following three issues.


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