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LAST DAY AT ROSSNOWLAGH – by Dave Smith
There are two distinct sections within Smugglers Creek: the mahogany bar, at which there will always be a few individuals drawing on pints of Guinness; and the restaurant, where a dozen or so tables are arranged beneath a glazed, conservatory-style roof. It is at one of these tables that Emmet and I sit; picking at cheeseboards, sipping on bottles of Donegal Blonde (the local craft beer).
Out through the windows, at the foot of the cliffs (fifty feet below), there is just enough of the fading summer light to see the white froth of the Rossnowlagh waves. In a little while it will be after ten, the sky will be entirely dark and the waves will not be visible at all. They will, of course, still be breaking.
‘Wasn’t great today, sure it wasn’t?’ Emmet says.
‘Nah, not great,’ I say, ‘but good to be out…’
‘It’s always good…’
I nod, thinking back to getting out of the water, the tired satisfaction of pulling my feet out of the wetsuit, the warmth of my clothes afterwards. But there are other memories too: the aches in my rehabilitated shoulder (I fractured it skiing earlier in the year); the way my calves cramped up at the end of the session (first surf trip in eight months); the eye-watering crack I got on the back of my head from the 8’7” hire board.
Now Hannah, our roommate at Fin McCool’s Surf Lodge, enters Smuggler’s, scans the restaurant and then spots us.
‘You got my note…’ I say.
‘Yeah, thanks’ she says, pulling a chair out before settling down to sip on a Corona.
We’ve only known Hannah for a day: Neil Britton, owner of Fin McCool’s and legendary Irish surfer, told us we’d be sharing with a girl when he gave us the room key yesterday and we thought nothing of it until after we got back after a surf and Emmet started opening the door. ‘Ah, hang on a minute, I’m changing…’ a frantic, girl’s voice said from within and there was the sound of scurrying. We shrugged our shoulders, dropped our bags in the hall, smiled. She came out a little later, red-faced, smiling and almost tripping over her feet.
We have another bottle; speculate about the chances of swell tomorrow. After a while we realize we’re the last ones in the restaurant and that the staff have begun turning chairs up on to the tables.
‘You can’t beat this – walking home with the sea beside you…’ Emmet says as we wind down the path towards the beach and then on to Finn McCool’s.
‘Hope there’s swell tomorrow,’ Hannah says after a while, looking out to the retreated sea. The breaking waves make only a faint, half-hearted rumble.
In the morning, over breakfast, I look out from the living room in Finn McCool’s towards the beach. To my left are the green topped cliffs on which Smugglers’ sits; to my right the sand reaches north for at least a mile. This beach reminds me of Muizenburg in the way that the peaks shift, the way that the waves re-form closer to shore and allow surfers of all abilities to catch something half-clean.
The Rossnowlagh tide is coming in now and a wave turns over on itself. From this distance it looks small but perhaps if I were in there it would be big enough to surf.
‘Last day – we have to go out…’ Emmet, who is also looking out to the sea, says.
Now we’re wading in – Emmet drops onto his 8’ custom and starts paddling. Hannah starts paddling too, making graceful, efficient strokes, gliding towards the backline. I walk the hire board in a little farther, wondering if my shoulder will ache today, if my calves will cramp up. Then I paddle for a while. Twenty yards away a bulge pulses inevitably towards me. It’s a re-forming wave that I should paddle over; leave to push shore wards untouched. But there is an urge within to take this first wave, prove to Hannah that I can surf after all the surf talk last night (boys remain boys, even at 39). I turn, let the wave come a little closer and then paddle. I feel the pull on the 8’7” and spring up, thinking it’s a nice easy one first up. But my hand slips off the side of the board, I tumble over into the water.
When I surface I see that Emmet has caught one from way out back – it’s a right that keeps going for ages. He glides along, crouched. I’m too far away to see but I can sense his grin.
Hannah paddles for a wave now – it’s breaking left. She’s pops elegantly up (right foot forward), stays low, pulls her hands through the air as if they were still in the water, rides comfortably.
I paddle all the way out to the spot where the others have caught their waves. This time when a bulge of water approaches I wait a little longer before paddling. I feel I’m starting to move with the water and I make a few strokes, the board accelerates. Without thinking I push myself up and my stomach drops as the board surges down the face of the wave. The board rushes on; moving this way and that as I shift my weight.
Eventually it stalls and I start paddling back out. Hannah glides by on a wave a few feet away.
‘Go Goofball, go…’ I shout out and from this time on she is no longer Hannah to me. She grins, trims the board back into the sweet spot of the wave.
As soon as I get out back another irresistible line of swell approaches, I turn, paddle, feel the weightlessness of the drop.
It’s the same every time I get out to the backline, the same for Emmet and the Goofball too – a short wait and then another clean three or four footer. On one occasion I’m paddling for one and sense that I’m dropping in on someone. I pull back and watch the tall figure of Neil Britton soar past. In all my previous visits to Rossnowlagh (where I’ve done most of my learning) it’s never been good enough for Neil to get in. He rides for a while, then drops on to his stomach before getting too close to shore. Then he paddles back to his take off point, completing an oval.
I paddle up beside the Goofball now. She has her hands tucked under her armpits, her lips are blue.
‘Think I’m gonna go in…’ she says. We must’ve been in for over two hours at this stage.
‘Just a few more,’ I say, grinning. I paddle for a wave, make another drop.
Eventually I see Emmet belly-ride a wave in. I take one more and ride it until I can see the ocean floor. The Goofball is coming out too. As we trudge towards Finn McCool’s we high-five and whoop with the last of our energy. I feel on my face one of those smiles that comes from a very deep place. I see the same smile on Emmet and the Goofball.
Send your stories to firstname.lastname@example.org. 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 www.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.