10 December, 2014 10 December, 2014

One Scalp for Mother Ocean – by Dan Scheffler

Nothing is ever completely perfect, Dan Scheffler writes in ‘One Scalp for Mother Ocean’, which is his entry into ‘Write to Surf‘ – our surf journo competition with some epic prizes up for grabs (see below for details).




Our ship lay anchored in the lee of Asu, a tiny island not far from Nias. Just a quick paddle away from us was the reef that has made this speck in the Indian Ocean famous in surfing circles. It had taken us two months of sailing to arrive here: enough time to make us forget home. I watched as another wave rolled past. Nobody had bothered to catch it, as it wasn’t quite perfect enough and there would be plenty more. We were in the middle of tropical nowhere, far, far away from the world.

Here there was no contact with anybody away from our ship and so we forgot that things like rent, offices and commitments existed. We were living in our own little universe with no need for external help or interference from others. What was important to us right then was the present and it was no use thinking about the future, because we could do nothing to influence it. We had no phones and no internet access and we were operating according to a different set of rules centred on surfing. There were no worries and we were free.


But nothing is ever completely perfect.

Throughout the day the swell had increased in size and the head-high waves we had ridden in the morning had doubled in size by lunch time. I was tired and still wary of this wave after a humbling experience here on a previous visit, so after a day of good waves I was happy to watch the surf from the ship with a warm Bintang in my hand. But Gavin, who was skippering our yacht, was taking strain. He had been struggling with the ship’s engine all afternoon, banging away at machinery in the dark, hot bowels of our vessel and getting angry. Things weren’t going his way and he emerged from below deck in a foul mood. He was in the wrong frame of mind when he jumped overboard with his surfboard and stroked out towards the surf.

Later Gavin told me that he really wanted to smash the waves to get rid of his frustration. He didn’t care that the swell had increased even more since the early afternoon; he was a big guy. Our captain was angry and Asu was going to feel it.

But you don’t mess with the sea. It took only one wave to set things straight between Gavin and Mother Ocean.


“I was still paddling for that wave when the whole thing just jacked up and took me down,” Gavin told me a few days later. “It happened so quickly, I didn’t even know I was underwater. Then it whacked my head into my board so hard I nearly passed out, but I knew I had to stay conscious, otherwise I’d drown. I couldn’t do anything, the wave was too powerful, and so I just concentrated on holding my breath.”

He paused to breathe deeply and then he carried on talking.

“That wave just wouldn’t let up and I was out of air, plus the knock on the noggin had really concussed me. I kept expecting that I would faint and drown any second.

“You know, Doc, I don’t believe in an afterlife. When you die, you cease to exist, like a light switch has been flipped off. So while I could still feel the wave suffocating me, I knew that I was alive. That was kinda good, if you know what I mean. It actually surprised me that I still cared about being alive. I always thought that death would be a relief, but down there in the darkness I realised that I still wanted to live. So I started to swim for the surface. I popped out of the water like a cork and I remember just sucking air. Ah, it felt so good, so sweet!”

He touched his eye reflexively.


“But then I noticed I was blind in my right eye and that scared the shit out of me. I couldn’t see where I was and the waves kept on battering me. There was blood in the water everywhere around me and I knew I was in deep trouble. I don’t know how long this carried on for, but I just went into a kind of stupor. Then I felt Ron lifting me onto a board and he started pushing me out of the impact zone. I remember saying to him, ‘I’m blind, I’m blind,’ but he just kept on telling me that it’s ok over and over again, like he didn’t believe it. That’s when I knew that I was in pretty bad shape. It took forever to get to the ship, like in a nightmare. I don’t know how they got me up the ladder and onto the deck. The next thing I remember was your face looking down at me, like I was the antichrist.” He chuckled.

I remembered feeling ice cold as I watched Ron and Francois carry Gavin towards me where I was waiting for them in the stern of the ship. Blood was flowing from Gavin’s head and I knew that we had no equipment or facilities to deal with a serious head injury. If there was bleeding inside the skull, Gavin could die within hours and as the ship’s doctor, I felt very alone. Reality had kicked in hard. How I wished we were near a crowded city with a big hospital! As we laid him down on the table where we usually played cards, I was praying that Gavin had been dealt a good hand. His face was streaming with blood and his scalp was hanging down over his face like a curtain, obscuring his right eye and revealing patches of white skull on his forehead. Gavin had been scalped by his own surfboard. He had knocked two of the fins that were glassed onto his big-wave board clean off with his head. That takes some doing. I knew that the force required to do this kind of damage was enough to cause serious brain injuries.


“What a relief it was when you lifted that piece of skin that covered my eye and I could see out of it again!” Gavin gave a rare smile.

“Ja, I was just as glad,” I laughed. “It was amazing how few serious injuries you actually had, given the way you looked.”

“Yeah, you just kept on telling me how lucky I was and I was thinking, ‘If that’s what you call lucky I don’t want to see the unlucky bastards you’ve treated!’”

“And then we had that marathon suturing session. It took at least an hour to put you back together again. All by torchlight! But look at you now; I think I actually might have improved your looks somewhat!”

Actually, Gavin resembled a resurrected evil mummy. I had put in countless sutures to get the scalp back into place. It looked like someone had attempted a brain transplant on him. For the next few days Gavin wandered about the ship with a haphazardly shaved head, a massively swollen blue eye and bandages twisted about his face. Frankenstein’s monster would have been scared of him and he was a stark reminder of the thin line separating paradise and purgatory.

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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