26 March, 2015 26 March, 2015

The Waiting Room – by Stephen Symons

‘The Waiting Room’ is Stephen Symon’s hamper-winning entry into Write to Surf, which scored him over R6000 worth of gear from Billabong and appeared in Zigzag 39.2.

The overall winner of Write To Surf will be announced in the next issue (more details below).


THE WAITING ROOM – by: Stephen Symons


The ocean wanted him, and he wanted the ocean. It had always been that way for David, ever since he was pushed into that first foamie by his father. These days, his mind only released fragments of those childhood memories, like a large blue sky and the size of his father’s sun-browned hands, nicotined at the tips.

His father was long gone, not yet dead, but waiting for death, inland, probably dozing in a threadbare armchair in the sunless sunroom of St Annes Hospice. David looked out towards the mouth of the bay, the first signs of weather had turned the sea to pewter, and a stiffening side-shore had scuffed what was left of the morning’s waves.

Two cars down, Mark Strand was doubled over a towel, performing a one footed jig as he tried to peel a wetsuit from his leg.

“Big swell tomorrow bru. It’s going to cook. Have you checked the charts?”

David replied, “You’re dreaming man, it’s going to be kak. Anyways, I need to visit my old man. Haven’t seen him in weeks.”

“I’ll SMS you if there’s surf. Your dad would understand man. Tell him you had a wave at the Berg for him. Remember that time…”

Although David seemed to be listening, he had drifted elsewhere.


Years back, before the shark spotters and gentrification, when his dad’s lungs were still strong, this was their beach. He loved the way it smelt of both the ocean and Jeyes fluid, especially on the big days, when the northwester would comb the south swells into long green ranks. Now, all that remained were the cracked beach huts, their doors long since rusted shut, guarding the joys of another era. This was his growing-up beach, his learning-to-surf beach, a place that seemed to frame so much of his past. That was decades back. The smell of fish and chips had surrendered to skinny lattes and freshly baked organic loaves. Nauseating stuff, especially after a good surf. David fumbled for his keys. He felt old and needed to leave. Progress had turned the pointless joy of riding waves into a commodity.

The SMS arrived at exactly 5:30 am, shaking David from his sleep. It read, “Big swell in F-bay. Reefs going off. Solid 8 to 10. Berg huge – picking you up in 15.”

They could smell the swell from Main Road. They arrived to a full car park, boards and wetsuits were being unsheathed to do battle. The ocean looked indignant. It didn’t care, it was simply a blank canvas made of salt and noise. David knew and loved this. They stood there, staring, stamping out the Autumn vapour and blowing into cupped hands, silently processing the feathered lines ruled across the bay. This was their way of paying homage to the swell. Only a few would make the paddle out today and this made David smile. He thought of his dad and wondered if he should take a photo. He could show it to him later when they sat in that sunless sunroom. He decided otherwise.


Mark broke the silence, “When last has Berg been this big, bru?”

“Ja,” David replied, “maybe back in ‘87, when we surfed Black Rocks. I had that yellow Bordello twinnie. It was the day my dad took photographs of us.”

“Tide’s too low for Kalk Bay, it would be full of doormats anyway.”

“Ja, let’s get wet right here.”

After the first few strokes, David felt those inevitable needles of water seeking out the gaps between skin and neoprene. It jump-started the senses, forcing him to gulp a deep breath and look skywards. Above him a pair of kelp gulls climbed to avoid the curtains of spray that had turned the sun to a yellow button. Once his paddling gained a sense of rhythm and momentum, each wall of foam and white noise felt easier to punch through. He lived for this, to feel his senses drenched with sound, taste, smell and memory. It made him think of how his father would sometimes paddle ahead of him and encourage him through the whitewater.

Minutes later David and Mark had reached that point where the beach gave way to real ocean, almost purple with depth. This is where those huge slabs of cartilage would loiter in the warmer months. The thought made him shiver. Some called it the take-off zone, but David always referred to it as The Back. Here, after a paddle out, jellied arms could return to muscle and the thumping in your ears could slow. This was a space saturated with the memories of surfers. You could feel the memories skirting beneath the rise and fall of the swells, like a giant school of baitfish. David ruffled the water and looked towards the horizon.

“A bit of a wave today,” said Mark.

“Ja,” replied David, “let’s get a few.”


The two friends surfed the big south swell. They joked and tossed what was left of their week into the ocean until David’s watch reminded him it was time to catch a wave in. His dad had probably finished a Sunday lunch of gristle and expired vegetables. David hated that, but money was a problem.

He had just finished wrangling his surfboard into its cover when he saw his phone flashing on the passenger seat of his car. He fell into the driver’s seat and slammed the door in the face of the wind. The screen flashed ‘Unknown’. He answered with a sigh.

“Hi there, David speaking.”

“Good afternoon, is that Mr David Sachs?”

“Yes, that’s me.”

“Mr Sachs, it’s Matron Hendriks from St Annes.”

“Oh yes, hi there. Sure, you can put my dad through. He’s probably been bugging you. I won’t be too long. I’ll be there in an hour”

“No, Mr Sachs, it not that…”

The windows had misted, turning the surfers to ghosts. Outside, heavy drops began to thud on the bonnet of his car.



He watched the threads of rain streaking down the windows and coughed a smile. Damn his broken down lungs. The weather made him think of his son, David. Decades back they would head out surfing on days just like these, when a cold front would swing the seasons in hours, from summer to winter, giving way to wind, rain and swell. He missed the sea and how it felt on his skin. The old man brushed a fly from a button on his cardigan and wondered if David was surfing.

He sat at the far end of the sunroom facing a pair of swing doors that held two panes of wired glass. From where he sat, he would have the best view as the afternoon visitors trickled in. They would arrive with their plastic bags filled with nuts and dried fruit, the Sunday papers or a handful of flowers, always wearing the same awkward smiles. David would be amongst them. Sunlight rightfully avoided the large beige space, yet the nurses always referred to it as the sunroom. The name stuck. It smelt of sleep and eucalyptus oil, and of waiting too.

The old man’s friend George was sunk in an armchair alongside him, staring at the unkempt bowling green beyond the rain. He was a navy man, and wore a cabled jersey and a nautical beard. He looked like Hemingway. On occasion, he could drink like Hemingway too. I suppose, thought the old man, we have the sea and sickness in common.

George rubbed at the white of his beard with an open hand and turned to his friend, “I see you have the telephone today. Expecting a call?”


The telephone had an especially long cord and squatted on a small three-legged coffee table. It was always moved closest to those expecting a call. For some, the telephone never rang.

The old man let a magazine slip to the carpet, “Yes, my son David. He’s visiting today. Haven’t seen him in a while. He’s been very busy lately.”

“Ah yes, I know. My kids have been busy for years.” George hacked, then lurched forward, grabbing at a folded handkerchief in his lap. The old man thought that George did not have long to go.

“You know George, you should phone your kids. The phone’s right here. I can phone my David after lunch.”

“Nah, what’s in a phone call? It’s Sunday man, they’ll be wrapped up, especially in weather like this.”

“Look George, give them a call.” The old man stretched over and pushed the three-legged coffee table closer to George.

“Thanks mate, but don’t forget it’s your phone for today.”

“I won’t George,” he smiled, “Look, it’s already tea time.”


The old man could smell the tea trolley before its disabled wheels would echo their way into the sunroom. He looked in the direction of the swing doors, and could make out a slice of polished corridor, from where David would arrive later. The nurse wheeled in the trolley and stopped beside a heavy dining table in the middle of the room. She brushed aside an unfinished game of chess to make way for the tray, knocking over some of the pieces. Someone rebuked her from across the room. She didn’t notice.

George noticed that the old man was staring at the nurse and chuckled, “Never too old or sick mate, never too old hey.”

“No George, it’s not that, really. She looks fit, like she’s a swimmer or surfs or something.”

“She sure looks fit mate. You’re a bad liar, a bad old liar.”

The nurse moved towards them, stopped and poured their morning tea with a smile. Soon, the sunroom was alive with the sound of porcelain, teaspoons and chatter. The friends sipped their tea, talked about nothing for an hour or so, and then dozed. The old man never slept. Often, before lunch, when the light was brightest, he would think of his son and his wife. He looked at the phone that was now just out of arm’s reach. He thought about it, just sitting there. He tried to recall when last he had heard it ring.



The old man closed his eyes and thought more. He thought of a long white beach in the middle of summer. He was young again, and could feel the midday heat on his neck. David was there, dragging a large yellow twinnie towards the first slicks of foam. The fins sliced two fine lines through the wet sand. His son was calling him, calling him.

“Dad, dad, dad! Check the surf out dad. Get your board, it’s cooking!”

“I’m coming my boy, I’m coming.”

The beach was long and beautiful. Perfect peaks were being sculpted by a light wind that slid down the mountains. There were many houses on the mountain and the midday sunlight streamed through their windows. He noticed that the sunlight had turned David’s curls to butterscotch. He grabbed his board and ran to his son.


George looked at the old man in his stillness. The rise and fall of his chest had ceased. He needed to call Matron Hendricks. The thick smells of lunchtime were filling the sunroom. George eyed the telephone next to him, picked up the receiver and began dialling.

Outside, the rain had stopped. The windows of the sunroom had begun to mist with the heat of lunch trolleys and conversation. No one seemed to notice the long shafts of sunlight reaching into the sun room, washing over the old man in his stillness, like a springtide coupled with a big swell.

Click here to check out all the entries >>


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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