Close Encounters

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
Early one morning in the surf.

Submitted: April 05, 2017

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Submitted: April 05, 2017

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It’s two days after the biggest floods in 63 years, and our entire region has been declared a disaster zone. Not far up the road there’s people sitting on the roofs of their houses waiting for helicopter airlifts or food drops, and three people have died in the water.

 

Here in our neck of the woods the worst has passed, the waters have receded and life is resuming with a fair semblance of normality. After having spent a day kayaking around the neighbours’ houses and all the way down to the next suburb over deeply submerged roads I put the kayak away and head down to my break to try out the fabled cyclone surge, to see if there’s any good waves in it.

 

I get down to the carpark and it’s deserted, pitch-black dark, the dead of night. Technically daylight saving has just ended overnight, and it’s now 4.45 am, but I’m ignoring that so to me it’s still 5.45 am. It’s irrelevant really: what matters is that the sun will be coming up as usual, i.e. in about 40 mins time. Time enough, therefore, to head out and catch a few quiet waves in the dark, before the lights go on and the crowds come out. A bit like in a pub at closing time, but in reverse.

 

Five minutes after I get there one of my mates pulls up, and we have a good old yarn about the floods and about how exciting it has been, for us anyway, who have been high and dry and didn’t die. I grab my board and walk down to the water, but by myself, because my mate steadfastly refuses to come out on the water in the dark. Don’t know why. Instead he’s off down the beach for his early morning yoga session, and I wade out into the water.

 

The water’s nice and warm, and I can’t see the debris that’s floating around in it, but I know that it’ll be brown and murky and full of washed down and washed up shit and rubbish, seaweed, branches, logs, chunks of wood, leaves, palm fronds and just generic jetsam and flotsam. Not great conditions, in truth: the fresh water running off the land carries huge amounts of nutrients with it and into the ocean, providing an enormous smorgasboard of food for all and sundry that lives in the ocean. Currently, as I’m paddling out, that smorgasboard technically includes me.

 

The night is overcast, the sky covered in stormclouds boding more rain falls, hiding the stars and such moon as there might be. It’s as dark as the inside of a wombat’s arsehole, and I can’t see a bloody thing. There is no phosphorescence in the water this time, as there usually is: I assume that the huge amount of silt and sand and mud in the sea is obscuring it, or is keeping it from catching the light, or, quite possibly, has bullied it into sumbission and has locked it up somewhere in Neptune’s locker to shine its shoes, do its dishes and warm its bed.

 

I strike out, pulling my hands through the water, and as I glide past the rocks of the headland towards my favourite take-off zone, unbidden and for the first time ever, the thought rises up in my mind: ‘this feels pretty sharky’. I glance around and I’m feeling a bit ill at ease, a highly unusual thing, but I can’t see anything at all. Then, all of a sudden, out of the blue, my left leg, which is lying flat on my board as I paddle, gets hit with a ‘Thump!’.

 

I think, loudly and in capital letters, ‘FUUUUUCCCCCKKKKK!!!!!’. This is exactly what you don’t want to happen. A bump in the dark, a thump in the night. What is fucking thumping me? And, possibly more to the point, why? I jump like a thief with a guilty conscience, almost slide off my board but manage to hang on, thinking ‘this is not the time to go falling off your board with both legs dangling in the water’, and, without needing to consider my options for a second, I turn around, grab the first wavelet that comes rolling past, catch it and bail out. I ride it all the way to the sand, grab my board and stagger out of the water.

 

There I am. It’s 5.15 am, or, if you’re me, 6.15 am, and it’ll be a while yet before the sun will shed any light on the situation. So I resolve to, for once, wait until I can see a bit more before I go back out again. I cross my arms over my chest and huddle a bit into myself against the chill of the south-west wind blowing across the bay and sideways across the waves, and stand and wait, biding my time. It’s a reasonably well known fact that, sometimes, if you’re lucky, a shark will bump or nudge you first, to suss out who or what you are before deciding to see if you’re actually edible or not. Is that what has just happened? I think of all the other things that could bump my leg while it’s lying on top of my board, and, therefore, is fully out of the water. Driftwood, a turtle, a jellyfish, or, my favourite, a coconut? Who knows.

 

I wait around for a bit, see over my shoulder that there’s a few crew on the boatramp standing and watching, not moving, and decide to turn a drawback into an advantage and stalk off to go and dump three kilos of last night’s pasta while I have the opportunity. When I was a stockman working cattle I had ample opportunity to observe that cows, when scared or caught in situations of high stress, such as, for instance, lying flat on the ground with one bloke holding your back leg, another one twisting your neck sideways and cutting off your horns, a third one cutting your knackers with a blunt rusty razor and a fourth one sticking a red hot bit of iron in your skin, a situation which may reasonably be expected to be experienced as somewhat stressful to most people, those cows pump shit out of their arses a hundred miles an hour. They evacuate their bowels in terror, letting it all go. They are so shitscared they shit themselves. Wonder where that expression came from. I don’t know if there’s any connection between being nudged in the dark by an unidentified thing and needing a dump, but it presents itself as a very good idea right now and so I don’t ask and make my way up.

 

In passing I meet a few of my mates who have just turned up and I share the story; we resolve to all head out together, stay close and keep a good eye out. I dump my load, then pick up my board from the sand where I left it, and paddle back out again, this time in the weak and watery twilight of dawn. Being able to see a little bit is a huge improvement over being able to see the square root of fuck-all. We’ve got a couple of young kids with us now, so we’re huddling together, adults on the outside, kids on the inside, like dolphins in a pod.

 

Nothing happens, so we relax soon enough and start catching waves: they’re coming through at a good pace, there’s a reasonable amount of speed and power in them, and we hurtle off along their raceways. The wind is still there so occasionally we get blown off and blown back, but a few extra paddle strokes fix that, and we ride across the bay at full speed. The surf is pumping and there’s plenty of sets coming through, so we get pretty frantic pretty quickly, not too much time for sitting around.

 

Then, after a particularly good long ride, which brought out a decent amount of whoohooing and turning up and down the glass wall, I am paddling back up to the take-off zone. I’m staying on the outside of the break as much as possible, to keep out of the way of anyone shooting down a run, and I’m cruising up nicely. All of a sudden a wave rises up about five metres in front of me, cresting blue and white and green, and inside of that wave, parting it like Moses in the Red sea with his stick, his beard and his syphilis sores, sits a great big triangular fin. It rises up tall and, especially, skinny and sharp, sweeping back like the scythe of the Grim Reaper, and beneath it sits a long, sleek and fat body that is, telltale sign, white on top and fading out to grey on its way down. It rises up through the wave, flashes past me and is gone, in a heartbeat and in the blink of an eye. Immediately I veer off to the right, out of its way, out of its trajectory, paddle manically for a bit, then stop and sit upright. If it’s out there I want to see it, get a positive ID. See if it’s of legal drinking age, or, alternatively, at the age of consent.

 

I have a good old stickybeak around, and, as if on cue, twenty metres off to the left, two black fins appear from out of the water, followed in quick succession by another big one and, a bit further over, a tiny little one. Dolphins, with a baby. Not, in this case, the Wolf Of The Sea. However, I’m not too sure if what I saw was a dolphin, in fact I’m almost positive it wasn’t. Next thing I know one of my mates pulls up next to me. Him and I are veterans of many a midnight full moon run, and we have a keen interest in what moves beneath the surface, especially in the dark.

 

As it turns out, he’s seen something too. He’s seen the same fin, and the shape and the colour, and he also doesn’t think it was a dolphin. The shape of the fin was all wrong, and so was the colour: I’ve seen a lot of dolphins, and their colour usually varies from a light grey to a deep blueish black, but I have never, at least not yet, seen one with a white back ...

 

Who knows ... We resolve to keep it to ourselves, no need to spook anyone else, and, anyway, there’s a fair chance they either wouldn’t listen or laugh at us. So we go on our merry way and, for want of anything better to do, hang out and catch waves for another half an hour or so, till we pull the pin and get out.

 

An interesting start to the day, to say the least. I wonder how I’ll feel the day after tomorrow when I go back out again in the pitch-black pre-dawn night?

 

 

 

 

 


© Copyright 2017 Steve Hansen. All rights reserved.

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