Australia, 2015

The bearded stranger was clearly a novice but he was with one of the beach’s ex-Surf Club Captains so I was sure all’d be fine. Bronte Beach, in Sydney, is one of the best but not one of the easiest surfing beaches. I practically live there; indeed as a local councillor I often hold my surgeries in the little park which overlooks it since, at weekends, many of my constituents are there.

I almost heard him squeal when the Captain pushed him in the bogey hole. This is the place, surrounded by rocks, where it is easiest to get through to the waves. But not always when you push someone in just in front of the biggest set of waves of the morning. It looked to me he was trying to doggy-paddle out of there - or drown. It took him a while to surface after each wave broke in the hole and he made little forward progress before the next one hit him.  He didn’t drown, he made it eventually out beyond the breaking waves to where the surfers were waiting. It looked like he began to enjoy it!

Sydney waves

I could see the Captain teaching him the etiquette of mixing with those on boards, pointing out the peaks and explaining where the riptide was least strong. He was exhausted when he eventually washed up on the beach. It took him a few minutes to undo the leggies keeping his flippers on - and the same amount of time to try and stand up!

When they came to say hello to me the lifeguard was with them. They were counting the stranger’s scratches and joking about whether it was ‘drown the pom’ week. The lifeguard said he’d been keeping a good eye on the bearded stranger and he’d done well given the really tough circumstances. Was that a reference to the big waves, or code for ‘the Captain throwing him in the deep end’? I had always wondered why none of the Captain’s children had become surfers after their first try-outs with their father. Watching him with the bearded stranger I think I worked it out.