Yesterday a new swell hit the coast: about 2 metres, a good size, but lumpy and bumptious. A good day for sightseeing – so that’s what we do.
Back that evening, I wander down to the beach to have a look at the waves. Still junky, still big and a bit wild, but I decide to go out on my surf mat. This has been an object of guarded reaction on several continents, notably Australia, where one surfer took a look at it and said: “Jeez, I thought those were only for kids.” I tried to take this as a compliment on my youthful exuberance, but I’m not sure that’s really how it was meant.
To be fair, there probably is something childish about going surfing on what’s basically a cut-down li-lo. I like the portability, though: last night’s full kit is shown in the photo: board shorts, fins, thermal rash vest, short-sleeved wetsuit top, surf pursuit vehicle. Also, I never, ever have a bad surf on the mat.
The shorebreak was a bit tricky: chest high and heaving with sticks, bits of weed, small pebbles, etc. I stood there for a while working it out, charged ahead when I thought I spotted a gap, tripped over my fins, splatted, and got washed up the beach, hoping no one had noticed. There was an older couple on the beach, and one of those general-issue blonde-dreadlocked surfers you get living in beach car parks around Europe. He’d studiously ignored me as I walked down the ramp to the beach: one of the Mat Haters, clearly.
There’s a knack to getting out through big waves on a mat. On a surfboard you duck dive, shoving the board under water. That’s pretty much impossible with a mat, which is basically a giant bag of air. Instead you can either swim out with the mat tucked into your wetsuit and blow it up out there; or roll over as a wave hits you, clutching the bag in the kind of death hug the wrestler Giant Haystacks once used. The second option is my preferred technique: I get scared of sharks if I have to tread water too long while blowing up the mat. I know this isn't the reaction of a strong, powerful man, but I can't help it.
A couple of waves ridden, I start thinking how smooth and fast the mat is compared to this morning’s surfboard session. Then the horizon darkens: a whopper of an outside wave is pitching up, approaching the crease like Dennis Lillee wearing a pair of uncomfortably tight trousers. Amazingly, I’m in the spot.
The wave lifts me up, up, six, eight feet, and then chucks me at the beach. I’ve got the mat at such low inflation that it’s more like bodysurfing than anything; we take off together, bounce once about halfway down, then again near the bottom. For a moment I wonder if the mat might burst – but then it finds the sweet spot about two-thirds up the face, and we’re flying along.
How do you measure a wave? Height, speed, distance travelled? This one is big, long, steep and fast. It breaks perfectly, all the way to the shorebreak. Given a hundred chances, I couldn’t ride it better. It’s a Buddha Wave. I paddle in.
As I walk up the ramp giggling like a schoolgirl, dreadlock man leans across. “Eh!” I catch his eye. “Mat man. Bonne vague.”