It’s tough when you grow up in a place where hanging out at the surf is a way of life then, suddenly, work takes you to a place that is land locked and the ocean and waves become things that you can only dream about. I know. It happened to me. Years back I moved from beautiful Queenscliff Beach in Sydney to dreary old London to progress my career and, for the first six months after this big change, I thought I was going to go crackers. My missing the waves was so bad that on Friday afternoons, when I had finished work for the week, I would jump in my car and drive for six hours to Cornwall, just so I could see and play in the ocean for a bit. Surfing is like that. It gets in your blood. It’s a form of addiction. If you love the ocean, you willingly take risks to get a fix. Eventually, I discovered that galloping a horse around the fields and bridle trails in the Thames River Valley can provide a reasonable substitute for the supreme adventure that is surfing. Weekly dates with a big black horse near Windsor saved me from long drives to Cornwall and surf withdrawal.
Not too long after my own experience of surf starvation a big, tough, surf hardened young bloke from Perth found himself in a job that took him all the way to Minnesota in the United States. Minnesota? Holy cow! If you are after moose, elk, gophers, wolves, squirrels, white tailed deer, bears and lots of snow you can’t go wrong with Minnesota, but surfing beaches are hard to find. Lakes, yes. But not a wave in sight. You can’t get much less like a south-west Western Australian surfing beach than Minnesota. Yup. They’ve got bears… and that might make a reasonable substitute for great white sharks… but to suggest any other parallels would be to draw a long bow. It must have been hell for the kid.
Ranks up there with Switzerland as a place for a surfer to hang out!
After a few years in the frozen wasteland, the bloke got a job transfer to Chicago. For a surf starved Western Australian, the Chicago move might have been a decent career shift, but in terms of providing a surf opportunity you can just forget it. Chicago may have a frikkin huge lake, but it would rank up there with Switzerland as an ideal place for a keen surfer to hang out. Other than good money and fun work there was an upside to this guy’s job, though. It was hard physical work, but it did involve lots of travel. From time to time he found himself travelling to places like Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York and Miami and these places have… surf! They may not have the top-quality surf and beaches you might find in Albany, Margaret River, Cottesloe, Rottnest, or Yallingup, granted, but beggars can’t be choosers! At least regular business trips enabled the kid to squeeze in a quick surf while he was on the road.
It was on one of those trips out west that, after a morning of hard work with a group of his colleagues, our West Australian surfer decided to head to the beach with one of his work mates to get a long-awaited surf fix. The surf at Hermosa Beach didn’t look all that good. It was gnarly, wind- blown and small but it still looked like heaven to a beach kid who had spent nearly five years now living away from the ocean. The kid had surfed in big waves for much of his life so these little frothy shore-breaking tiddlers weren’t going to present much of a challenge but it felt so good just to feel the Pacific Ocean beating against his body.
Body surfs like a long board
After a few minutes splashing around beyond the surf break our adventurous surf hero was ready to show his mate how wild boys from Western Australia treat measly American surf. He picked the biggest wave he could find from a selection of smallish foam balls, dived down the face and kicked for all he was worth. Being way taller than average and with complimentary huge feet, our Western Aussie had always found body surfing easy. He figured that his long, lean body functioned in the waves much like a long board did, enabling him to slip easily into the engine room section of waves and his flipper-sized feet gave him the speed to keep himself just where he wanted to be on the wave. The big fella was just starting to enjoy the ride when, being out of practice, he failed to notice an approaching shallow sand bank close to the shore. That is a fatal mistake for a hard charging body surfer… especially one th
at is out of touch with the art. The small wave sucked his body up the face then pitched him a meter forward and down then landed on top of him just as his upper body was making a hard landing on the sand bank. Being big may be an advantage when you are catching a wave and wanting to go fast but it is no advantage when your 125-kilogram frame slams into an immovable object.
The kid felt like he had been body slammed by Andre the Giant. Unfortunately, a sand bank is considerably less giving than a wrestling mat. Only a few meters from shore he staggered to his feet and wandered up the beach in a daze. He couldn’t believe it. He had survived (even thrived in) enormous surf at home and here on a wind-blown little beach break in Southern California he felt like he was going to die. Worst of all, he felt a searing pain in the shoulder that had taken the most impact from the fall! His friend, who was waiting for him on the beach, approached and said “Buddy… are you okay? That was quite some trick!”
The friend then noticed something unexpected and awful. “Man… look at your shoulder. Holy crap.”
Panic set in
The kid looked down at his throbbing shoulder and there, right where are a nice healthy shoulder muscle should reside, was a big, fat blue and red lump. To make matters worse, he couldn’t move his arm. Panic quickly set in. The two work mates knew that a healthy body was essential in the kids’ line of work, so the next twenty-four hours meant multiple hospital visits, doctor’s consultations and conversations with the kid’s boss and fellow workers. The verdict was bad. A third-degree separation of the shoulder joint. Eight weeks off work. His work team were going to have to find a way to cover for him. Without the kid, for such a long period of time, they were at risk of falling from being the premier operation in their business and what had looked like being a great year was now at risk of falling apart.
To say that the boss was pissed was an understatement. No one knows what the boss actually said to the kid but “fuck… shit… stupid prick… what the fuck were you doing… dumb-fuck Australian punk… give me one good reason why I shouldn’t fire your arse”, is probably not far from it.
The kid tried to divert the abuse with the claim that it wasn’t his fault because he had been attacked by a shark in a completely unprovoked manner and that he was in the act of throttling the bastard when he felt his should go. The boss neither accepted the excuse, nor saw his attempt at levity as remotely appropriate under the circumstances. The kid’s work mates were not much kinder. In their business, having to find ways to cover for a key member of the operation, was not going to be easy and, besides, if they didn’t successfully cover for him, their working year were going to be stuffed too.
It wasn’t a good day at the beach for the kid. It does remind us, however, that no matter how experienced you are, even small waves should be respected. The good news for the kid and his team was that he did get better and he and his work mates did go on to have a great year despite his nearly throwing a nasty spanner into the works. One aspect of the accident even turned out to be a real positive for the kid. Before his injury, the young bloke had had a prickly relationship with his work team’s top gun. The laconic, laid back Australian, rarely saw eye to eye with the intense, aggressive, and uber-competitive superstar of the team and on several occasions at work meetings the two had very nearly come to blows. When the kid returned to work with his recovered shoulder, his work nemesis approached him shyly after their first work outing together and confessed, “It’s great to have you back, Luc. None of the other guys in the team know how to set a decent screen for me. I really missed you out there!”
If it hadn’t been for Luc Longley’s banged up shoulder Michael Jordan, the Chicago Bulls superstar and arguably the greatest basketball player of all time, may never have discovered how hard the big fella worked, every game, to provide him with open looks at the basket.