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Wipe Out!
Surf's Up
My New Office
Sun Apr 27 20:40:18 2008

Wipe Out!

Did you spot the deliberate mistake?

During one's journey through life, new peaks of personal endeavour are forever being climbed. Best times, longest durations, highest peaks - each one is an individual triumph. This weekend, I gained three new personal bests.

Friday was Anzac Day. My sole contribution was to insist a sailor in uniform cut in front of me in the queue for doughnuts. Least I could do, etc. He bought an actual sausage roll on a Manly ferry. I think he intended to eat it. Such courage is admirable.

To South Steyne, then, and into the surf. Sensible People stayed inside the break line and had a blast. I worked a bit harder, and fought my way out to the break. After ten minutes hard finning, it is an absolute joy to lie on the board, feeling the huge waves (well, four feet) sliding under you, and watching them curl and break to the beach.

The wind was offshore and fresh. The trick is to sneak gently shorewards, keeping an eye on the incoming sets. The ideal is to arrive at the intersection of the breaking and clean point on the wave, just as the face is vertical, glassy and smooth. If you have enough forward velocity just at that moment, an astonishing thing happens. You slide sweetly down the face, accelerating from maybe 1.5 knots to 12 in a second or so. The breaking wave roars around you as you plummet down the face. Then, leaning your board gently into the face, you execute a perfect bottom turn and shoot across the clear water, inches from the maelstrom. Carefully trading height for speed, you play gently with the surrounding violence, maximising distance surfed, maybe pulling a trick or two, and ending the ride in the shallows. As the roar of the wave subsides, you become aware of the sound from the crowd, cheering you to shore.

My experience was slightly different. Ten minutes damned hard work paddling to the break. Just catching my breath when I realize that maybe this isn't the break at all. The first big wave of the set catches me at that point of indecision. 'Should I catch it or head out?'. Beam on. Into the spin cycle. Lose contact with board. Pick a plausible direction in the foam, call it 'up' and swim like hell. Two breaths. Next wave, more violence, lots more foam. Pick the other 'up' this time. Surface. Feel bottom with feet. Vicious rip offshore. Never a good sign. Look to seaward. Odearodearodear. Grab board. Turn upright. Head for shore, commit to wave. Whoosh. Zoom. Hurtle. Fortunately, my sheer animal fear made my grip the board hard enough that it carried me to the beach. First Personal Best: Most Litres of Seawater in Sinuses.

The actual stats were: Four hacks to the break, three awesome rides, one epic wipeout. seven litres of ocean consumed.

On Saturday, dangerous conditions were forecast. We took our snorkelling gear as well as the boards. It didn't look too bad. maybe a bit hairy. You judge:

Bad surf at Manly Rubbish.
Clean waves at Manly Clean. Lulling you into a sense of safety.
Reef break I surf in this.

So we went snorkelling. The visibility was rubbish. I chased a flathead. We found a very green groper. A poor woman on her first open water dive had a bit of a panic attack. Last open water dive, too, I suspect. Achieved another personal best: Least Plausible Excuse For Not Going Surfing While Carrying a Wetsuit. 'No excuse whatsoever' would be a better description.

Today, the surf was three feet, confused and rubbish. I had a fantastic time, and am growing in skill and confidence. Personal Best: Most Consecutive Wipeouts: 4.

And now, a totally unneccesary yellow spinnaker. Note the optimistic oversheeting: 'Of course we can lay the mark with the kite up. Just squeeze another inch in....'

Yellow Spinnaker Oversheeted much?
Sun Apr 13 20:44:55 2008

Surf's Up

Some real waves at last

When one has a Proper Job, one must make the most of one's weekends. Yesterday, after a Marmite-related event with some friends, a spot of snorkelling at Shelley Beach was in order. Visibility was low due to the presence of about 347 divers on a submarine archaeology course, all busily measuring the bottom with bits of string. A less decent person would have moved their 'fixed points' a little. But I'm not like that.

Today the surf report was fantastic, with 3-4ft sets and a light offshore wind. The weather was less than ideal. The heavens opened as we crossed to Circular Quay. On the ferry to Manly, the lightning strikes were slamming in all around us. The serious racing yacht crews were not looking happy.

Although the rain had eased as we walked along the Corso, the lightning was still illuminating the horizon. When we got to the beach, I went a bit quiet. The waves at the break were taller than the surfers, most of whom were getting wiped. At this juncture, I may have suggested that this was all a bit silly. I may have mentioned discretion, and its place in valour. Regrettably, The Other Surfer (having read the reports) was carrying a camera rather than a surfboard. Exhortations to man up and get wet were forthcoming. The Long Lens was present, and Photography Comes First, apparently. I asked whether, had the Other Surfer had been carrying a board rather than a camera, she would have been joining me. The answer was instant, loud, clear and negative.

So wetsuit on and into the surf. Normally, I am a bit of a wuss getting in. Whinging about water temperature occurs. Today, I was about knee deep when a head-high wave knocked me over and blasted me back to the beach. Bracing. The southbound rip was so strong that the beach was closed to swimmers. Only rugged surfer-types allowed. Hoo ya. With fins on, going like hell, I made it out far enough to appease my ego. One run back, I thought. The waves, even 100m after breaking, were giving me a hammering. Wait for a clean one, turn for the beach, kick like hell and WHOOOOSH! The world's largest grin attached itself to my face. Sod a short face-saving session. The Sensible Surfer dragged me from the water, exhilarated, exhausted and grinning 45 minutes later. There were pictures.

bodyboarding Zoom.
Bodyboarding Crash.
Bodyboarding Sometimes, you catch the wave...
Bodyboard wipeout ...sometimes the wave catches you.

And sometimes, you fight out through the crashing, pounding violence, get to the break and wait. And wait. And then just sometimes, it comes together.

Bodyboarding at the break I rode this back to the beach. Perfection.
Sat Apr 05 22:55:42 2008

My New Office

Not smug at all.

For the last three months I have been researching the market, analysing companies, honing my CV, talking to recruiters, performing interviews and balancing offers. It's been a long, challenging hunt. On Friday, that phase ended. I have The World's Best Job. To give you some small flavour of it, this is the view from my office:

North Sydney from a high building You can almost see our flat from here.

Now, the hard work starts.

Sat Apr 05 12:10:27 2008


With Pictures, Including a Huge Killer Shark

On Thursday, my last day of holiday before starting the Fantastic New Job, we went snorkelling at Shelley Beach. First, since income is now a certainty, we went shopping. The excellent dive shop had some fins in my size, which means I don't have to use my cheapo bodyboarding fins. This should give the skin on my ankles a chance to regrow. Secondly, we went to see the people at Rip Curl. The assistant was reaching for a wetsuit in my size before I'd climbed the stairs. Spiffing.

Since we'd had such fantastic experiences at Shelley Beach before, this time we took a disposable underwater camera. So, wetsuit on, into water, fins on and off we go.

Sergeant fish Some Sergeantfish over some weed. The larger, dark fish is a leatherjacket. The weed is surprisingly spiky.
Sergenat fish More Sergeants

Heading further along the shore, the weed starts to give way to a rockier bottom. These squid are often around the boundary. They change colour instantly to match the bottom. I want chromatophores, too.

squid Squid.
Squid Same squid, different angle.
Cloud of fish Kicking down a couple of metres to get a shot of this cloud of fish from underneath. The thumb is all part of the artistic composition.
SnorkelChaz This is me, in SnorkelChaz mode, about three metres down. Picture by The Other Snorkeller
Fish. There are lots of these. I did look up what they are. Snappers, I suspect.
Tiny cuttlefish Cuteness.

Back in the shallows, some tiny cuttlefish. There is a huge, deep red cuttlefish that lurks around. The Other Snorkeller spotted it the other day. By huge I mean about a foot long.

Leatherjacket Another leatherjacket. They have a spine on the top of their heads that they raise from time to time. No idea why.

We'd been told there was a motorbike in the middle of the bay. I was determined to find it, so I headed out a bit deeper and started a square search. On the sandy bottom in about six metres, I spotted this common stingray. I swam down to about four metres to take the shot. If you get much closer, they swim away.

Common stingray Stingray.

This was my fourth search for the motorbike. I was at the surface in about seven metres then I saw some strange shapes on the bottom. It was at the limit of visibility, and about as far down as I am comfortable freediving. Not a very clear shot, but it is the bike. Honest.

Sunken motorbike Bike.

The most amazing part of the session happened about half way through. Other People had reached the limit of even a wetsuit-assisted swim, and had headed back to the warmer shallows. I was happily hovering over the reef just by the Bower break, idly waiting for fishy photo-ops when I saw a huge, graceful shape sinuating up from the depths. By sheer luck, I had the camera pointed in the right direction. It's an Ornate Wobbegong. From the picture, it's hard to judge size. It was over 1.5m long, ant it gets longer as the tale gets retold. It glided gently into a space in the rocks right underneath me. Knowing that wobbegongs only attack when provoked is one thing. Being in the water two metres from a predator that weighed more than I did is quite another. Privileged to see such a wonderful animal in its native environment, I headed back to the beach and counted my feet carefully.

Ornate wobbegong Shark.

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Last modified: Thu Aug 31 22:46:12 AUSEST 2006