Life's Better In Neoprene
LIFE'S BETTER IN NEOPRENE
Journal Entry - 12.15.18 - North of Nowhere
The ferry heaves and lurches in the rolling sea as I pass the widest point of the channel. I’m the only one standing outside, shielding my camera with my body. Rain pelts my hood. Tree lined coasts stand tall out of the sea ahead. Fresh snow drips down into the tree line, the white peaks blurred by the clouds moving quickly across their faces.
The cold wind burns my skin. A dramatic contrast to where I’ve just come from. Ten thousand kilometres ago I climbed, every morning, out of the van in board shorts. A t-shirt for sunblock, the taste of zinc on my lips and wax that softens between your fingertips. In the van below deck, a 5mm wetsuit hangs from the ceiling, 7mm boots and gloves tucked underneath the bed - my board short substitutes.
I’m going home. For the first time in my life, I’ll paddle out somewhere that doesn’t add a stamp to the pages of my passport. Six years spent travelling the world for surf because home isn’t exactly known to have good waves - or waves at all. The wrinkled pages of a passport, inked by wave rich countries, filled by a long list of exhausted visas. As we cross this border line, midway through the channel, I exhaust one more.
The van slowly wheels around the sharp bending corners, hugging the rock walls. The guardrail clips past. Swell lines roll through the gaps between moss covered trees, hundreds of feet below. My heart starts to beat a little quicker, the music turns up louder, and Zeppelin echoes off the wood interior of the van. The stock speakers crackle with feedback.
Any form of tiredness that crept in from a night of straight driving has evaporated with expectation. Less than twelve hours ago I was 750km, and a ferry ride away from here. Sitting in a cafe, flicking my finger tips up and down a glowing screen, checking buoys and wind.
I closely watch the kilometres tick by as the road twists and turns downwards, single lane bridges litter the two lane highway. Twenty six. Twenty seven.
Huge waterfalls feed streams that disappear into the rainforest, swirling down towards the ocean. The dishes clink faintly with every bump in the road. Music drowns out the sound of the rain on the windshield. Thirty three. Thirty four.
A hula-girl bounces excitedly on the dash. Above her swings a sun bleached, gas station air freshener. The corners of outdated surf magazine pages peel slowly away from the ceiling of the van. A road map glued up between them, punctuated with a haphazard black line marking ten thousand miles of wave filled unemployment.
I start to slow down, scanning the road for a turn off. A dirt track dips steeply off to the left, trees folded over the road just high enough to let me under. The drive down is slow.
I weave through pot holes the size of semi-truck tires. A slightly miscalculated turn sends clothes and dishes crashing behind me.
The road widens into a dirt and gravel clearing. 4x4's scattered the parking lot, boards resting on their tailgates. Eyes glare at the unfamiliar vehicle, glancing at my plates and squinting through the windshield. My friendly nod is met in return with blank stares. The localism here has a reputation. In my experience, show respect and you’ll be left, pretty much, alone.
My breath is white in the freezing air, there’s only one trail out of the clearing and I run down it towards the sound of pounding waves. Waves close out in the wide river mouth.
The muddy path winds around hundred foot tall trees, moss hangs from the lower branches and lays like carpet over the rainforest floor. Piles of fallen trees line the shore, too many it seems to end up there by coincidence.
I catch my first glimpse of spray wafting off the back of a peak as I climb over a six foot thick fallen tree. A set explodes over the reef a couple hundred yards out, it reels through the inside and spits before weakening off into the channel. I stand there mesmerized as reality provides a replay. I count two heads.
Ten minutes. I’m dressed in 25 pounds of rubber and climbing over the same tree.
I’m completely out of position for the first set. The water stings my face as I duck dive. I grimace a little as it squeezes in the back of my hood. The next set is an uncontested roll in to a long outstretching, smooth green wall.
Each icy duck dive is colder and each one more worth it. I surf for four hours with two other guys in overhead, glass clean lefts. Dry reef litters the inside as the tide drops. My arms burn, but I get out because I can no longer feel the board under my feet.
The uneven rocks violently shoot sensation back into my feet. I climb back up through Narnia to the gravel lot and sit in front of the heater before peeling off the cold, wet rubber.
I spend the next six months going up and down that pot hole decorated road. Countless nights bundled up, sleeping in a beanie, my wetsuit doing its best to dry over the small propane heater. Walking over marbled glass mixed in with the parking lot gravel - remains of windshields that received the worst of a surfing dispute. The locals demand respect. So does mother nature by way of rock shelves and shifty, freezing cold peaks.
This place tests your dedication every time you dawn the cold rubber. The raw rugged coastline and extreme conditions brought me closer than ever to the intensity of the ocean. There’s no casual surfers here, only the fiercely dedicated.
I put my time in, despite the below zero nights and constant rain, too often turned to flurries of snow. Although I often long for the ease and comfort of board shorts, there’s few places left in the world with this magic.
Paradise doesn’t always have palm trees.