July 24, 1974
Joey paused on the groin and lifted his gaze from down the line. A spray of droplets from Cooly side sprinkled his face, the waves beneath him reaching high enough to soak the rocks, yet not so high as to dampen him through. The groin jutted into the waves sweeping by – an ideal place for surf photography – but still he wished he was out there, to be hustling a section free of the kooks, of the skis, the sweep. But he had a job to do, god damn it. His turn would come.
The moon was still out, but the sun had begun its slow rise. Its face broke through the low-set summer clouds, and Joey shaded his eyes with a salt-cracked hand. That warm glow made him feel nothing but joy. A week ago he would have prayed for its kiss, just a sliver of a golden peck. Now, however, Joey couldn’t help but smile. The clouds were a nuisance. Didn’t make the waves any better, of course, but shit me dead it made for a better story, a better picture. A stronger frame.
He couldn’t really tell from here on the Kirra wall, but he thought he recognised a few of the figures bobbing in the line-up. He went closer to the edge, fraction by fraction on the algae-stained rocks. It was fucking alphabet soup out there, but sure as all hell the man he was looking for was among it. All you had to do was look for his style, the way he put his shoulders into the paddle.
Joey scanned, and yep, he was out there all right. And Joey would be watching, waiting for whatever it was Michael would pull off this time.
Joey looked down. Eleven, that’s all he had left. Eleven frames and five hundred words. He noticed the blinking light in the corner of the screen too. Eleven frames, five hundred words and ten minutes of battery. And get them all back to whatshisface by three. God, he wished he was out there. He drew back the shutter.
Behind him, on shore where he’d left his bag and bike, would be the pitch he wrote and the spare batteries for his battered Nikon. No, why would he bring his bag with him to the water’s edge where he’d actually be working? Joey shot a look over his shoulder at the white sand. Another burst of spray fanned his face and a hollow roar breathed from the sea. He looked up and caught the final moments of the barrel. Who knew if anyone survived its maw?
‘Doing it without the notes, then,’ Joey said, for the set was relentless as another gaping to-be-tube began its rise. His eye fixed its stare through the glass of the peripheral lens, and for a moment the rest of the world spilled away. ‘First I need something for the intro, something to sit squat at the head of it all.’ He slid his left index finger and drew the entire line-up into focus. ‘Not yet.’ The second of the set rolled through, a man was swallowed, his board sent into the depths to greet the crashing weight of the barrel’s slap. The spray swept over him. Then the third wave was dawning. It peaked and ... click.
He re-wound. The film rolled.
Now where was Michael? Somewhere straight out, for sure, out past the aspect of this damned rock wall. Someone needs to extend this thing one day. If he stared long enough he’d spot him. Yep. There he was. Right where Joey thought he’d be. The deepest and gnarliest bloke in the line-up. How could Joey tell it was MP? Never sat back on his board, that’s how. And who else was crazy enough to paddle deeper than the King of Kirra? No-one wanting to surf the joint ever again, that’s who.
Perched on the balls of his feet, Joey tightened his stance by squeezing his toes in a monkey grip on the rocks that built up the groin. He felt the jagged edges grind into the wrinkled under-flesh of his wide feet. The band-aids were in the bag next to the batteries, of course.
The Kirra line-up was thinning out because the set was lulling. So it was now or never. Joey drew the camera back up, cradling the base of the lens like a trophy. He swept the lens across the water, flowing over the bumps and triads of the ocean in smooth strokes. Then he trained the viewfinder crosshair on Michael. The magnified surfer had his back turned and his curls flicked behind his ears. If he weren’t so far behind the point no-one’d know who it was. Joey let fly a couple of trigger-happy frames. Click, click.
And then the infamous sweep brought some new contenders into frame, and Joey held his breath pulling back from the lens momentarily. ‘Ah, fa-fuck’s sake, Michael. I can’t put that in there, can I!’ MP went and done an MP. Click.
With the camera’s added scope, Joey witnessed a new pair drift over from Cooly side and press their chests out of the water as they paddled deeper into the section. Michael’s head perked up like a hound with the taint of blood in his nostrils. Click.
The two other fellas paddled out, approaching Michael’s territory, and Joey zoomed as far in as it would go. If only he could make out who it was that’d dare do such a thing. Click. He hadn’t a clue but ... oh shit, Michael. MP turned his back on the horizon and paddled toward the two new blokes. They kinda hesitated. One look at MP, and the anger that boiled behind those calculating eyes, and you’d shit yourself too.
Michael grabbed the nose of the first guy’s board, buried it, dunked it like a rag, and sent it flying out between the unsuspecting guy’s legs. The second man was in shock, first dodging his buddy’s board as it landed fin up and spun north in the sweep, second as Michael turned his gaze on him.
Together, they fled. Wrong time too, here came the next set.
Joey never saw whether the dude who lost his board made it back, nor whether they cleared the section in time to get over the rise of the first wave. He did witness MP paddle further out, reading something no-one else could, like a foreshadowed prediction. He was out a good hundred metres now off the groin, and then drew his board back and sling-shotted himself with those leather-tanned arms towards Joey. Click. The second of the set surged and lifted the back of Michael’s board high on the water, feet kicking desperate as. He looked good, exactly like the model surf hero everyone thought him to be. Click.
Joey pulled back from the camera lens. That’s why no-one fucked with Michael’s position. That’s why the agro. It wasn’t perfect in the sense of moral perfection, but in the ideology of a surfer, and the pages of a washed-up surf mag, it was. And that swell was firing. And there’s no-one deep enough to get the damned thing except for MP. Not that it’s the set of the day or anything.
Joey returned to the viewfinder. He crouched, and trained the crosshair somewhere off-centre of Michael as he pulled into the growing wave, five-foot, six, one hand dragging the face while the other gripped rail. Michael’s front toes bounced atop the wax, atop the signature paint-job Joey knew would be there. And Michael hovered low as the wave hollowed out, grew vertical before crashing. The sound was deafening, a sucking vortex as the barrel completed and began to close its jaw with Michael inside. Joey held the frame, followed it as the wave neared its natural prerogative to meet land. But Michael wasn’t sitting deep enough for it to be anything too special. C’mon, Michael, stomp your foot down. Slow it up a bit. But he was having none of it.
‘Turn. Do something!’ Joey sprayed as the barrel spat, shooting Michael from its hollow embrace. ‘Shit.’ Click. ‘That won’t do.’ And Joey knew it, not just the shot but the damn wave, the story. He’d have to sensationalise the entire thing. His conscience wavered. Or what? Write that MP sat deeper than anyone, prolonged set after set for an average-sized monster and then went straight on the damn thing? Nah, Joey liked his job too much. Not to mention, if Michael ever caught wind of it then Joey may as well kiss surfing Kirra goodbye. Nah, better not let ol’ MP crack the shits with him again.
Speaking of... Michael was still going. Joey raced to tail him. He still needed another shot. The others just would not do. He stood upright. Angle won’t do. Shit.
After a moment, Joey marched, chasing along the opposite side of the wall now, and was taunted by the slick rocks with every step. He knew the rocks wanted him to go arse over foot, even a bit of himself wanted it, shit that’d be a laugh. Would make for a good story. Halfway back down the groin he dropped a knee, water seeping up into the cotton of his pants, and, once more, drew back the hammer for a snap.
And that’s the problem with those damn film cameras, isn’t it? You gotta count the clicks. Now where was that notepad again? He had to come up with something.
Michael was paddling in.
Jake Sandtner is currently completing a Master of Arts by Research degree at Griffith University. For more examples of his work, you can visit his website at www.inauguralwavelengths.com
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Vol 22 No 2 October 2018
General Editor: Nigel Krauth. Editors: Julienne van Loon & Ross Watkins
Creative works editor: Anthony Lawrence