Nick Carroll On: Bells Beach & The Easter Moon
UNDER THE EASTER MOON
WHY DO PEOPLE GO TO BELLS AT EASTER?
This contest has a great surf forecast. Will it pan out? Will that even matter?
Brace yourself, this is an old man’s lay day story.
I drove down to Bells yesterday, a thousand kilometres across the southeast flank of Australia, six boards in the back, an Easter moon falling toward the hills to the west.
Pulled over at the servo near the dog on the tuckerbox — you have to stop there in honour of the nation’s lamest icon — paid the lady, stopped at the door to let a blond kid dodge around in front of me.
The kid, around nine years of age and boasting some sort of post-surf sunburn, was playing hide and seek with his little brother. They ran past me, back toward a six year old Toyota sedan with three boards strapped to the roof. A man, clearly their Dad, was sticking the pump back in its cradle. He turned and put out his hand: about my height, mid-40s, tattoo sleeve, gap-toothed smile.
“Going to Bells, eh?” he said.
“Yep. You too?” I said, not expecting a yes, but getting it anyway.
The kids were already in the back, ready to go. Their mum gave me a friendly smile from the passenger seat. “See ya down there!” they yelped.
Christ, what sort of surf nation this is, where a family will pack up the car and drive all day to a cold windy coastline for their Easter holiday, just to watch a contest?
The Hume isn’t its old deadly self any more. Watching it unspool in front of me, cruise control engaged, I thought about the forecast, then I thought about forty years ago, when there were no forecasts, and I’d driven down the same line of road toward Bells for the first time in a hand-painted chocolate brown Kombi I’d borrowed from my boardmaker’s glasser. My God that car was horrendous. I was with the glasser’s nephew, we were 17 years of age, and we spent a day and a night on the Hume playing hide and seek, like the kids at the servo, but with gigantic semi-trailers, half of it in pouring rain, the Kombi basically saying fuck-you with every gear change. The potholes were so big you could pretty much use them to hide from the trucks. People died every day on that road but somehow we didn’t.
We got to Bells Beach and there was nothing there. I mean it. No suburbs just inland, no Jan Juc, no subdivisions on nearby paddocks brimming with terrible real estate possibility. The huge event structures of today didn’t exist; neither did the carpark, it was just a huge sticky mass of red mud. We parked the Kombi about halfway up the hill and stayed there on and off for 10 days, while the circus (such as it was) came and went around us.
I had two boards. I can’t remember exactly how long they were, but one of them was shorter and a bit fat with a broad roundtail. I entered the Quiksilver Trials, paying a $20 entry fee, and rode that board in the first round on a blustery offshore morning at four to six foot mid tide Rincon. You weren’t allowed to wear a legrope, and the mud stuck to your feet, so you slid around on the deck of the board like a drunken ice skater for three waves or so until the mud washed off and the wax took over. It was totally dysfunctional, but the waves were insane. Or maybe they weren’t, maybe it was just pretty normal Rincon and I was just a dumb 17-year-old Sydney kid who hadn’t surfed much outside a Sydney beachbreak.
Memory is an untrustworthy thing. But you can trust that Easter moon. It’s gonna pull the tides around the same way every year. Hell, it pulled me and that family a third of the way across the continent.
Early this morning I ran over the now-paved hill and paddled out at tiny Rincon, where a big bloke with dreads was sitting and trying to catch the left going back toward the rocks. “Cold enough for ya?” he laughed. Johnny Florence came out, had a quick chat to the dreaded bloke, and caught five or six nice little runners, looking like a grown-up brother of one of the kids from the servo, until he stood up and pressed lightly on the tail of his board and sent forth showers of spray six feet higher than the waves.
Johnny wears the champ’s mantle as lightly as he moves on a wave. There’s only one question at this event: can anyone get near him? And if they can’t, there’ll be no more question about the world championship in 2017.
It started to rain and I ran back to the car. On the way, I passed the family I’d seen on the road. “Whooo!” they shouted, waving, and kept going the other way, toward the event. For their sake, I hope the forecast pans out.
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