"Maybe I’ll see you, you can’t miss me. I’m THAT kook, ecstatic to make it out the back on a small day, huffing and puffing like a steam train and grinning like a maniac."
Editor’s note: Two months ago, BeachGrit habitué offrocker wrote about being hit with cancer aged thirty-five. His story Quit-Lit in the Face of Cancer: Reflections on my Last Surf Ever (Maybe) was a real tearjerker.
“I am four-fifths salt water and I may be going back to Mother Earth after my three dozen goes around the sun. I’ve done my time watching the tides. Sandbars form and melt away. Storms. Rock ledges. Learning winds, and how they swirl down valleys, equating it to long period swell wrapping around seafloor features. All little tidbits of info with no relevance to my now landlocked life, but it gives me joy to know the natural world by force of confronting it and understanding my place in it.”
Last night, offrocker emailed me, told me he’d had a little hit-out in the ocean and that he’d written a story.
“I feel like it’s twaddle in the same sentimental vein,” he wrote.
You tell me.
Have you ever had a reprieve? A second chance?
Been given a walk at a crucial moment?
Ten weeks out of the water and I was starting to adjust to my new life sans surf, dealing with a bunch of new bits and pieces.
The slow meat grinder of being poisoned every two weeks and watching your body break down in front of you. The chemo port implanted over your pec burrows down all the way into your heart. How the port tugs when you lift your arm above your head.
How to shower with a needle hanging out of your chest attached to a bottle of the same poison that’s killing you, and hopefully the cancer.
A thousand little adjustments.
My life is walking the dogs around and around the block, exercise bikes, core strength rehabilitation, hypervigilent handwashing. All very important, but monochrome.
No, not monochrome, but like when you adjust the filter on a photo… desaturated.
And then last week, out of the blue, I got the reprieve.
After a few rounds of chemo, my bloods were stable and my oncologist let me go in the ocean.
Something I thought was off the cards indefinitely.
Some moments transcend all the suffering in the world. I was with my wife, my best mate, and his six-year-old daughter.
Weak as shit, I waded out into the ocean.
Pink-purple sunset, crystalline water, two spotted eagle rays dancing in the shallows as I bodysurfed the tiny rip bowl. The kid was right into YouTube nature docos and told us all about the biology of rays, and mermaids purses.
I’m not normally sentimental, but to bathe once again at the salty font…
Reborn, I threw caution to the wind. I bought myself a stealth-belt and simply got back on my board.
Bugger what the physio said. I recklessly spent a whole afternoon packing the shorebreak. I was sore, so was my port – did I rip it out of the vein?
Seems to still work, so I guess the answer is no. Breaking down scar tissue before it had a chance to fully set and render me immobile, physically and psychologically.
I spent another afternoon chasing peaky swell in the same crowded line up I had last surfed. Kook central – hat, zinc, long-arm springsuit in twenty-five degree water, reef booties because chemo is killing my nerves and I can’t feel my feet properly anymore. Shame job walking down the water’s edge, but all forgotten with that first brace of whitewater.
A full two minutes of deep lactic breathing after every paddle back out.
Someone called me onto a good one, plenty to go around today.
A chilled vibe with familiar faces.
A chat out the back with people I only ever see out the back.
A chat in the carpark with my shaper, talking about my board that has been on hold since I got sick.
Did I want to change it to something a bit more… functional… given my condition?
I need the dream that Indo step-up can give me more than I ever need to ride it.
Once again, in the lineup I felt like order had returned, a return to normality for a few short hours.
So I’m back in hospital this week. More complications.
The waves of samsara keep crashing.
This week it’s a fever, two days in hospital on hardcore antibiotics until they can rule out blood poisoning.
Three weeks ago, a threatened blood clot on the lungs.
Last week an allergic reaction to a new drug and a pustular rash.
These are all minor bumps in the road.
I’m looking forward to getting back out there already.
Maybe I’ll see you, you can’t miss me. I’m THAT kook, ecstatic to make it out the back on a small day, huffing and puffing like a steam train and grinning like a maniac.
ADDIT: They just found a big blood clot in the lungs. Sigh. Hence the shortness of breath. Blood thinners, small clean days and foamies for the foreseeable future. Maybe I’ll take up surf photography… anything to get in the water. And buy a Gath.