On the Board Talk – Lisa Walker article from The Big Issue Australia #633

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On the Board Talk Surf-addict Lisa Walker learns that the next best thing to surfing is talking about it – and she can talk the talk. Lisa Walker is the author of The Girl with the Gold Bikini (Wakefield Press), a YA novel starring a wise-cracking girl detective who surfs. @lisawalkertweet

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y neighbour tells me I have a surfing problem. “You’re addicted,” he says. He’s not wrong, but I figure there are worse things. My hometown is a surfer town. Every day after school the break in front of the pub is packed with kids flexing their muscles and their attitude. The wetsuit is the look on the street and the clothes shops stock mainly surf wear. Sand blows into houses and coats the pavement. When I moved here 20 years ago, what else could I do but buy a surfboard? I started with a beginners’ board – soft and fat. Each time I took it out I challenged myself to stay in the water for a little longer. I floundered around in the whitewash, falling off and getting pummelled by the waves, emerging with nostrils full of salt water and hair caked in sand. But then I started catching little waves. I glided over the reef, paddling back out to do it again and again. Afterwards, endorphins pulsed through my body. Waves rolled through my mind. They invaded my sleep. I watched the ocean, seizing every opportunity to get out there again. Like a sailor in port, I felt rocked by the sea even on dry land. I was hooked. Surfing is, in a very literal sense, an addiction. We crave the pleasure unpredictably meted out on nature’s whim. When I wake up each day, I can never be sure if I’ll get my fix. In a town full of addicts, the mood rises and falls with the waves. When those northerly devil winds hit in summer, withdrawal sets in. The whole town feels it. Even non-surfers complain that everyone’s crabby. After weeks on end of onshore winds, you take support where you find it. And for a surf addict, the next best thing to surfing is talking about it. There’s a young surfer who lives on my street. He is suntanned and muscular with the white-blond hair and peeling nose of a surf fiend. I am a middle-aged woman. Not suntanned, not muscular. I expect he has seen me trundling back and forth to the surf on my bicycle, my board strapped to its side. I am not glamorous in this mode. I wear a surf hat that

clips under my chin, brown zinc smeared all over my face. Top-to-toe lycra shields my fair skin from the sun. In winter, a floppy pink hoodie towel down to my knees completes the picture. You would think I’d be invisible to him, and yet we have become surf-talk buddies. We recognise the craving in each other. Whenever we cross paths, whether I have my board with me or not, he wants to talk about surfing. The other day, as I rode back from the beach past the skate ramp, he slid towards me. Stopping just centimetres away, he flicked his skateboard up with his toe. “How’s the surf?” “Blown out.” His shoulders slumped. “Thought so.” “Maybe tomorrow morning. Bit of southerly swell pushing in. There’s a low off Fiji.” After 20 years surfing, I’m still no pro in the waves, but I could surf‑talk for Australia. “Reckon the pub’ll be working?” “Worth a shot if you get in before the northerly. The banks are pretty good.” This type of shooting the breeze can go on forever. There are the tides, the swell, the banks, the crowds, the boards, the long-term forecast. And that’s just for starters. The secret world of surf-addiction is not confined to the street, it spreads across my social circles. My women’s ukulele group is also a surf-addict support network. Our Messenger chat is as likely to be surf reports as chord charts. We are the girls who sat on the beach in the 80s, keeping our boyfriends’ towels warm, just like in Puberty Blues. Now though, we are surfers. Out there in the water, a bunch of daggy middle-aged women are giving it all they’ve got in any conditions. Reckon I’ve surfed worse, is the group motto when checking the surf. There’s an unspoken agreement that the first half-hour of every ukulele session is set aside for surf-talk. “It’s piss weak.” “Reckon it’ll be good up the bay?” “Heard it’s pumping up at Snapper.” Surf-talk can break out at any moment, especially when the surf is bad. When I stop to fill my car with petrol, the guy next to me notices the board on my car. “Nothing but choppy ankle-snappers out there,” he scoffs. I’ve heard Inuit people have 42 words to describe snow. I reckon Australians would have at least as many words for surf. But when the northerlies move on at last and those sacred offshore winds lift the waves into glassy peaks, we only need one. “How is it?” I call as I ride past my young surfer friend on a sunshiny blue-seas day. He beams with the serenity of someone who’s just had their fix. “Cranking.”