Sunday, 5 February 2012

Watching others have fun can be just as rewarding.

My son turns 11 on Friday and our gift to him was a surfboard. Normally he would have to wait to use it, but we were heading off to Caloundra this weekend. Who am I to stand between a boy and his newest love?

Hayden joined the surf groms program at Surfers Paradise last December. It's similar to the Auskick program (Aussie Rules), where they teach the basics of the sport over a series of one and a half hour lessons. After a four day intensive, Hayden was hooked! His coach said he had a natural talent for the sport and he's one of those kids who just keeps persevering when he wants to learn something new.

Surfing bit him hard. Our recent trip to Sydney included a trip to Bondi, where he hired himself a board and spent an afternoon riding the waves. The board was the natural choice for his present.

We spent a couple of hours each day this weekend up at Kings Beach at Caloundra trialling out the board and getting the feel of how it performed. Day one saw a nice windy day, which made for quite choppy conditions. Hayden ploughed through the waves to get to the right spot and proceeded to smash and get smashed. It makes me proud to see him pick himself up after being dumped and get right back onto the next good wave.

Today saw him get frustrated though. Not with the board and not with the waves, but with his fellow beach goers.

There are very clear rules for surfers at the beach. Under no circumstances are they allowed to surf between the red and yellow flags. This is not an issue - he understands that his board can hurt when it hits, not to mention the fins cutting skin like a sharp knife at speed.

There is a section of beach reserved for surfers. It is designated with a blue and white check flag, as well as a large permanent sign that states "Surfcraft" with a directional arrow. Unfortunately, in this beautiful weather, the swimming area is busy, so people see the relatively empty surf area and swim there instead.

For someone as aware of the rules as Hayden is, this is a difficult pill to swallow. A number of times today he was on a great wave, but had to abort to avoid hitting a stationary swimmer who was just wading in the area. While he wasn't aware of it, I did hear one mother who had her two toddlers splashing in the water complaining about how close he had gotten to them with his board. I politely set her straight about the surf zone and suggested if she was really serious about somewhere safe to swim with her kids, perhaps she could move to the patrolled area. She didn't take my suggestion well, and let's just say we agreed to disagree!

Hayden voiced his frustration himself as we left the beach. He couldn't understand why people chose to swim out of the patrolled area and insisted on swimming in the surf zone.

What could I tell him? There are people out there who think it is their god-given right to do whatever they like. To hell with everyone else, rules be damned. If I choose to swim here, I choose to swim here. Gone are the days of courtesy, of sharing, of harmony.

But here's something to ponder. On Main Beach at Surfers Paradise, the surf zone is also in the area where there are often rips or other dangerous currents. Hayden's learn to surf lessons were held right in front of the "Danger No Swimming" signs. While there were a few idiots who still entered the water to swim there (yep, tourists), the majority did the right thing.

The same applies at the north coast - board riders often find they are in the heavier surf zone. This is because learning to read the signs of the beach are all part of the sport. Any surfer will tell you it can be hard enough sharing the waves with fellow board riders, and surf rage is alive and well - especially if you don't follow surf etiquette. But adding swimmers to the mix just rubs salt into the wound!

So next time you're at the beach, take some time out to look for the surfer's designated area, and if you don't have a board, move on up to the patrolled zone. Spread the word. It's a big beach and it's much more pleasant if we could all just learn to share.

And next weekend, when it's Hayden's actual birthday, look out for us in the surf zone at Main Beach - he will be the one on the big blue board. Happy birthday buddy!