On a recent visit to my hometown, the surf community was divided over the dunking of an overzealous young grom.
It was surfing’s own version of The Slap – the Australian classic by novelist Christos Tsiolkas, which shows the ricochet effect on a group of friends, after one man slaps a child who is not his own at a suburban barbeque. Just as ‘The Slap’ raised questions about the contemporary family and notions of child rearing, so too did the dunking get us all thinking about the modern surfing community and what is and isn’t acceptable behaviour in the water.
Grommet abuse was once a common enough occurrence, and for the baby boomers and their kids, who bore the brunt of it and learned to take it in their stride, a necessary evil to the keep the line-up in check. But with shifts in the ways both parents and teachers discipline children, so too has the surfing world adopted a gentler approach to initiating its youngsters.
News travels fast in this neck of the woods. I’d only been in town a few hours when I heard about the conflict. I’d driven down from the city that morning, stopped for the obligatory pie at the halfway point, despite the early hour, and got en route for the surf check. I took the familiar road, along the bending river and out on the dirt to my favourite peaky beach break. Along those sleepy roads I saw a mate riding his pushy, rugged up in the crisp winter air. I pulled off the road to have a chat.
‘Did ya hear about the dunking?’ He asked, his bed- hair sticking up all over, as he leaned in through the driver’s side window.
The waves were a meek waist-high that day, I was told. It was a sunny Saturday arvo, and down at the local, family friendly beach a slight but rippable A-frame wedge was on offer. It seemed sculpted by Huey just for the little tackers. All was going swimmingly until Stretch’s kid turned up. He’s a hungry 12-year-old natural footer in the latest techno-fex high-vis steamer. This kid started doing laps around all the other groms, taking more than his serve of the playful little wedgy pie. It went on like this until one youngster paddled in all teary eyed because he couldn’t get a wave. None of the other kids could get a wave, I’m told – and this wasn’t a one off – Stretch’s kid is a serial offender. That’s when the surfer dads got involved.
There’s a group of surfer dads in the area who give the soccer mums a run for their money. They’re on the local boardriders committee – the ones turning the sausages in the biting south-westerly wind of a Sunday morning. Stretch belongs to this group – named for his tall, gangly appearance and elasticity on the board. The other dad, the dad of the kid who can’t get a wave, is of the old school variety. His name is Bomber and he’s a tough love type o’ guy.
Bomber paddled out and started snaking this kid, dishing him up a bit of his own medicine. When Stretch’s kid showed no sign of pacifying, Bomber went over to the skinny quasi-teen, grabbed him by a tuft of blonde curls, and dunked him, once, twice, three times. The kid paddled in and ran home to tell his Dad – Stretch – and all hell broke loose.
Bomber’s a big guy with tatts all up his arms and a voice that grates. The silent, brooding, patient bloke out the back, he’ll only catch one wave every half an hour but more often than not it’s the best one that’s come through all day. No one can blame the kid for freaking – we’d all have run home to our folks.
The cops were called to the scene, and Bomber was given an official warning. Meanwhile, the story spread like wildfre. Our mate, outraged that the police had been brought in to work out what he defined as ‘surfer’s business’, told me that we, the surfng community, had to take it into our own hands. Everyone’s got to do their bit, he reckoned, to show that the old laws of the line-up still rule supreme. We’ve all got to dunk this kid, he said, or someone’s gotta dunk Stretch.
Suffce to say, it didn’t end in some ludicrous all-in dunking affair. Although that would have been a sight to see. Animosity no doubt grew between the two camps, but there was no more action in the water. Most likely the kids were the ones battling it out in the schoolyard, building armies against one another.
Was it a dunkable offense? Many believe Bomber went too far. Meanwhile, some of the more seasoned seadogs reckon order needs to be restored. They re- member a time when you used to have to pay your dues, earn the right to paddle out the back and take off on a bomb. In some ways they’re on the money. In today’s P.C. society, no one is saying anything to ratbag kids for the risk of offending someone or creating controversy. Bomber’s method of education may have been slightly misguided, but surely there’s a middle ground.
The Dunking, like Tsiolkas’, The Slap, shined a light on the differences from one generation to the next, and showed how we, as a species, are in a constant state of change. It also revealed just how seamlessly the dramas and foibles of everyday life are mirrored out in the line-up.