Where pleasure and pain collide.
Rock thrashings, dustings, poundings, pumpings, whatever you want to call it when a surfer gets their arse thoroughly handed to them in that special place where the waves meet the unforgiving land—this is one of those incidents that can safely be filed in the category: ‘Hilarious until it happens to you.’ Whether you’re watching from your computer chair or in real-time from the line-up, nothing beats the perverse excitement that comes with seeing someone get rag-dolled along the rocks after a wipe-out or badly-timed jump-off, especially if they don’t die or get too hurt. But there’s always the other part of that equation, the ‘happens to you’ part, and that bit ain’t nearly as funny.
I remember the first time I got up close and personal with the rocks. I remember it because it was also the first time I surfed a reef. After a year or so of finding my feet at my local beachie, I decided to venture out to the end of the rock shelf and take on the little novelty barrel that seemed to be breaking unusually well on this bright, sunny morning. I made it out there easily enough, and even managed to snavel a couple of gems off the crowd despite my lowly grommet status, but it was on the way back in when disaster struck. By this time everyone had caught their last waves and scrambled in over the rocks, and feeling pretty chuffed with the progress I’d made, I decided to join them. What happened next is still a bit of a blur: I caught a wave, I caught the whitewater after it, there was a whole heap of spray in my eyes and suddenly I was getting pitched onto dry rocks instead of whatever else my dopey twelve-year-old brain thought was going to happen. It was a painful experience, and one that taught me I needed to be a whole lot smarter in the ocean, but learning that lesson didn’t make me exempt from losing any further bark.
The great thing about rock thrashings is: no one is immune, no matter how good a surfer they are. Sure, more experienced guys will avoid the majority of horrifying situations your average kook will find himself in, but sooner or later, whether through misjudgement or a lapse in concentration or plain old bad luck, they too will get their turn, and it’ll be as funny as the rest. I found that out one day when my favourite local surfer fell from the top of the break wall to the bottom, hitting every rock along the way with his arse. The whole line-up saw it happen, and after everyone had let out a collective groan, we all started to laugh. Even pros have their moments. Parko takes a pretty entertaining dive at Burleigh in Free as a Dog. The late, great Andy Irons apparently copped a hiding to remember one day while trying to get out at Froggies.
So what do these inevitable arse-kickings teach us? What are we to take away from them besides bloody shins, bruised egos and the profound realisation that, yes, rocks do in fact hurt? A heightened respect for the ocean would have to be up there. A heightened sense of alertness the next time your jumping off at your local point break can’t be far behind. But maybe the best lesson is just to laugh long and hard the next time someone besides yourself cops a flogging, because chances are you’ve got another turn yet to come.