May is without a doubt the Surfers’ month on the North Coast. Autumn days are kissed by blue skies, warmer temps give way to cooler offshore winds as swells march in from favourable directions and days seem to blend into weeks of bliss.

We’ve all been in a COVID daze these past few months. But the last swell that hit the east coast well and truly snapped us back to life.

Before last week the North Coast was already boasting a memorable run of waves. Then the long-range forecast arrived and anticipation levels quietly built for what more might come.

As the weather turned cold and the swell started to jack big boards were getting pulled out of sheds and board racks that had collected dust for months. The only bender some Aussies had been on in lockdown was an alcohol variety. Now fitness and stamina were going to be tested surviving the onslaught of back-to-back days of surfing, all day if you could handle it.

Friday was good but the weekend was when the coast really came alive.

Saturday morning, I wandered down in the dark to survey the banks out the front of my place. Lines of swell were marching in and peaks feathered on and outside bank doing a fair impression of second reef Pipe. Two guys paddling out were dragged 500 metres parallel from where they started within seconds. Valiantly they made it out and that was enough confirmation for me to race home and suit up.

The paddle was exhausting. I scurried between sets, lost count of the number of duckdives as the ocean churned like one big whirlpool. My senses were on overdrive trying to make sense of seeing my local this big and raw. The incoming tide only amplified conditions. Each set kept ratcheting up in power and size. When I finally got my bearings, I realised I was bobbing in line with the Cape and miles from where I started.

After playing a game of cat and mouse with the sets, looking for the ones that hit the inside bank square, and avoiding the staircase sets that blacked the horizon, I finally locked horns with one. As it picked me up I stayed low, grabbed the rail, and slid down the face as I felt the reassuring stickiness of wax on my toes. The lip threw in front of me and as quickly as I was in I was out. Not a deep tube but a confidence-building wave.

Realising the bank wasn’t handling the swell I headed back to where I started to take aim one more time. The next couple of hours I simply got smashed. I had two swims in after my leash blew. And only one good steep left, went in feeling exhausted and short-changed.

The swell continued to build in size and quality all day. By the afternoon, I was jittery from too much caffeine and eager to make up for the morning. Trying to contain myself I blocked out distractions, did some Wim Hof breathing, and headed out solo further down the beach to a more defined peak.

The combination of swell was delivering these crazy wedges that seemed to hold up for eternity and let you in like a friendly concierge. The lineup was full of familiar faces and everyone knew this was a special session. After a couple of hours of trading perfect six to eight-foot waves, my body and mind were battered but on a high. A mesmerising sunset blew reds and orange as I had only ever seen in the West.

Sunday arrived and I awoke feeling like it was day three on a boat trip. My body ached, my face and eyes still stung but the desire for more of the same burnt strong. When I laid eyes on the ocean I immediately regretted not going to bed at 8 pm.

If I thought Saturday was good, Sunday was all-time. Running down the beach I couldn’t believe my eyes. Words are often overused, especially in the hyperbole of swells, but this was as good as it gets. One for the books.

A stiff westerly illuminated huge six-to-eight foot peaks on a perfect bluebird day. Everywhere you looked perfect waves broke and someone was about to get the wave of their lives. I surfed for five hours straight and felt like I had swum the length of 30 swimming pools and been mauled by tigers by the time I hit the sand.

I didn’t get “the one” but the pursuit kept me honest and time since reflecting has made me really appreciate surfing good waves at home. My mind has wandered back to the “what if” waves I didn’t make or ones where I was in the position that someone pulled back on. A loop of perfect waves plays on repeat as I debate whether to order a bigger board with my shaper. A proper contemporary gun. I keep asking myself, “How could I be fitter, ready, and better next time around?”

By Monday conditions were biblical and only freaks like Rasta or joints further south were making sense of the swell. My body was a wreck. My partner and the kids wanted their Dad back. I needed to reconnect with reality. Surfing could take pause, well just for a bit…

The buoys down south have lit up and a westerly is hissing outside rattling the windows. Another swell is coming and with it hopefully more memorable sessions and moments to come.