Surf Carnival, by Ross Renwick
is a bright and sultry day and the sea is a wild animal
chewing at the land and the sky.
the beach older men in white cotton shorts and shirts
are tapping red pencils on blue clipboards and looking
watchful. It¹s alright for them to smile and
laugh amongst themselves because they aren¹t
the ones who have to enter the raging surf.
older men have SLSA printed on their white shirts.
It stands for Surf Life Saving Australia so they have
probably been in seas like this, some of them, and
they have no intention of offering us mercy.
They are honour bound never to cancel a surf carnival
even if it looks like a few of us could die.
a rescue¹s on you have to be ready for anything,
they say. They¹d rather have a corpse than a
problem is this. The night before the carnival l have
agreed with Tony and Col to join them in the surfboard
race. I had not then seen the ocean and there¹s
no pulling out now. I¹m more scared of the sneering
than the drowning.
has only been one change. The surfboard race has been
changed from being the tenth event to being the first
suggests to me that the old buggers are nervous about
starting any event at all. Then l see that one of
them is counting us, using his pencil like a wand.
They¹ve never done this before. I can¹t
losing their nerve. They are going to decide whether
they can run the swimming events based on what happens
when the surfboards hit the sea.
surfboards we are racing on are sixteen feet long
and waterlogged, as they always are, and weigh so
much that few people under the age of eighteen can
carry them. At their length and weight they are difficult
to control, but they run a straight line fast, real
are about sixty starters waiting on the beach and
the officials get ready to start the race. We are
all yawning nervously. Sixty guys standing looking
at twelve foot high thunderous waves and we are all
yawning our heads off. They usually start by yelling
Go,¹ but the noise of the sea is so loud
they have found a starting pistol somewhere.
few minutes ago they told us that if they decide to
stop the race they will activate the shark alarm and
we must come back to the beach immediately.
midnight activations of the shark alarm have proved
that it can startle the sleeping as far away as four
race is about to start. I am in a medical condition
that is known as scared shitless.
gun goes off and about sixty surfboarders hit the
edge of the sea. Even in the first twenty metres of
whirling white water the sea suggests a power that
l have never felt before. I¹m paddling on my
knees and the white water hits my knees hard, then
my chest, and then the sixty of us are washed back
onto the beach. It all begins again and l point my
board slightly south, attempting to get close to the
headland where there is a rip and slight cover in
the deeper water. Tony and Col and a few others try
are five or six rows of thundering white water and
then there are two breaks, the first about three hundred
metres out and the second about four hundred out.
As a small group we now reach areas of comparative
calm. It¹s not much of an advantage but we take
it. By paddling hard on the spot we can
hold our position, more or less, while expending a
large part of our available energy. And watch. And
wait. And hope.
a while, and with I guess half of my strength left,
l detect a break in the corduroy pattern of the ground
swell. At water level there is very little to see
with troughs this size. When you go over some white
water you gain a little height and you might think
that the distant waves will be smaller. But they might
not. And in this case, as I catch a glimpse through
the wet and the noise and the great unremitting strength
of it all, I can see that they are not smaller. That
Col races forward and we all ignore our screaming
muscles to follow. We go over a few green waves and
we can suddenly see the buoys we are to paddle around
as a big wave lifts them skywards. They¹re a
few hundred metres away and it¹s about twenty
minutes since we left the beach. There are
seven of us as we race for the buoys and as l turn
around them l see the headland and beach. There are
people watching from every vantage point.
glance seawards and there are some more very big waves
approaching. Col and Tony are ahead of me and I am
coming third. As l turn at the last buoy l see several
things. The first is that the three of us are the
only ones to reach the final buoy. The other four
have apparently been washed back to the beach.
l am now coming last.
l notice that Col and Tony are far enough ahead of
me to be in some danger from the first of the waves
that are now quite close. Waves often come in groups
of three, the third being the largest. I judge that
the first wave will break on Col and Tony and they
will lose their boards and have to swim into the beach.
am now becoming excited because l am in a perfect
position to catch the first wave and win the race.
I have won a few swimming races but never a surf board
race. There will be plenty of kudos from wining today.
As l paddle onto the wave l am very high above them
and a bit to the north.
board gathers speed and as l stand up on it my right
am now about four hundred metres out to sea, racing
down the front of a wave three times taller than I
am, which is about to break, with a dislocated shoulder.
Prior to this my plan was to stand until the board
reached the bottom of the wave, then flop onto it
and hang onto it until l reach the beach. I cross
that idea out as l now have no arms since my left
arm is holding my right arm against my body in a vain
attempt to minimise the shocking pain that is occurring.
I know from experience that my brain is pissed off
with me for bringing it into this danger and has shut
my throat to prevent the forced entry of sea water.
A frightened brain can do this, from malevolence.
now have about a quarter of a second to choose from
my other two options. One is to take the bounce, standing
as long as I can, and hoping that, armless, I will
be washed into the beach. My other option is to step
off the board into the green water with pointed feet
in an attempt to get as deep as I can so that I don¹t
go over the falls when the wave breaks.
step off the board. I go a long way down. I have no
arms so l kick my way to the surface. It takes a long
time. When l come to the surface there is a very large
wave about to break on me. I go down a very long way
again, but this time the decision is made by the wave,
and I have not had a chance to take the huge breath
my screaming lungs are demanding. and I take a long
time coming up.
l do l come up I am in green water and I am over a
sandbank which is probably thirty feet down and it¹s
where the very largest waves break. I cannot stay
here so I start kicking myself out to sea. As waves
lift me l can see the beach in the distance and as
far as l can tell nothing much is happening. What
I really want to see is some sign of my imminent rescue.
I put my left arm up to make sure that they know I
am in big trouble.
looking at it this way. There are seven surf clubs
on the beach so there will be about three hundred
life savers. Thirty or forty of them will be very
good swimmers and capable of bringing a surf line
to me. There will be at least seven surf boats, powerfully
driven by four rowers and a sweep.
l have to do I wait.
am now swinging into semi consciousness as every now
and then a big wave catches me and holds me down.
I have seen the white light and l have no idea of
to me attempt after attempt is being made to get a
line or a boat out through the surf. But no one can
do it. An hour has passed since the surfboard race
have become disinterested and time is a piece of string.
Then I hear a loud slapping noise. Then I hear it
again. Again and again. A large waves passes under
me and then a long slim white shape comes over the
wave and nearly brains me as it slaps back into the
a big double ski. Sitting on it looking at me is a
huge man from the same surf club as me, staring at
me and looking angry. His name is Tim, the local stand-
over man. At lunch one day he is asked, not by me,
how many people had he killed. I expect the question
or to be killed within moments but he laughs and says,
"No one. But don¹t go spreading it around
or you¹ll ruin my reputation."
Tim." I say.
prick.¹ he says. Get on the front.¹
can¹t climb on board because l have no arms.
He drags me into the front seat of the surf ski. He
does not drag me gently. He begins paddling out to
sea. There are some very big waves coming.
bones in the top of my arm are now living in my armpit,
thanks to Tim. I am told later that I walked up the
beach by myself. Not that I remember. Then gentle
people in white are taking me to an ambiance and I
look around for him. I can¹t see him so I say
to myself, Thanks, Tom."
swear I hear him say "Don¹t do it again
you little shit." But I don¹t know for sure.
discover a few days later that the surf carnival was
note: Brilliant stuff about my old mate, Timmy. Ross
was reading your stuff this morning. I've nearly completed
a book of short stories about the northern beaches
in the 50's and 60's. This one's about Tim.
true. I'd have died at age 22 but for Tim. He gave
me more than 40 years and still counting. After this
incident he looked after me sort of. Please pass this
on to anyone you like, especially Max and Matthew.
Shitville Pub, by Ross Renwick
Tim Bristow: A personal true tale of Australia's
legendary private investigator, by Greg Tingle
Life Saving Australia