In my late teens I thought of nothing else. That summer I was at it first thing in the morning, had the energy to be still going when the sun went down, and dreamed about it much of the night.
I don't know what captivated me; perhaps it was the curves, the rhythm, the adrenaline rush. I hated getting dumped, it often hurt, but in spite of the pain I loved surfing with a passion.
A Waikato dairy farmer's son, I was unaware surf beaches existed until the family holidays shifted from the placid Thames coast to Waihi Beach, when I had just entered my teens.
What a revelation. Biddies wading were replaced by strutting young women in bikinis. Instead of retired farmers at the seaside in a suit and tie there were bronzed surfies in trendy Hang Ten and Golden Breed beach gear, or clad in tattered jeans.
But that wasn't what grabbed me. It was the waves. The way they curled and crashed, their power - enough to pummel you into the sea floor, then pummel you again as you emerged spluttering, disorientated, spitting out sand, your eyes stinging from the salt.
Contrast that to the Thames beaches, where my nervous aunt would set me loose for a swim when the tide was so far out you had to walk virtually to Auckland simply to wet your feet. I had just made it across the mudflats into calf deep water, when there was yelling and waving from the shore.
"Kevin, you're out too far! Come back in right now."
If I have had worse days at the beach, I can't recall. Bitter didn't come close to catching my mood.
Waihi Beach has a place in my memory more colourful than it might deserve, due to all preceding it being so damned beige. Visit swamp-surrounded Te Kauwhata, Waerenga, Waitakaruru and Pukekohe, then imagine them 40 years ago. Those sleepy towns largely framed the boundaries of my childhood. The height of excitement was a trip to Hamilton, the urban equivalent of the Thames mudflats, or to Auckland, where there was the zoo, Farmers' rooftop playground, and the rare chance to see traffic lights.
So, after one taste of zooming down a Waihi Beach wave on an inflatable lilo, I was hooked.
I graduated to a surfboard in search of more speed, and greater thrills. My first board was, in surfing parlance, a "dunger". It was patched with fibreglass resin and criss-crossed with stress fractures, but love was blind, and the budget small.
With all the balance of a natural klutz, I taught myself to surf. When I finally managed to stand, I proved to be a "goofy foot" with my right leg planted closer to the nose of the board, surfing's equivalent of left handed, which I was not at anything else.
For all the hours on the ocean waves, my skills remained limited. I could turn only left, so a wave had to be breaking that way for me to score a ride of any length. Now and then there was magic - whizzing down a glassy wave face then up it, weaving into another descent, turning into another climb.
I far preferred glassy east coast waves to the snarling powerful beasts found out west, at surfing Meccas such as Raglan, Piha and Muriwai. I was slow getting to my feet, so if a wave broke before I was up and stable, the outcome was a uncontrolled dive of doom.
After one such flinging I surfaced to find the stress fractures in my beloved board had cracked under the strain, and it was in irreparable pieces. But there was a backup plan.
I nagged Dad into buying me a brand new board. It was candy-from-a-baby easy. He and my mum had recently separated, and he was a kind and generous man, eager to compensate for the trauma of the break-up.
I had to have another surfboard, I told him. What's more I knew what it was. A brand new Blue Spirit, 6 feet 7 inches long, in a striking sky blue. I'd seen it in a Hamilton East surf shop.
We will drive to Hamilton to get it, Dad offered meekly. What? We? Not me, I said, I don't want to leave the beach, off you go. So off he went, alone with his cheque book, to Hamilton and back, 220km. When I returned to the caravan from another day of waves there was my new board. I hope I said thank you.
My teenage self focus and lack of insight may have worked in my favour in that case, only to blind me to other opportunities. All the paddling meant I was fit and strong.
And now I had a stunning surfboard. Girls I didn't know asked to try it out, much to my annoyance. They were hopeless. I couldn't wait for them to finish, so I could get on with catching more breakers.
When I eventually got interested, I chose poorly and delayed too long. After driving for an hour to visit one female board-borrower months later, I found her father was a minister. He grilled me on my religious beliefs over lunch. Worse, she had acquired a boyfriend in the interim, and he was there.
When I had a family of my own, the girls were swiftly introduced to the joys of surf. We went shares in a family caravan.
When they were five and seven, we parked it at a Papamoa Beach camping ground, Bay of Plenty.
As the girls dashed into the waves, I fretted about rips and undertows, channelling the nervous aunt of my boyhood.
"You're out too far. Come back in," I'd yell from the shore.
"Swim between the flags, watch the flags, you're drifting."
As I watched them frolic, I felt wistful nostalgia . . . for the mill-pond sanctity of the mudflats.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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