Note: Names have been changed.
I arrive in Noosa and immediately want to surf. It’s lunchtime and men are clocking out, busting from work clothes, and sprinting with boards and board shorts to the surf lineup. Their passion is infectious.
The main issue is my skill with a board is on par with my skill in using the Large Hadron Collider to detect the Higgs boson, which is to say limited to non-existent with a Wikipedia based understanding of its purpose and function. Currents frighten me. Once I fell off my board, the leash snapped off, and as a strong rip held me under, I thought, “So this is how I die.” I’m being a touch dramatic: I’m not terrible, my lingo is better than my technique (eighteen years of dank burrito consumption in San Diego will do this), but each time I get a wave, what cripples me is the question asked of dogs who chase cars: What do I do once I’ve caught it?
I park downtown to check the surf and get a sense of the vibe. I want to quote Lonely Planet’s description of Noosa here because it’s delightful: A “…most fashionable resort town, salubrious hub backing onto crystalline waters and pristine subtropical rainforest…” Salubrious is the Holy Grail of SAT wordage, so I commend the writer for sensing opportunity and seizing it. The word is a modifier but looks like the sentence linchpin. I didn’t like Noosa but hearing it described as salubrious makes me want to go back. It’s so perfectly extra.
Standing on the beach boardwalk, I see that Lonely Planet is correct about the hub, in all its salubrity, backing into crystalline waters. The description there is of the main beach: it’s a hard kick of sand from main-street and has the most activity. Zincified human beings body surf in waves so thin they are translucent and parents are happy to let their kids splash around in the water. There are lifeguards and flags and rip warning signs, but the water is pacific. The southernly Noosa headlands is the cause, tamping the swell or, more accurately, making it break early. Head high waves a hundred meters long break far from shore. Surfers take the shortcut of running the headlands—in essence bypassing a four hundred meter paddle—hobbling over some rocks, and belly flopping with their boards into the lineup. Two, three paddles and they’re set to catch a wave.
I watch the surfers deftly avoid crashing back into the rocks. I feel like L7-weeny Scotty Smalls from the scene in Sandlot where he stands in the outfield watching boys in the infield field simple ground balls and complete around-the-horn drills and Scotty about shits himself in awe. If it isn’t hard bellied old men prancing on their longboards then it’s ten-year-old tykes zipping about wave faces like gnats. I feel quite incompetent and anchored to land.
Hoping for a smaller intimidation quotient, I travel to Sunrise Beach, just south of the headlands. The gimmick here is that the sand squeaks when you walk on it. Squeaky sand will be the extent of my experience on Sunrise because its waves are a charnel house. Bathers don’t go past their knees and even then stay strictly between the lifeguard flags, which are set about as wide as a wicket. Beach jellyfish are scattered like mushrooms after rain. One surfer paddles in and the current sweeps him parallel to shore like he’s on a conveyor belt.
I conclusively decide I will not go surfing in Noosa.
I do have a social engagement: it’s to meet Lisa, a Dutch girl I met in New Zealand. Her real allure is an ability to split car costs for a road trip, but on the day we met in New Zealand, she did buy me pancakes, which in Holland—Dutch people correct me if I’m wrong—means I’m spiritually bound to her and have a statutory claim to her material possessions.
The hiccup here is Lisa and I don’t quite get along. We met in Nelson, coincidentally the same night I reconnected with Ward (also Dutch), and spent one car ride together, hiked a hill in Queenstown together, and explored Wellington for an afternoon. In Queenstown, I told her to stop bitching about how tired she was. In Wellington, she scolded me for taking photos of gravestones. How or why either of us agreed to share a car together for eight days is more a lesson in frugality than logic. But this trip won’t follow the happy style of Ward, Alice, or Leonie (or even, later, with James). I liken it more to Alfred Hitchcock’s definition of suspense: strapping a bomb under a table filled with people and letting the audience know when it will explode.
Five days is the timer.
Clock starts now.