Turquoise turned to jade green which merged with a deeper grey-blue sliding into seafoam green fragmenting into golden yellow, duck-egg blue and a cool fathomless green…
Pantone numbers swimming round my head as the eternal dance progresses and light particles penetrate the pulsating water. Mesmerised yet mindful of my locale, I keep an eye on the horizon for the tell-tale darky, inky smears that bleed from the horizon warning of approaching rogue sets. As I scrambled down the rocky hillside from our campsite the beckoning, shimmering waves rolling in to the wide sandy bay were unruffled by wind and peeling left and right from several distinct peaks, yet as I paddled out I realised the distance from which I had originally been bewitched was deceiving. These waves were bigger than anticipated, probably four to five feet, and powerful. On the outer rim of limited capability and experience, but if you time your paddle out with the lulls between waves and sit just seaward of their breaking point waiting for your moment then it’s no problem… except, that is, for those sly sets of waves which emerge at irregular, unpredictable intervals a foot or two bigger and harnessing even more of the latent storm energy than their more disciplined cousins.
As these six-, maybe seven-, foot waves – with faces soaring almost 12 feet above the prone surfer – pitch beyond vertical and the seething apex is launched out beyond the face, the explosion as the two water masses collide impacts on all of my senses to produce a solitary, survival emotion – fear.
At the first signs of these delinquent undulations the skirmish begins. I paddle toward the horizon, hoping that my timing is fortunate and I manage to scrabble over the back of the beasts, travelling in packs of four or five increasing in size.
To be caught just inside the breaking wave with its tumbling, towering, impenetrable wall of whitewater is to be spun and tumbled underwater, limbs flailed in unfeasible directions like a rag-doll, until it releases its grip, allowing you to surface 30 yards back toward shore gasping for air.
Worse still is to get the timing absolutely, utterly wrong and for the pitching lip of the wave to smash onto you at the point of impact, adding a winding body-blow to the mix… But sometimes, and to be fair to myself more often now than not, the timing of the paddle-out combines, to quote Hansen, with “Pace, power and technique”, and I dive the nose of the board under the water a few feet before the lip crashes down. I dig deep enough with all the might I can muster to get under the turbulence and the centrifugal forces that are pitching the lip forward work in my favour and suck me under the wave and out of the back, to momentary safety before the next wave approaches…
The next few days the ferocity of the ocean subsided, but we stayed on in Zarautz in the Basque region of Spain. We played in the calmer waters and enjoyed the warm, still evenings and the awesome, widescreen skies created as the ocean meets the mountains.