Watching the Mundaka contest recently had me casting my mind back to my first sighting of that fabled sandbar way back in 1978.
With nobody around in the afternoon of an early December day, it was onshore with the threat of good waves in the morning. Watching the lines try to peel under the ill wind, the promise of what was to come was almost more than we could stand. That night, unaware of the joys of the bars in town, my mate Ren and I opted to cook up a pot of spaghetti – or our version of it – perhaps carb-loading for what we hoped was left-hand heaven come the dawn.
Alas, it wasn’t to be, and after two days of waiting with a couple of other hopeful wanderers, we headed east, on, up and up, back to England and a meandering route home to Oz.
The sight of that rivermouth sat with me though, so I worked and saved over the following year and a half so that I could return to Europe, and get right what I missed before.
The day after arriving in Mundaka, in late November 1980, it began to turn on. An afternoon of glassy to slightly onshore four-foot gave me a taste of what I thought might be my only go out. Feeling lucky to get it, and even luckier to make a few, the normal new-spot-first-surf-jitters passed after pulling out at the end of a couple of successful races. If that had been it, those couple of made waves might have been enough. Perhaps feeling slightly ripped off, I could have gone home saying I’d surfed Mundaka, chest puffed, overstating the size and claiming the camera was bung so I didn’t manage to get a shot.
Back in those days I did a lot of running, and in the morning I’d woken early and legged it, the roar of swell in the background telling me it was on. It was dead low tide, I knew, and the ‘locals’ (ie the Aussie blokes who’d been hanging around since the last swell) had said low tide was “too full on; hang for the incoming.” I wasn’t going to argue, and saw that window of time as a good opportunity for a warm-up. I’d always try to run to the second town up on the way to Geurnica, so by the time I got back the tide had turned and it was on. A pumping 6 to maybe 8 foot, and reeling.
It was brilliant, a bit big for most of the travellers, and since back then Spanish surfing was really just beginning, it wasn’t crowded. Maybe six or seven guys tops, and the best surf I’d ever been out in. Screamingly fast, and with the pigdog tube-riding stance yet to be invented and the layback not in my repertoire, avoiding being outrun by the barrel was more the order of the day. Just making the wave was cause for a subtle, inner claim, given the claim de riguer of the day was more a cool Lopez-style, cocked-hand pullout than a double-fist pump to the adoring (nonexistent) crowds.
So that night, as a bunch of us gradually reduced our joyous walk between bars to a stagger, and later, leaning on the iron rails overlooking the moonlit and still cranking waves, I vomited onto the rocks below, happy with the fact that I’d finally cracked it at Mundaka.
The following day, near flat, we nursed sore limbs and pounding heads, contemplating perhaps moving on to that other little Mundaka in the west, Rodiles.
Nature had other plans though. The next morning it was on again, though bigger. So big in fact that the odd wave closed out the whole mouth of the bay, point to point. That thinned out the takers, and in the end I think it was three or four of us getting belted and occasionally blessed with a little bliss until it filled a little, dropped a lot and a few more ventured out.
My memories are dim in some ways, not of the waves so much as what everyone else was doing. The stand-out to me was a young Aussie guy on a racy channel bottom who seemed to have it dialled, and a couple of knee boarders from Sydney, who managed some pretty deep barrels. One of them took these pictures, of me, posting them down the line some time later. I was pretty stoked, and though my style was raw – and still is – the shots gave me some bragging rights that I still call on almost 30 years later. I recently found one in a drawer, while another I’d had scanned from years ago, and cleaned it up a little.
You can tell the difference.
Not shown are the myriad wipeouts, the chipped tooth and the scrubbing along the bottom. God it was fun.
Though not quite old yet, I do know if I hit Mundaka this size today, my goose – baggy eyed and wrinkly necked as it is – would most certainly be well and truly cooked.
You’d have to give it a crack though.