There’s a scar on the instep of my left foot. It’s been there a while now, and I fear it’ll be there always for it’s quite unsightly. Actually, it was picked out by a child at the beach the other day.
“What’s that?” he said, prodding the dark patch of skin on my foot as only an inquisitive child can when unleashed from his passing parents.
“Sea monster…” I replied with a wink (lost on the toddler), and watched as his eyes turned wide while his brain processed the information, until his parents grabbed him and whisked him away.
Ugly as it may be now, the memory of the day I got it is far more beautiful: a big day at the Kom with little wind and a deep groundswell unloading on the outer shelf. I always love to surf the Kom if I can, I remember how Paul Botha told me that it’s the first place a wave will break on the African coast line after spinning off from one of the passing fronts, and this day was the first time I’d had it good in many years of trying.
But I digress; the cut. I nicked my foot coming in, and it was no more than a graze at first, more a blood blister. But for every swell it grew and grew. So I tried plasters, fake skin, surgical tape, boots, gaffer tape and socks; stained it red with bottle after bottle of merthiolate and ignored every ounce of medical advice and every thread of common sense that told me maybe, just maybe, I should stay out of the water. Then the swells died and the sore healed, and left me with an ugly scar. Where many people carry tattoos into old age to remind them of their follies, for me it’ll be this scar.
So what’s the importance of a little scar? Well, as I wondered away from the bemused and confused looking child I’d left on the boardwalk at the ‘berg that warm sunny afternoon, convinced that he too would one day be consumed whole by a foot-eating sea monster if he entered the waves, I pondered this little imperfection that would stay with me until I die, and how I came to get it.
That singular day at the Kom was a weekday. A Wednesday, I think. And as it was a weekday, it was empty; everyone was working, earning their crust, fulfilling their duties. I should have been with them but for the one cruel day when I was a kid, when I picked up a surfboard and caught a wave. And everyday since, I’ve done all I can to make sure I can surf when and wherever I can.
I wonder, if I’d not picked up that board, if I’d nose-dived instead of trimming on that first little wave all those years back, if maybe today I’d have it different. A job with a steady income, a completed education together with certificates of distinction and graduation photos on a mantelpiece, a place of residence instead of a succession of crash pads, a wardrobe and not a quiver, a girlfriend and not a part-time mistress, a car that functions as a well-maintained motor should and some semblance of time-keeping and reliability that would allow me to function as a normal and valued member of society. But I picked up that board, and I trimmed (just a little), and now all I’ve got is an ugly scar. But it’s OK.
When I catch myself in a moment of reflection – I’m staring down at my feet and this dark stain catches my eye, I briefly lament my decision for picking up a surfboard and wander if it’s time to jack it in and join the ‘real world’ – I catch my breath and think of all the good waves, and all the good times I’ve had since I rode my first wave.
Then I look at my other foot, which I cut yesterday (fin gash), and I look at the waves, and I ponder the stereotype I’ve become. And I wonder if I should stay out of the water, if I should grow up, act my age and listen to the inner monologue now playing out the formation of yet more scar tissue on my shredded feet.
But the swell will be gone soon, and there’s gaffer tape in my car, merthiolate at home, and I consider that I may an idiot but I’ll accept the consequences.
I love to surf; it makes me youthful and free, and I’ll take another scar. This time around.