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sydney alternative media - non-profit community independent trustworthy
Friday, 12 March 2010
Dear Kevin, politics is like a surfboat race*
Mood:  lyrical
Topic: aust govt


True there is no insulation in an old style wooden surfboat.

But there are many possible metaphors to draw from the sport of surfboat racing. Earlier today Adam Spencer abc 702 amplified a story about state parliament being like The Muppets. It was funny.

This got us thinking in some tangential creative fashion about those days of rowing (not paddling!) a 415kg tub around the bay in Warrnambool. Indeed PM Malcolm Fraser dropped in one day to have a go in the same seat as ours 2nd stroke oar, as per the pictures in our old scrap book above and below.

Now the boats are 210kg speedsters out of fibreglass and hollow carbon fibre oars, apparently including women's crew. Not in my day but it's all good moving with the times.

We went to a 29th year school reunion (not 30th, go figure) and recounted with pleasure an anecdote of the 1980 Austalian Titles - the only junior boat crew to finish our heat. And this is where the prime ministerial metaphor kicks in:

There we are at Wanda beach, Sydney, all the way from the Bass Strait, South West Victoria. A young crew with 2 years left in the age bracket. It's all good experience. The surf is running high.

Bang goes the starter pistol. Leap over the gunnel like jumping a barb wire fence, feet to land on the foot straps on a diagonal board. Easy to say, hard to do. Slide on the seat with your togs wedged up bare arse. Dig in hard to overcome the monolithic inertia of boat on shallow water, like a cockroach with 5 legs: 4 rowers and 1 sweep oar to steer.

Only - as rarely happens - Lee the sweep calls out "DIG IT IN" abrupty. It's all on trust.  Our backs are to the waves. We know the drill. If a wave is breaking in front of us, we have to stop to avoid being crunched, then start again which lifts the bow safely over the theshing whitewater and on again. In this sense it's a race of skill with ourselves never mind the other 5 crews.

We trust Lee as only teenage lads can investing in our sports coach. And he delivers us out of the jaws of the thrashing broken wave. Off we go again with "PICK IT UP!". But in seconds  he screams "DIIIGGG IT INNN!" a second time. Uh oh, not good. Never done this twice before. We are in the crunch zone now. It's pure faith. We should be rowing hard not making like a sitting duck. The curling water smacks the ocean surface, like a low mortar round deep in earth going "WHOA-UMP". As it breaks just in front we manicly pull on the heavy oars simply to hold position and prevent being swatted all the way back to the beach - the ulitmate embarrassment - going backwards. Teenage forearms and fingers strain to hold the boat in place. Not a word though. In the moment. It's bodies and training, and trust and teamwork. And Lee screams over the din "PIIICCKKK IT UP!"

We peek at the crews at left and right struggling beside us as we raise the blades out  of the water and literally point them at our rivals before dipping them back in. One at least is blown away as the line of surf varies along the shore line. But the real foe of we puny human beings has not finished with us yet.

Can't remember if Lee called out. Can't remember if we cried "Come on" 20 years before Leyton Hewitt ever won a grand slam. Probably we did like all those times before at 1/4 time and 2 goals down in local VFL (later AFL). The time was now, the players were us.

The biggest wave in the set was now heading straight for us and there was only one way out, forward, and over the top. And we pulled frantically short choppy strokes to get momentum. Not enough time or open water. Already sweaty. Breathing hard. And up we turned.

The body knows what the eyes can't see behind us. And up. And up. The length of a 25 foot boat at 45 degrees and then air. Like forever with oars swinging useless in mid air but only really a second or two.

Like a race memory it flashed before us, first time out in novice C grade seniors at Jan Juc carnival year before, relocated from Torquay because the surf was too big. We flipped, with oars flailing wildly. We knew what to expect when it all turns to custard.

And then another THUMP more wooden this time of boat and ocean reconnecting.

We look around to see if arms, legs, boat, crew were still intact. Lots of shouting. Some scrambling going on at first stroke oar. What the f*ck? Ricky is jumping into the sweep position with his curved blade. Where is Lee? The horror dawns on us - we lost the sweep in the deluge. Goodbye Captain! More shouting. There are no other boats either side. Smited. Everyone of them, and good riddance too. The Victorian wannabes were in town!

Was it schadenfreude that spurred us on? Was it crazy brave? Off we went, like a side winding crab, 2 versus 1 imbalance in the oars and Ricky steering. I rowed alone on my side the rest of the 500 metre course. Half way to the bouy we realised there was a time limit on each race. And we had to navigate the swell back onshore too. We made it in a race of one.

I had a photo of our boat flying over the 3rd cruncher wave but it got spoiled by spilled coffee a few house moves ago. I will always remember a comment back on the beach - "you guys are too smart to be boaties". This is a sly variation on the old self mocking boast of boaties around the club "we're not very smart but we can lift heavy things".

We got eliminated very next race by bigger older rowers in crews out of the central machine of the surf life saving movement in NSW and Qld.  But it didn't matter. We had a memory we could hold dear for decades, at school reunions and blogs and stuff. The beer tent was looking good, another thing that's changed over the years.

Which brings us to Mal Fraser PM and Member for Wannon going for a row down on a flat, flat day at Warrnambool beach with the senior boat crew in 1982. He copped a rogue wave which even made the cartoons.

It seems to us insulation is like a big wave set. Getting wet is okay, just don't let it wash you onto the beach going backwards.

* This story dedicated to Lee Oakley (sweep), Ricky Clissold (1st stroke),  Lewis Atkinson (2nd bow), Tom McLoughlin (the writer, 2nd stroke)), and  Peter Ryan (bow), Victorian State Title holders junior boat crew 1981-82 for Warrnambool Surf Life Saving Club.



Posted by editor at 11:08 AM EADT
Updated: Friday, 12 March 2010 11:44 AM EADT

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