Chilled to the Bone
I am a total pussy when it comes to the cold. This is a true weakness that makes me crumble and fall. It is almost like a sickness that begins in my fingers and toes spreads to my lower back sending shivers through my body. Next the uncontrollable shaking sets in. Eventually the glacier-like flow of cold hits my chest. This is when I know I am going to be fighting for heat all day. Chilled to the bone I search for warmth in a race against the almighty flu that shortly follows this experience.
I am on a small island that lies amongst the few remains once linking Tasmania and the mainland. Rugged and spectacular this island is surrounded by the icy waters of the treacherous Bass Strait and also lies in the path of the roaring forties. For those of you who are not familiar with this weather phenomenon, the roaring forties are produced by storms centered over Antarctica. The front travels with gale-like force up to the Great Southern Ocean, leaving a trail of upwelling from the polar depths.
Sounds frigid right? I actually can’t believe that I agreed to come on a surf trip this far south. My kit for the cold consists of three key pieces: Down Jacket, new Beyond Coastal organic shea butter lip balm and an R3 full suit.
[Halfway through the event we hunted out a small slow wave to ride Tom Wegener's quiver made of palonia wood. After losing the board hundreds of meters down the beach I carry the 12-foot parabolic back up the beach. Photo: Dane Peterson]
I am here with an idiosyncratic group of visionary, and in some cases slightly deranged, surfers to partake in Derek Hynd’s Friction Free surfing event, which basically rules out any craft with fins or a rudder. It's an experiment in design, created to generate freethinking and new ideas perceived through the expressions and temperaments of the ocean -- a new way to slide the days away.
After my first session of face planting into the flats on picture perfect right wedges I was frustrated to say the least. I could still feel my fingers enough to wash away my performance frustrations with a bodysurf. Fully submersed I was surprised at how warm my new 3mm was. The black rubber blocked the wind and wool insulated my body. The best attribute to this session was the pullover neck creating a barrier from the water, leaving my body dry and totally oblivious to the extreme conditions it was exposed to.
There is an array of equipment here, made from varying mediums: wood, air, rubber, Styrofoam, fiberglass and epoxy. After much testing it was determined that the best performers are thin-railed simplistic shapes, less buoyant forms and a mid-length size range. On the smaller waves the alaias outshone the pack -- a very natural feel and the epitome of the glide.
Following the trail of the sun over the green pastures, weaving through a field of the country's best cows, a peak looms through the morning fog. Amazed at its pure beauty I slip on a wet full suit and fight the current for the next six hours. Derek made the boards perform better than anyone, controlled spinning and holding lines through hollow sections. Today, thundering from the strait, are best lefts I have seen since Indo. Despite the cold I couldn’t bring myself to exit the lineup.
Later that evening, hungry, aching, tired and totally stoked, I asked why the event was held in such a cold location. I was stared upon, like a werewolf peering into my eyes, head tilted as if I should know the answer. Finally the silence broke, "Stupid people migrate to the warm climates; you have to come to places like this to find paradise." I thought about this statement for sometime, weighing up the pluses and minuses, and finally came to the conclusion that it was time for me to prepare for the cold in order to seek a paradise in solitude. As great as it is to paddle out in just boardies feeling the sun's rays on your bare back, with a new R3 wetsuit I would trade it for empty windswept hollows any day...
[Photos (top to bottom): A cold wait for the next set -- bodysurfing Phoques Bay; 7'0" alaia and finless creation shaped by Dane Peterson; event poster incorporating free friction surfing with classical music. All photos by Dane Peterson.]
Editor's note: For more on this event, check out the article "Fretless" by Derek Hynd in the current issue (Vol. 16 NO. 6) of The Surfer's Journal. If gliding friction-free on an alaia board strikes your fancy, be sure and visit this page on Tom Wegener's new site. The photo at the top of the page shows Dan Malloy locked-in on his alaia. I've seen him ride that board before and, yes, it's as thin and flat as it looks in the photo, incredibly fast though. Good stuff.