The water was cold, sucking the breath out of Terry’s body as he plunged in holding the board under his arms and leaping out and away from the rocks, just as the swell passed underneath him. It gave him maybe ten seconds to get much clearer before the next sloping face bore down on him and pushed him back onto the granite. He gasped, gurgled air, pulled the board underneath him and paddled furiously with all his strength and will. It was freezing. He had no wetsuit. He was aware that he had very little time. But he’d understood that he never had had that time, nor had Dave, and the two of them needed to break this. Even if it meant that they never went back to shore.
The slick glass moved effortlessly away from the rocks just in time to be lifted by the water as it picked up. Terry swung the board to face outside the break and windmilled his arms through the water. As he crested the wave he looked around, down into the troughs on either side, up onto the break inside. No sign of Dave. He had time to reflect on how the cold wasn’t hurting anymore. The wind was blowing the tops off the waves and there was foam flying all around, filling the air with ghosts and visions, flecking the cliffside with momentary works of art. He carried on paddling. He clung to the rails when it seemed the turbulence was going to be too much and threatened to spin him down into the iron water below. This was no malleable tin anymore, this was granite and iron and teak and diamond, hard and unyielding, in charge and in control, not marked by the movements he made on its surface – untroubled by his presence. Worse – unaware of it. The wind screamed around him and the only lights he could see were the dim glow of the headlights on the cliff above. Too far above to be much help but at least they gave him some bearings – to see which way was up if nothing else.
He was well clear of the rocks by now, still gasping air and taking the full storm on his uncovered body. He started to pray out loud – even though he hadn’t set any store by religion for over thirty years – the sea did that to people. He’d heard that no drowning man ever died an unbeliever.
Then he saw him. Maybe. There. Off to the left. Fifty feet ? Reachable ? He swung the nose up and let the unbroken energy take him closer – he didn’t want to be seen or heard – although neither was likely on this night – didn’t want to scare him – if it was him. He’d believe in ghosts too at a time like this.
He knew that there was but the one chance for either of them – wipe out or lose a board now and they had no future. If it was Dave over there and not a rock or a trick of the storm then he might still not be able to do much, but he had to say something, somehow explain, make him listen. Even out here in the mouth of the storm bobbing about like so much tiny flotsam in the bleak endless swirl of energy. No respite.
Terry’s arms were hurting. He was close enough now to see between gusts of foam that it was Dave. His hair plastered back, no longer looking like an ageing beach bum but exposing his age, his skull showing through the lines and the tan. His arms drawn and wiry and his chest rising and falling with effort. His board seemed part of him, a long thin flat bone where his legs should be. Like a forgotten creature returning to the sea. Death might ride a pale horse but death on the sea had a nine foot longboard in red and white and it did the job just as well.
Dave just stared through the foam. Looking inland. Staring but not seeing. Another swell rose up beneath him and pulled him that little closer in to where the heads of the waves toppled over and sent tons of icy water crashing down, barrelling into the beach. The break was there just in front of them. Dave was waiting for it. It was too busy being the sea to bother itself with thinking about waiting for Dave. But he’d come all the same.
Terry had no idea what to do next – Dave could paddle away the moment he saw him and he’d be gone. He could turn violent again – Terry had seen enough punches thrown in the line up to know that it didn’t matter how far out at sea you were there was still the potential for getting hurt – and getting hurt in these conditions wasn’t going to make things easier.
He settled for paddling over and lining up alongside – maybe four feet away – further than an arm’s length. Dave didn’t move. Didn’t acknowledge him. Didn’t stir. For seconds, maybe a minute. Nothing.
Then he turned and looked at Terry. Terry felt he’d known he was there all along.
He shouted – against the crash of the heavy topped waves and the raging wind his words sank into the sea with no trace. He pulled at the nose of Terry’s board. Terry tensed, expecting to be flipped off. Dave just pulled them closer together and yelled again.
“I’m sorry ! You ….shouldn’t….be …here...” each word with effort. He sounded drained but still sat firmly upright on the board as if he were rooted in the ocean.
“Dave – you’re wrong…it wasn’t like that.. Whatever you think…it wasn’t you…….you didn’t….. it wasn’t the way that you think……”
Dave looked uncomprehending. The wind whipping his lank hair back around his face.
“Don’t do this….we need to ….we need to get this sorted. Not this way….” Terry pleaded. He was cold. He felt the energy falling away from his body with each blast of wind. His fingers were white where they held onto the board. He tried paddling back a little, away from the falls, but Dave held onto his board.
The next few minutes would take them both over if they didn’t move.
There was a crack as another big wave split itself on the rocks, somewhere off to the left of them. White water flew high above them obscuring the cliffs for an instant.
Terry summoned up all his remaining strength and bellowed close to Dave’s ear,“You didn’t leave her there….you stupid bastard…. It wasn’t you….!”