The Heart Path

balchphoto
 
 “For me, there is only the traveling on paths that have heart, on any path that may have heart. There I travel, and the only worthwhile challenge is to traverse its full length, and there I travel, looking, looking breathlessly...” - The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge - by Carlos Castaneda.
      For those of us fortunate enough to have followed life’s path through the wonderful world of surfing, there are certain days that stand out and pleasantly linger in our memory. Travel days with heart definitely fit that bill.
One such day unfolded in 1977 on a winter-time travel trip to Victoria, Australia from Sydney. Upon telling Terry Fitzgerald, a stylish surfer known as “The Sultan of Speed,” our plans, he shook his head and said, “Bells Beach? In the winter? You’ll freeze your bloody arses off!”
      My travel cohort, Mike Brown, and I lived in Monterey, California at the time, home of year-round full wetsuits, so cold water was definitely not a deterrent to us.  With two 1966 Plymouth Valiant station wagons, Mike, my girlfriend Julie Courtney, photographer Eric Aeder from Maui, Mark Oswin from New Zealand, and I hit the road. We stopped along the way sampling some of the wave-rich zones that make Australia a world-class surfing destination. We finally arrived in Torquay, and spent a few days surfing Winkipop and Bells before heading south to, figuratively and literally, greener pastures in the beautiful, unspoiled Johanna region. As a surfer first, and a photographer second, following this path of heart is always stimulating. For me, there is no richer experience in life than traveling, gaining new experiences at every turn.
      As the countryside got greener and the road became increasingly primitive, we headed off the beaten track, blindly seeking what we all hoped would be good surf.  We slogged our way through a long, bumpy, muddy track and parked near a bluff with some blown-out surf below that looked like it could have potential. We had our tents and sleeping bags plus a small fire under a brilliantly star-lit night. The only sounds were far-off booming waves and the occasional unseen bounding kangaroo. Julie and I opted for the warmth of the wagon that night as it turned out to be the coldest night in the area since 1897! Who knew? Still, it felt satisfying and fun just to be a part of this unfolding adventure.
      We awoke amidst excited anticipation. Although it had been a night spent tossing and turning in an uncomfortable sleep, as it became light, it didn’t matter anymore. The day was clear and crisp as I popped out of the car. The sun wasn’t up yet and the morning mist was like a soft moving grey tide rolling silently over the emerald hillsides. Farm animals dotted the meadows, which were covered with a thin layer of frost. The wisps of cold vapor drifting out over the morning swells were a sight to behold. Clean, peaking lines smoothed over by a fresh Northeast wind made their way, as if mechanically pumped, towards shore. As the sun peeked its golden head over the hills behind us, the mist crept away and the winter day showed its true splendor. Thick, even, right-hand barrels cracked over the rocky shelf by the point, churning and spitting their way towards shore. The right was quite nice, but the left-hander in the channel was also looking impressive. Large peaks, developing far outside were bending in over a sandbar into a circular chamber for the green room connoisseur. Which would it be? What a choice!
      While I pondered over these two hot spots, a brown Holden station wagon arrived on the scene. A man bundled in a ski cap, jacket, sweater, and gloves stepped out. I was stunned to see that it was Wayne Lynch, one of the world’s greatest surfers of all time, and my personal hero as a young, inspired, goofyfoot surfer. I was totally stoked to see him and decided to wait and take a few photos of the “Lorne Fish,” as he was known, in action. He pulled out a Reno Abellera-shaped seven-foot Lightning Bolt swallow tail (strictly single fins in those days).
      Setting up the tripod, I could feel the cold penetrating through my boots and frost formed up on the glass of my lens.  I hurriedly wiped off the frost as Wayne paddled for an overhead cresting right-hander... and then... a sweeping backhand bottom turn straight into a vertical lip explosion or a quick snap under a folding lip. Wham bam, thank you ma’am! I fired away gleefully. For me, the thing about photography is I get jazzed capturing these little classic moments and even shared them with Wayne at an ASR show in San Diego a couple years ago. He was stoked to see them.
      After a while of shredding the right, Lynch paddled over to sample the lefts. Casually cranking, he slotted effortlessly into a deep tube probe and then got the sweet release. Wave after wave of the same, an absolute master of his domain.
      It wasn’t long before our little crew was partaking in this classic go-out. I shot until I couldn’t take it any longer. I had to get out there! The wave consistency was absolutely amazing and everyone scored great rides, undoubtedly inspired by Wayne Lynch’s spectacular surfing. Just us, Wayne, and a couple randoms – made for one session I will always remember.
      After four-and-a-half hours of non-stop pleasure, I was drained and the wind was switching onshore. With arms like spaghetti and legs like lead, I climbed up the loose dirt cliff to the car and changed into warm clothes. I was happily done for the day. A bit later, a dark, somber cloud bank moved onshore and the evening quickly settled in. After we packed up to move on, I walked back out to the cliff for one supposed last look at the waves. Surprisingly, the winds had been hushed and great glassy humps were moving in and breaking even better than before.
       It stopped me in my tracks. I sighed and in a half whispered mumble told myself, “I gotta go.” The sun was setting, and as I ran back to the car, jumping over fences like hurdles, I wondered if I had enough time? I had to go for it! I whipped on the cold, damp, wetsuit. No time to wax up. I was mad with anticipation.
      “If I get one good wave, it’ll be worth it,” I yelled to Julie as I scrambled down the hillside. With darkness closing in, on the very first wave, I slid into the best barrel ride of my day... “And there I travel, looking, looking breathlessly.”
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