AFL: Surfing the bye

I was watching the Saints and Crows on Friday night. It was horrible, so I turned it off. The Saints looked resigned to their fate. Their heads bowed early in the first quarter, their ball skills (when they got hold of the ball) were awful. It was soulless, pointless, empty football.


Why am I watching this crap? I asked myself. So, I switched over to a show on the ABC called Unforgotten. The Saints v Crows will be very forgotten. It will be a cold case by Monday morning.


The Cats have a bye this weekend so my weekend has lost a certain edge. The season has had a coronary and has momentarily stopped. At least for me it has. Not only that but the Queen’s Birthday holiday here in Victoria means that all the kids’ sport has a bye as well. Hooray for the Queen. It is probably the most ridiculous public holiday in the world. We have a holiday because a rich old grandmother in England is a year older. Don’t you just love Australia?


So, no Geelong on the football field and no junior hockey or netball, and no suburban football. My daggy little world has taken a huge breather. Feeling somewhat jaded and beaten up by world events, there is only one thing for it; to the beach I go.


I motor down Eastlink and onto Peninsula Link, heading for Shoreham. I switch my iPod onto “shuffle”. Gary Numan is singing about being Down In the Park, Van Morrison relates the story of The Days Before Rock and Roll and Lou Reed then suggests I’m Vicious. The Smiths plead “Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want” this time. The sun is breaking open the shallow fog. It’s chilly but a beautiful, peaceful chilly. A sunny cold morning like this is completely harmless. As a friend of mine once said on such a day (after a few beers I must admit), the sky is as blue as shit.


Lou Reed comes back on and meanders through “New York Conversation” just as I pass Bungower Road, The Models want me to “Hold On”, and then Eddie Vedder has me singing along with him through “No Ceiling”. Perfect. There is no ceiling at the beach. My mood is light but the shuffle of the music lands on Joy Division’s “Passover”. It’s too heavy for a Saturday morning with a late 1970s Mancunian drum-beat like heart palpitations, but I don’t turn it over.


“This is the crisis I knew had to come,

Destroying the balance I’ve kept.”


It could be a song about Hawthorn’s season. Or the Swans. Or the Bulldogs.


“Doubting, unsettling and turning around.

Wondering what will come next.”


Or it could be an ode to Essendon supporters in 2017.



I park the car under some tea trees and slap on the wetsuit. The sun hasn’t quite conquered the fog down by the water so the atmosphere is slightly dank. But the breeze is off-shore. There are a few other surfers walking up the path, having just exited the water.


“Much going on out there?” I ask.


“Yes, mate” they say, “If you’re patient.”


I have all morning. I have all day!


The water is a deep grey-green. This water offers no sympathy to those who enter it. As I pad across the damp sand the waves race up and wrap around my ankles. The ocean is inviting me in, like a Boggart feeding off my apprehensions. I leap over a wave and start to paddle but get the timing wrong. A wave breaks on my head and I am sent back from whence I came. The chill is icy. There is no one with me but I still let out an involuntary “aahhh!”. I hate being cold. Give me heat any day. But the cold has something that heat doesn’t; the cold prompts action.


I paddle and paddle. It’s about 100-odd metres out to where the waves are wrapping around the reef. The paddle gets the heart pumping and the warm blood circulates around the body. Except into the toes. They’re always cold. There are about ten others out in the swell, and most of them have bald, middle-aged heads. They look well established. It’s absurd to consider the size of the oceans but that there will be competition out here to get a wave. In the surf there is a hierarchy, an unwritten code that one surfer will not drop in on another. There is no getting away from rules.


The swell is not large but has enough size for me to enjoy the splash. Old farts’ surf you might call it. A nice set rolls at the group. I’m in perfect position. The others must give way to me. I can feel my chosen wave lifting me gently above the horizon as I paddle frantically across it, looking for its shoulder. You know it when you get it right. And you know when you get it wrong; especially in big, ocean surf. That’s when the waves play with you like an orca amusing itself with a wounded seal pup. You are a straw man in a hurricane.


But I have this one nailed. The board slides effortlessly across the water, a sure sign that the wave and I have synchronicity. I pop to my feet and feel the rush as the board and I glide down the face, like teenagers holding hands. The wave chases after me but I stay ahead of it, skimming across the surface. I don’t understand the physics of this and I don’t want to. Some things are best left alone. It is an impossibly wonderful feeling. There is no ceiling. I could be perched atop a Sherrin that Gary Ablett has just launched 60 metres through an MCG evening.


An hour and a half of that and I’m out of the water, heavy with the exhilarating pains of good exercise and salt water up the nostrils. And I’m not thinking about anything. A young woman is on the beach with her little girl, sifting through the seaweed for treasure. The little one rushes up to me.


“Did you go in the water?” she squeals.


“Yes,” I answered, wrapping the leg rope around the board’s fins.


“Did you see any whales? Or sharks?”


“Heaps,” I said.


“Whooooaa,” she said, wide eyed and full of wonder. And then she runs off back to her mum.


Every weekend is a bye for her at this age.


The sea is medicinal, if not physically then definitely psychologically. It smooths the jaded edges and cleanses frayed thoughts from the mind.


On Sunday, I embrace the contest between the Blues and Giants. It’s a ripper. The ball is in the forward pocket of the Giants with 19 seconds on the clock. A toe poke will draw the game, but the Blues hold on; grasping at victory and finally snatching it. I can feel the heart of the football season beating again. And the Collingwood v Demons battle at the MCG on Monday has it positively racing. What a superb contest.


I hope to be out in the water with the sharks and whales next week too.


Have a read of Dips’ first ever surfing experience here. This is a cracking tale of discovering a new passion.


About Damian O'Donnell

I'm passionate about breathing. And you should always chase your passions. If I read one more thing about what defines leadership I think I'll go crazy. Go Cats.


  1. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Good stuff,Dips you took us with you yep,Crows v Saints was a yawn still shattered by the Redlegs losing in the last minute to the bloody Crows res

  2. Thanks for this, old mate.

    It may be a daggy little world, but it is all yours.

  3. Great read Dips.

    Some classic lines. My two faves: “Every weekend is a bye for her at this age” and “like teenagers holding hands”.

    While you were in the surf, Family Harms went for a drive in the winter sun – up the bush. We listened to a different selection of music. I must write about it some time. I am going to have to develop an appreciation of Alessia Cara and Taylor Swift.

    I think Saturday Night Football at the Black Spur Hotel might improve the state of the game for you Dips.

  4. Rulebook – we need an umpire with us out in the surf to adjudicate matters!
    Smoke – very true. Thanks for the reassurance.
    JTH – The Black Spur can be very foreboding I reckon, especially with Taylor Swift playing. Thankfully I have no idea who Alessia Cara is. I feel your pain. I invited my family to the beach with me, but after checking the weather’s maximum temperature they decided to stay in the warmth.

  5. Well played Dips.

    Not only do we celebrate the Queen’s birthday, but a good six or seven weeks after the fact! Brilliant. This is Australia, in all its half-arsed glory.

  6. Mathilde de Hauteclocque says

    I hate being cold too Dips. Often think of moving to Darwin. But your cold here is solitary and beautiful and inviting … to a warmish reader anyway. Merci.

    ‘I don’t understand the physics of this and I don’t want to.’ That’s the line I’m taking on the Swans’ season. One wave at a time.

  7. Anne Myers says

    Beautiful Dips.
    I’m with that little girl all winter really.
    And you noticed Esolen’s sky…
    A good bye suits you.

  8. Mickey – Queen’s birthday is such a laugh. But it costs industry a fortune. I think it should be replaced with Ned’s birthday holiday. There is some conjecture around Ned Kelly’s actual birth date, but my understanding is that it was June 1st, 1855. So it fits perfectly! Happy Ned’s Day. Vive la republique!

    Mathilde – warm is good. Winter is depressing. I take winter one surf at a time.

    Annie – yes I love a good bye. “Esolen’s sky” – that’s a good name for a novel. Now I just need to think of the plot. Or it could be a race horse too.

  9. Earl O'Neill says

    Wonderful, thank you. It’s been far too long since I swam in the ocean.

  10. You’re a brave man. I don’t surf any further south than Newcastle as a general rule for surviving winter. My tropical sensitivities are heavily ingrained.

  11. Luke Reynolds says

    Love it Dips. As Daryl Kerrigan said, “you’ve got to have a passion for something”.
    Look forward to more surfing tales.

  12. E.regnans says

    I love it, too, Dips.
    Surfing is beyond me.
    So much to like in your doing it, your writing of it.
    The scenes, the people…
    “And I’m not thinking about anything…”

  13. Lovely writing.Dips

    Sounds to me you reached a flow state.

    Couldn’t do the cold but do understand the place it takes you to.

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