"Stand for what you stand on” – Wendell Berry
I was born on an island – Aotearoa to be clear – and part of all island cultures is to be resourceful and full of 'island ingenuity’.
Through being isolated from the main human centres of modern life, island cultures have a deep history of making do with what's available and even in some instances totally redefining ways of growing food, creating energy and living a balanced work/play life.
In fact, if we look at where modern surfing sprung from – the Hawaiian Islands – we would do well to note that the main reason surfing took off there and people had so much time to play in the water was because of the food/aquaculture system of Ahupu'a that worked with the island landscape, all the way from the sacred mountain forests down to the waves and outer reefs. The abundance of food was so great that every winter surf season everyone stopped working and warring in order to hold the three-month long Makahiki festival of surfing, ceremony, art, play and sport. Seems to me most of us living in 2021 could do with three months of that.
As I sit in the water on a corner of a tiny island off the Australian coast, where waves meet and cross over from the northern and eastern coasts, my mind can't help but drift towards thoughts of 'island time' and the natural pace of life that most islands possess. Sitting on this small rock amongst all this swirling energy, you also become conscious of how finely balanced life on an island is… and how little it takes to knock it off balance.
Starting left and ending right, sounds like the story of conspiratorial internet hippies turn Q Anon fundamentalists…strange times. Photos: all Ted Grambeau.
Between peaks, I sit and look over my shoulder at a site where a planned industrial fish farm threatens the vibrant health of this space. I ponder how many of our favourite waves have some form of industrial resource extraction or energy cultivation nearby, scarring the local ecology? Southern California has oil rigs and nuclear power stations. Hawaii has wind turbines near to Waimea Valley. Japan has nuclear reactors. Chile has fish farms. Australia has gas rigs. Less harmony, more cacophony.
"...there’s nothing that can be spoken, screamed or whistled to accurately describe it"
As water people, we know the best use of energy is collaborative, and best sustained as a conversation. We know that most of the systems modern humanity uses for energy production are destructive, certainly not collaborative. Industrial norms resemble a one-way shouting match more than a chat between equals. Smell those petrochemicals, see the dead zones near industry. Feel the sadness of a lonely ocean where the local fish are gone, see the monoculture and hear no bird song. Feel the poison in your sinuses from ocean outfalls.
Greenough always talks about doing turns hard and fast enough to make your eyes force shut. Giving that a go as a measuring stick.
We know better now, and a lot of people are doing better. Let’s focus on them, listen and learn from them, and emulate their actions in our own localised ways.
If we want to oppose a bullying gas industry here in Australia then let’s do that together, while also looking at the solutions of less consumption and even home production of the gas we use to fuel our daily habits. There is a home methane gas kit we could all be using to curb our dependence on the gas industry. The home biogas tent is a tiny system that turns food waste into clean gas to cook and heat our water, while also making an amazing fertiliser for home gardens. We have options to move away from big industry gas extraction that wants to industrialise our coasts.
If we want to stop the tyrannical fish farm industry, let’s stop buying farmed fish. Let’s support the vertical kelp forests being deployed in Tasmania to clean up the dead zones that this corrupt industry has created. Marine permaculture is a rational and effective response to the damage this industry continues to spread.
"As water people, we know the best use of energy is collaborative"
When we call for an end to coal, let’s also shout out the support of renewable energy systems that offer a much better outcome. Let us be inspired by the bold move of the Victorian town of Yackandandah that has established a micro grid energy system that serves the people, not the profits of a corp. Let’s back up the equally bold efforts of the innovative companies creating power from the untapped wave energy, which we can channel into our power systems.
Beach school flies in the face of the modern tragedy that is Nature Deficit Disorder. Alphabets and numbers in the sand. Geography between his toes and swirling around his ears in the roaring forties wind. The average American child spends 44hours per week on electrical devices.
When the sun comes out here, the colours pop and the powerful rays of southern sunlight torch your windswept skin. Howling offshore wind – sky energy – skimming the tops off pyramid peak waves doing their best to land ashore. The wind lifts with the swell, before both combine and scintillate into shallow water. These waves are so triangular that it’s difficult finding an entry point that doesn’t lift you up and merge you with the lip. To go right you have to take off so deep on the peak that you are actually on the left.
Every now and then a wheel of water washes down the beach and produces a current impossible to paddle through. You have to either beach it or drift way out to sea. If you just go with it however, these wheels of water deposit you up the line, where you want to go, against all expectations.
Watching the mother of your child fly down the line with a smile on her face is a deep joy. It feels even better knowing our boy is watching her do something wild and free among the vibrant living world.
When all these swirling energies align and you find yourself in the sweet spot behind the peak, a late drop to scooping bottom turn inevitably leads to a levitating moment on the foam ball, a gush of compressed fresh oxygen blowing passed your tingling ears, and a smooth delivery out of the pit. Nothing comes close to that feeling.
All that energy feels like it’s now in your body and there’s nothing that can be spoken, screamed or whistled to accurately describe it. Energetic resonance. This is where I would normally quote some Star Trek wisdom from sixty years ago, but I am so used to people eye-rolling me (due to their galactose intolerance) that I will keep the Trekkie line to myself. I’ll just say it felt good to resonate with Mumma Nature’s harmonic cacophony.
Captain Paul Watson who co-founded GreenPeace and then created the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society once told me that going to a zoo or any site that holds wild animals to educate your kids about other Earth animals is like an alien coming to Earth and going to to a solitary confinement jail cell to study humans. We can do much better than entrapping other Earthlings under the guise that they are educational places for our young humans.
Vegemite and peanut wraps served on a 6’8 round tail.
Further away from the intense wave energy of where we were surfing is an exciting power generation project that utilises the infinite resource of wave energy. Wave energy technology uses pressure created in an artificial blowhole within the floating craft when it rises over each ocean wave. That pressure passes, and turns a turbine that creates power. There are no moving parts in the water, which makes maintenance easy, and also means local fish are not pulled into any submerged turbines of any sort, conversely, fish seem to congregate under the shade of the craft.
Lauren has written extensively about the timelines of womens surfing and one of my favourite lines of hers refers to where surfing fit into a healthy life in ancient times – “ back then, people knew what we have forgotten, that play is part of what makes us human.”
Dr Cayne Layton IMAS University of Tasmania says “Tassie is a global warming hotspot, we are warming four times faster than the global average so there is a lot of attention from around the world on how we are responding to climate change and what science and research is happening here because in many ways we are a window into the future.
Banner image – A peak experience is an altered state of consciousness characterised by euphoria. The 1960’s psychonaut Abraham Maslow goes further “ these are rare, exciting, oceanic, deeply moving, exhilarating, elevating experiences that generate an advanced form of perceiving reality, and are even mystic and magical in their effect”.